The Houston Press had a wonderful article recently on the head tortilla-maker at the original Ninfa’s on Navigation. In the article, Linda Leseman interviews the tortilla-maker, Maria, and attempts to discover Maria’s secrets while learning to make tortillas herself during a low-volume shift at the normally packed restaurant. The article is both touching and hilarious:
Juan explains in Spanish to Maria. She nods. I have already washed my hands at the nearby sink, so I plunge into the trough and attempt to produce a ball of dough that is roughly the right size. Maria weighs it in her hand against the balls she has created. Mine is a little too big. The official weight for fajita tortillas is 1 ¼ ounces. Tacos are larger: 2 ¼ ounces. Heath Beeman leans over my shoulder.
“You know,” he says, “if you were to weigh each one of those,” indicating the balls produced by Maria, “they would all weigh exactly the same.”
I am beginning to understand the magic of Maria Lagunas’s hands.
It’s also comforting to know that at least one other person shares my innate fear of the griddle:
I am instructed to toss my tortilla onto the griddle, where another woman is monitoring it with a spatula. I find this unnerving. Something tells me that the sizzling griddle will jump out and attack me if I stand too close, so I toss my tortilla onto it from a few feet away. Maria and the other woman are laughing. If only they knew the disasters I have caused in my own kitchen.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to taste fresh, handmade flour tortillas — and you’re only purchasing the doughy, pasty, nasty, mass-produced, pre-bagged kind for sale in your grocery store, you do NOT know what you’re missing. Fresh tortillas taste intimate and familial; all of the ingredients combine to produce a feeling of immense comfort and satisfaction. The warm tortillas melt in your mouth, leaving behind only scant traces of flour and shortening, the tastes of home.
The good news is that you can make tortillas yourself, in your own house. Trust me. You can. Even I can make tortillas, with my clumsy hands and fear of hot surfaces. And once you’ve made a batch of tortillas yourself, at home, you’ll never want the store-bought kind again.
One of the best tortilla recipes to date can be found in Robb Walsh’s inimitable book, The Tex-Mex Cookbook. Walsh is, coincidentally, the restaurant critic for the Houston Press. What can I say? We know our Tex-Mex around here.
I won’t publish the tortilla recipe here; you’ll just have to go and check out Walsh’s book for yourself. In addition to being a great cookbook, it’s an entertaining and well-researched history of Tex-Mex cuisine and culture.
However, if you just can’t wait, another great recipe can be found here at Texas Rolling Pins: Flour Tortillas (de Mi Abuelita Elvira Gonzalez Leal).