Every pueblo in Mexico, no matter how small, has at least one tortilleria. Chelem, the village where we lived, was reduced to a seaside shantytown when it wasn’t tourist season: sandy, hot, windy, strange, barren, and colorful. Our tortilla shop was on the square, a green concrete room with a dirt floor, and ancient ladies using their hands at the same task they’ve done every day, for dozens of generations.
Corn is the stuff of life in Mexico; every morning, women set out to buy warm corn tortillas, wrapped in paper, to feed their family for the day. The edges were rough, they fit in the palm of your hand, and an entire stack costs about a nickel. The only trouble is, I never really liked them.
I would buy them anyway, as part of my daily routine. Riding into town with Jeep windows down, stepping over half-dead dogs into the cool concrete market that smelled of entrails, where I would buy mangoes, pineapple, oranges, limes and flowers. I dropped off laundry at Rubenesque Ana’s and bought a big bottle of Sol, a terribly urine-ish beer for late afternoon. At the corner store nearest my house, where the big-bellied brother sat sentry in a lawn chair in the doorway all day, I would pick up a package of Bimbo brand flour tortillas and a cane sugar Mexican coke. Then, home, for a dip in the Gulf before work.
Some of my American tastes never adapted to certain aspects of Yucatecan cuisine, some more mundane than others. I never got into corn tortillas, shark ceviche, or the Yucatecan version of shrimp cocktail, served soupy with tomato sauce in a tall ice cream sundae glass. Making flour tortillas turns out to be one of those so-easy tasks I can’t believe I never did it before. What a difference it makes! To keep it real, I used manteca, which is plainly, lard. I was surprised to see a familiar brick available at my local Hannaford. Flour tortillas are a perfect vehicle for fajitas. But use this recipe for any of your favorite Tex-Mex recipes, and you will be pleasantly surprised at how satisfying, soft, and pliable these are.
How to Make Flour Tortillas
Makes 16 tortillas
- 2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 5 tablespoons lard
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup hot tap water
Measure flour into a mixing bowl.
Measure and add lard to the bowl.
Mix with your fingers, working the fat until it is combined with the flour.
Dissolve the salt in the hot water, then add to dough mixture. Work with your hands; you should have large clumps.
Scoop the dough onto your counter or work surface, and knead until smooth.
Divide dough into 16 portions, and roll each into a ball. Cover them with plastic, and allow them to rest for at least a half an hour before continuing.
Heat a dry skillet or griddle over high heat. Roll each dough ball out into a very thin 6 inch circle, flouring and rotating as needed to try and keep a circular shape (although if the tortillas aren’t perfect circles, don’t worry about it. They can be a bit “rustic.”).
Lay the tortilla in the hot pan. It should bubble and start to inflate almost immediately. Cook for 30-45 seconds, or until dark spots begin to appear. Flip, and continue cooking for another 45 seconds. Remove from heat and wrap in a clean cloth towel, while you repeat with the remaining dough, stacking the finished tortillas in the warm towel.