Tortilla things

"My mom cooked the same food every day - tortillas, beans and meat. If it was enchiladas, it was - tortillas, beans and meat. If it was burritos, it was still - tortillas, beans and meat." Felipe Esparza

I confess I never eat Mexican food - well these days it's not really a possibility because of the chilli thing with David. That said, very occasionally we have had chilli con carne, well not recently, but no, nothing else. And we do not frequent Mexican restarurants either. There is a pretty large Mexican section in the two major supermarkets, but it seems to me that it is filled with mostly undesirable products with all manner of unhealthy components. And very definitely more Tex-Mex than genuinely Mexican. Mexican restaurants too, tend to be fast food places - Taco Bills. Yes of course there are trendy Mexican restaurants in Melbourne somewhere and indeed I did go to a 'real' Mexican restaurant many years ago in Box Hill that was delicious. But not in recent years. And I do admit I am probably being a bit of a snob here because of all those Taco Bills and the El Paso section of the supermarket.


I shouldn't be because after all Mexican cuisine has been recognised by UNESCO by being listed on its cultural heritage list. I suspect the problem comes from the Tex-Mex phenomenon whereby Mexican food has been bastardised by the Americans, especIally in the borderlands. Like hamburgers, which, if done properly, are a pretty good food that covers all the bases.


However, of late I have been intrigued, even tempted by quesadillas as demonstrated by Jamie Oliver in his recent Keep Cooking and Carry On series - see the video below.

I don't think I was really aware of quesadillas, and when I did a post on it a while ago, I found all sorts of other Mexican tortilla things. Some of which I knew about, some of which I didn't and all of which confused me. So today I am just going to go through the list alphabetically and explain the differences. Some of which, I have to say, are subtle.


First of all the tortillas themselves. The original Mexican, and some would still say, the real, tortillas are made with corn. Only corn. And corn that has been processed in a particular way:


"Nixtamal is an Aztec word describing corn that’s been partially cooked and soaked with calcium hydroxide, or slaked lime. It might sound like an odd culinary process, but it’s one the Meso-Americans have been employing for thousands of years. After soaking, the kernels are washed then ground between two volcanic stones, creating a soft dough called masa. It’s unknown whether the Aztecs and Mayans realised it at the time, but nixtamalisation not only enhances the flavour of corn, it dramatically improves its nutritional value and digestibility." 


(Apologies, I don't know where this quote comes from - I forgot to make a note.)


This masa is made into flour somehow which is called masa harina and which you can't get in your supermarket. So if you are going to be really authentic with any of the following Mexican tortilla things you are going to have to buy it online. You can get something from South Africa called maize meal in Coles, but I don't know whether this is the right thing or not. And I think polenta is too coarse.


Nowadays of course - well since the Spaniards brought wheat flour to Mexico - tortillas tend to be made with flour, or at least a flour and corn mix. And if you can find a fine polenta then maybe that would be OK. The northern Mexicans do make tortillas with just wheat flour, so you can also have a go with that. Or do like Jamie and buy the best you can, ready made. The other thing, and perhaps the main thing that distinguishes tortilla from other flatbreads is that they are thin. You're supposed to press your dough in a tortilla press to make it thin enough or press your dough with a heavy pan (you put it between two sheets of baking paper first).


And in a rather sad aside it seems that in Mexico the Mexicans themselves are abandoning traditional tortillas in favour of industrially produced tortillas or ordinary bread.


"Consumption has dropped nearly 45 percent in the last 35 years, according to the nutritionist Julieta Ponce of the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana Xochimilco, to 125 pounds per person in 2016 from 225 pounds in 1982, as Mexicans eat more bread and fast food." New York Times


One last aside:


"Being in Mexico this is just something you know - there are 2 sides to a tortilla, One side has the skin, the other side is thinner and to make your taco the right way you put the filling on the thinner side. That oven-baked flipping process gives the tortilla that skin." Diana Garcia.


I don't know if that applies to bought ones.


Anyway here goes with my tortilla things definitions:

Burritos

As far as I can tell a burrito is really another word for a wrap made with a tortilla and with a Mexican kind of filling, though that filling can be just about anything. Something that goes for just about all of the things I am listing here. Burrito means little donkey - the theory being that a donkey can carry a lot of things, as can a burrito. You should probably warm the wrap first, but then again, maybe not.

Chilaquiles

This was a new one to me. It's a breakfast dish apparently and consists of tortilla chips, cooking in a green or red sauce, and then topped with a few things. Served warm. The chips can be store bought of course, or you can cut store bought tortillas into triangles, then bake or fry until crisp, or make from home-made tortillas. You cook the tortilla chips in the sauce until soft but not soggy and serve immediately or they will go soggy. Cookie and Kate has a pretty good recipe - shown above.


Chimichanga

Strictly speaking this should not even be on the list, because it's an American invention - and therefore, guess what, it's deep fried. A deep-fried burrito - although one that has been completely enclosed. As always the filling can be whatever you want.


There is also something called a taquito, which seems to me to be the same thing. Wikipedia maintains that a taquito is small, so maybe that's the difference. Then there's the flauta - same thing - somewhere in size between a chimichanga and a taquito.

The photo at left is a so-called taquito, which looks rather larger than the mini chimichangas above. So I really do not know what the differences are with these three.


Trust the Americans to make something unhealthy out of something healthy. The above are mini-chimichangas (maybe should be called a taquito?) and look relatively harmless. I think you probably dip them into salsa or sour cream.




Enchilada

These are sort of like a Mexican dish of cannelloni. The recipe shown here is for Chicken enchiladas from the Recipe Tin Eats lady. Looks very much like cannelloni, but the filling, however varied it might actually be, would be of a Mexican kind. Ditto for the sauce - chilli of course. As to cheese - Mexican cheese is very hard to come by so the various writers I dipped into suggested using mozarella, for the stringiness, combined with everything from cheddar and red leicester, to havarti and halloumi. They look pretty nice though. There's a video to go with this particular recipe but there are heaps of recipes out there. Or, of course, you can just make up your own with what you have to hand.


Fajita

Now a fajita is nothing to do with a tortilla really, because it's the filling and this photograph of Chili Lime Fajitas from Café Delites sort of demonstrates that. The recipe though will tell you to wrap it in the tortillas. It can be made with any meat but usually it's skirt beef. Faja is Spanish for strip or belt - hence the name.


Yes it is normally served as a wrap in the tortilla but I think it's really a specific kind of filling, rather than the meat beans and chilli that is the more normal one. The meat is grilled rather than braised. So a filling for a burrito not a dish in itself.






Nachos

Yes you can just buy a packet of corn chips and drizzle them with cheese and chilli that you then cook, but really you should at least use store-bought tortillas, cut them into segments, fry or bake them into chips and then bake them in the oven with said cheese and jalapeño peppers from a jar - sliced. This was the original idea. They are snack food - served hot. These days people put all manner of stuff on top of the chips, but probably best to keep it simple as in this recipe from Saveur


Quesadilla

As Jamie Oliver says in his video this is really a toasted cheese sandwich and a way of getting vegetables into your children without them realising. It's snack food.

Traditionally I think and as Jamie demonstrates you put your thin filling between two tortillas, dry fry until crisp on the bottom, turn over and then do the other side. Cut into pieces. Jamie, of course, made it look easy, but Felicity Cloake thought the turning over part could be tricky and indeed I think she is right. I can just see all the filling coming out as you attempt to flip it. So she put the filling on half the tortilla and folded the other half over the top. Much easier to turn over. Felicity Cloake's version on the left, Jamie's on the right. If you add meat to the mix and garnish the top it becomes a mulita.


Taco

Now you can buy ready-made tacos from your supermarket - which I think tend to be crisp shells. These are not the real deal. Do not use. Tacos are made from soft, warmed corn tortillas and Bon appétit will tell you how to warm them. You then load your tortilla with filling fold in half to make a sort of cup and eat. Messy I imagine, but satisfying. And as you can see they can be pretty gourmet. There are vast numbers of recipes out there.


Tamale

Possibly not quite a tortilla dish, but I think the dough used for tamale is similar to tortilla dough.

For this dish you make the dough, place a small ball on corn husks, press down, top with filling and roll and tie. These are then steamed. As I say - not quite a tortilla dish - maybe a bit healthier, but also a bit doughy? You can find the recipe for the first one above on the Tastes Better from Scratch website.


Tostada

I think this is the last!


You fry (or if you are healthy, bake), your tortillas until crisp. Then you put on your topping. Particularly good for using up less than fresh tortillas. Apparently the name tostada can equally refer to just the fried tortillas as shown on the left or a topped tostada. You can eat the tostadas on their own like poppadoms, or dip them in a salsa. You can also make the tostadas into chips of course, either cutting the tortillas before frying (or baking), or breaking into pieces after frying.


Phew! I bet I've missed something. And as you can see the differences between some of these are really not all that clear. But I hope it gives you a bit of guide.

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