March 4, 2009

Back To Basics: Tortillas

One of our mottoes here at the Evolution Kitchen is: "Home-made is better-made". If you can make something from scratch, and you have the time to do so, then you should do it. Homemade food is fresher, has fewer additives, and is usually cheaper. You know exactly what's in it, and it will most likely taste better. Homemade is simply much more appealing. Here is what I mean:

Try this little experiment the next time you're hosting a dinner party. Say you're serving baked beans as a side dish. Your guests take a look at the bowl and say something like, "Oh. Baked beans."

For the experiment, you can try various types of responses and judge their results. Here are some sample responses:
  1. "I just opened a can of beans and heated them on the stove top."
  2. "I had some old cans of rations from the Korean War laying around, and I wanted to use them up. Weird how the cans were starting to bulge. Bon app├ętit!"
  3. "I made them myself. After pressure cooking the dried organic beans in a flavorful broth, I slow-cooked them in a clay crock with dark molasses, brown sugar, and sweet onion."

I am certain that response number 3 will garner the most favorable reaction. Without even tasting them, just knowing that you cooked the beans from scratch makes them seem better. This is why food advertisements use phrases like "old-fashioned lemonade" and "artisan wood-fire baked bread". (Damn, just writing that has got my mouth watering.) Don't those sound better than "heated in a huge industrial stainless steel vat, and then pumped into metal cans"?

Unfortunately, our society has accepted factory food. We don't know exactly what's in it, who made it, or when. But hey, it was on sale! We are addicted to its convenience. Not only is this unsafe and unhealthy, it is simply unappealing. Think about it: some factory worker, who you don't know, maybe in some other country making pennies a day, is peering into your vat of "Country-Time Baked Beans" and thinking, "I hate beans and anybody who eats them." The opportunities to write many gross scenarios are endless here.

The Evolving Palate wants to encourage people stop relying so much on factory food. For those with allergies, it is necessary to be more in control of the food you eat. But if you simply want good food, it's best to get "Back to Basics", which will be a recurring theme here at the Evolving Palate.

Today's "Back To Basics" recipe is for simple flour tortillas (sorry, not baked beans).

Tortillas are not so special by themselves, but they make wonderful vehicles for getting food into your mouth. Not only are they extremely versatile, but their simple taste and soft texture make them a favorite among kids. Sure, you can buy them in the store in packs of a dozen or more, but even this is factory food. Making tortillas is not that hard, and most of the time it takes is allowing the dough to rest. You do all the work, but the dough is the one that rests.

(These tortillas are not gluten-free. I am working on a gluten-free version, but there are still some kinks to iron out. Hopefully I will post a successful gluten-free tortilla recipe soon.)

You don't need any special equipment to make these, and they require only four ingredients. Don't fret about getting the breads completely round. These are hand-made, artisan breads. Each one should be unique, or as I like to call my imperfections: "Rustic". Only machines can make perfectly round tortillas.

You can cook these in a dry skillet or griddle. I cook mine on a long electric griddle so I can make three at a time. While they are cooking, I am busily rolling out the next batch. With practice you will get into a rhythm of rolling and cooking, and you'll be able to cook a whole batch in about 5 minutes.

Flour Tortillas
Makes 8

Ingredients:

2 c unbleached white flour
½ t salt
3 T olive oil
½ - ¾ c warm water

Steps:

1. In a medium sized bowl, mix the flour and salt. Next drizzle in the oil and mix thoroughly.

2. Gradually add the water. Start with the ½ cup and add more as needed. Mix the water in as you pour. What you want is a dough that is not too wet or too dry. You can use your hand and mix it in the bowl. You're not kneading, simply mixing.

3. Once the dough is ready, cut off 8 pieces of the same size. Roll each into a ball and then flatten partly in your palms to a disc about 3 inches in diameter. Lay these out on a plate (don't overlap them, else they'll stick to each other. After all 8 are done, lay a piece of wax paper across the top and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

4. Start heating your skillet or griddle to medium-high. On a lightly floured surface, roll a dough ball until it is 7 to 8 inches in diameter. Flip them over at least once to prevent them from sticking to the board and rolling pin. Once it is flat, drop it on the hot griddle. Cook until little bubbles begin to show, about 45 seconds. Don't let it brown, otherwise it will become stiff and dry. Flip it over and cook the other side the same. Remove and keep warm in a towel. Repeat this process for each dough ball.

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