There was a time, in the not so distant past, when Americans got their carbs (or “starches”) from bread and potatoes–rice and pasta were considered exotic. Nowadays there is a lot more interchangeability, rice, noodles, quinoa, cous-cous can often be substituted for one another. Lagging behind the wheat, rice, and other grains is the maize crop, commonly referred to as corn. (Incidentally corn refers to any grain.) This is ironic as corn is the indigenous American crop and our largest one. Sure we eat corn on the cob; southerners eat grits; and polenta sneaks in here and there, but most corn is heavily processed; used for animal feed, or wasted.
Sadly, corn tortillas are relegated to the ethnic aisles and to specifically Mexican-like dishes (Mexican Lasagna is an example of a “Mexican-like dish”). This is unfortuante as tortillas are tasty, affordable, easy to prepare, versatile, and–thanks to the process of nixamalization–more nutrious than regular corn.
Tortillas can be baked, steamed, pan heated without oil, or fried. They can be cooked soft, crisp, or in-between. Crisp tortillas work as crackers soft ones like Indian roti and can even approach a crepe-like consistency.
Here is a fool proof system for cooking tortillas quickly and to the desired consistency while keeping the whole stack warm. By building up a stack as they are heated by flipping in a hot, heavy pan the first tortilla ends up in the middle of the stack. So unlike a stack of pancakes they don’t get older as you get towards the bottom. We grab at them individually (like sliced bread) to sop up curries or to hold pieces of roast chicken.
If done carefully all the tortillas will have the same consistency but I prefer variety: chewy and elastic, pliable with a nutty browning, crisp and a little smokey. The stack stays warm and the moisture from the cooking tortillas keeps the ones above it moist (unless you crisp them all). As the stack gets heavier the tortillas on the bottom cook faster. Warning: My directions might not live up to the simplicity of the task; basically it is a matter of flipping and turning tortillas as you stack them.
1. Heat a heavy skillet (cast iron or copper) over a high flame.
2. Place the 1st tortilla on the hot pan,
3. As the tortilla on the surface of the pan begins to soften (about 5-15 seconds), place another on top of it
4. Flip the stack (i.e., begin cooking the 2nd tortilla)
5. While the one beneath it is cooking, turn over the top tortilla (i.e., the 1st tortilla, the one that is cooked on one side)
6. Flip the stack (now the other side of the first tortilla is cooking)
7. While the one beneath it is cooking, turn over the tortilla that had been on the bottom (i.e., the 2nd tortilla)
8. Flip the stack (now the second side of the 2nd tortilla is cooking)
9. Place another tortilla on the top
Repeat steps 4-9 until the desired amount it achieved. Note: As the stack gets heavier the tortilla on the bottom cooks faster. Don’t worry if you lose track and only one side of a tortilla gets cooked.