Corn tortillas used to be on the shortlist of foods I never thought I’d want to make from scratch. Like ketchup. Like butter. Like crackers. Primary foods that seem pretty great when you buy them from the grocery store, just the way they are. Plus, I am lucky to live in Chicago and you can find a Mexican market nearby selling handmade tortillas just about any time you want.
So, there was no need to make my own tortillas. Plus, they seemed complicated-ish. Right?
But then my cousin Anjie came to town. (Truthfully, Anjie is my husband’s cousin, but I have adopted her as my personal prima, because I love her so much. ) Last week, Anjie flew in from her apartment by the beach in southern California to help us cook and shoot dozens of dishes for Familia Kitchen recipes.
In her hand when she walked in the door from the airport was a handmade, wood tortilla press she picked up at her local Mexican market. It is gorgeous. It looks like a piece of sculpture.
Look at this press!
Anjanette Villalobos, aka my cousin Anjie, is one of the most intuitive and gifted cooks I have ever met. In her hands, salsa, tacos de papa, tortilla soup, and this green chicken pozole transform into a timeless and essential expression of their humble ingredients. Her food tastes both simple and complex in the same bite. Each dish she makes is the very best version of that comida that I’ve had. Ever.
Anjie doesn’t use measuring spoons, feels her way through cooking times and temperatures, and seems to have hundreds of Mexican recipes in her head.
Her cooking heritage comes from her mother Zelma, her abuela Pino, and their side of the family, which goes many generations deep in New Mexico. The familia has since mostly resettled in California. When Anjie lived in France some years back, she missed her family’s New Mexican and Mexican cooking cooking so much, she started making corn tortillas and tamales from scratch and kept it up when she moved back to the States.
If you, like I used to, think tortillas are hard to make, I have news. Tortillas are shockingly easy to make and press into service. Here’s why going handmade is worth your time.
• are thicker and more chewy-good
• hold taco toppings and/or sop up your favorite mole or pozole better
• taste like real corn
• have a coarser texture, which adds earthy flavor
• cost less,
• transport your comida to a higher level of authentic and delicioso.
I am now the lucky owner of this press (thank you, Anj). My current comida goal: become a true tortilla master, one handmade corn masa disc at a time.
Ready to make homemade tortillas like my cousin Anjie?
Photography: Michelle Ezratty Murphy