Tortilla Pressed

Can't the flour tortilla get a little respect?

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Don't be so corny when it comes to tortillas.
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Then again, the flour tortilla has always been fighting for its identity. Its brother, the corn tortilla, gets all the glory. The corn tortilla is, first of all, older than the flour version — wheat didn’t even show up in Mexican cuisine until the Spanish brought it over in the 16th century. The corn tortilla is healthier than the flour tortilla too, because the flour tortilla requires a fat-like lard or shortening to hold it together. Hell, some people even claim that the corn tortilla is the only traditional tortilla, and that our floured friend is nothing but an American impostor. In a 1998 edition of the Boston Globe‘s Sunday magazine, authors Sheryl Julian and Julie Rosenfeld said that the flour tortilla is “flexible enough, figuratively speaking, to stray far from authentic Mexican cuisine.”

But the flour tortilla is a Mexican invention. It has a strong tradition in northern Mexico, especially in the state of Sonora. This also helps explain why the flour tortilla is so firmly entrenched in Mexican-American cuisine: Part of Sonora became part of America in the Gadsden Purchase of 1854.

These days, many food-loving fans of the flour tortilla consider it to be a guilty pleasure. “I should prefer corn tortillas over flour — they have more depth of flavor and are a better complement to most Tex-Mex ingredients,” says Lisa in an entry on her Homesick Texan blog. “But…I still always opt for flour over corn.” It’s a sentiment echoed by chef Traci Des Jardins in a 2005 New York Times article by Kim Severson. “Although she now prefers the flavor and texture of corn tortillas,” Severson writes of Des Jardins, “the flour version is her soul food.”

It’s easy to understand why — warm and pliable, fresh flour tortillas are like a food blanket, a comfortable way to surround other ingredients and make them feel safe. And at least to me, that’s the difference between calling the thing a “tortilla” and a “wrap” — a wrap is a cold, impersonal stand-in for bread. A tortilla is a warm and welcoming guy, ready with a hug.

So tortilla, if you’re reading this, remember: Mid-life crisis or not, I love you just the way you’ve always been. • 28 August 2009

Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas, adapted from Claudia on allrecipes.com

whole wheat flour tortillasI tried a few different tortilla recipes before hitting on this one on the group recipe-sharing Web site All Recipes. The woman who posted it, Claudia, says she “learned from watching my Mom in Mexico.” I like that it includes whole grains and doesn’t have too much fat.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup boiling water

Mix together the flours and salt, then cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles crumbs. Add the water and knead until everything sticks together — don’t over-knead. Separate the dough into 10 balls and let rest, covered, on a greased cookie sheet for at least an hour.

Heat a griddle or frying pan on medium-high heat. On a lightly floured surface, roll the balls to desired thickness. One by one, cook the tortillas on each side — they’re ready to flip when they start to bubble. This should go fairly quickly.

Wrap any tortillas you don’t use immediately and store them in the refrigerator or freezer; microwave to warm before eating.

Meg Favreau is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, The Big Jewel, The Huffington Post, Table Matters, and The Smew. Her book with photographer Michael Reali, Little Old Lady Recipes: Comfort Food and Kitchen Table Wisdom, was released in November 2011 by Quirk Books. She’s currently the senior editor at the frugal living and personal finance site Wise Bread, and a regular guest on American Public Media’s Marketplace Money.
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