Más y Más Masa

One thing about nixtamalized corn: once you start going down that road, it’s hard to stop. There are simply so many local, regional and national variations on the theme, as reader Rebecca’s email illustrates:

That arepas recipe looks very similar to my experience of the Mexican gordita. Basically, they’re masa griddled as little fat cakes instead of thin tortillas, then split and filled or just buttered. I’ve made them by pureeing hominy and adding masa harina to approximate fresh dough, but I have a hard time getting it fine enough to please my husband, so I just use my mother-in-law’s method instead.

Her recipe has the same ingredients as your corn tortilla recipe, but adds lard. She also doesn’t measure a darn thing, so I’ve always made them by look and feel instead of measuring. It should be about a 1/4 cup of lard or shortening to the rest of your tortilla recipe, mix it in before adding the water, and you’re aiming for the same consistency as the corn tortilla dough. And taste it before you start griddling them to check the salt. Like the corn tortillas, it’s crucial they have enough water, or they’ll just crack into pieces on the griddle. They’re terribly addicting AND a pain in the rear to make in large enough quantities to satisfy everyone, so she doesn’t make them often.

Speaking of latin american dishes, have you considered doing tamales? Tamale season is almost upon us here in Texas, and I’m considering taking another crack at my husband’s grandmother’s recipe. She’s 91 and still cranks them out every year! I’m trying to learn her techniques, but she’s stealthy about it and you don’t know she’s making them till she shows up with a plate fresh from the pot.

Little old ladies are like that the world over, I think. They play at being frail and timid when in reality they’re not only workhorses, but fierce competitors. I’m reminded of a group like that in Sycamore, Illinois, who every year made mincemeat for the town’s annual pumpkin festival. Those 80-something toughs protected that recipe like Templars guarding the holy grail. When they were at work inside the church kitchen, not a soul could enter, certainly not the younger women of the town, not even the pastor (who was an old friend of the family). I’ve met teamsters I’d rather mess with.

Anyway, tamales are a good idea. Fun to make and absolutely delicious. For now though, I’d better move on to a new subject, since I could vamp on masa variations all month long.

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