When All Else Fails? Tacos!

TacosIf all goes as expected, just about the time you’re opening this blog I should be walking into my summer cottage in Chautauqua, NY, to get ready for the upcoming season. I’m sure I’ll be tired from a long trip, and I’m not sure my internet will be on. Today just happens to be Cinco de Mayo. So in honor of that, I thought I would share one of my favorite recipes with you and all the paraphernalia that comes with making it.

But boy, is it worth it.

Do you love tacos? I’m not talking about tacos with the crunchy shells from your supermarket shelves or stale packaged tortillas that taste vaguely like glue. I’ll confess until I began to make my own tortillas, I ate tacos under protest. But now this is one of my very favorite meals.

So let’s start with the basics. And please remember tacos are not part of my ethnic heritage. Let’s not pretend I’m sharing grandma’s authentic recipe. My own grandmas were more likely to make pork and sauerkraut or beef stew with lots of potatoes. So this is just me making tacos the way I like them.

If you live near a restaurant, restaurant supplier, or Mexican grocer, you may be able to get fresh corn tortillas locally. If you can, the taco goddess is with you. But if you can’t, making your own isn’t nearly as hard as you might think. And let me say that fresh tortillas make this meal. I’ve yet to find any at a regular grocery store that taste even half as good.

First you need masa (instant corn masa flour.) I’ve pictured the brand I buy. It lasts forever.051094070-01-masa-harina_xlg

Next to make this easy, a tortilla press. There are several brands. I have a larger and a smaller one. The smaller is less expensive and works perfectly because corn tortillas are small anyway. For the record if you’re making flour tortillas, a tortilla press is not the best way to go–although I’ve done it. (Homemade flour tortillas are yummy, but I tend to buy mine at the store because mine aren’t that much better.)

Amazon sells this press, which I own and like. It’s $25.97, but it wasn’t when I bought it. Yikes. I’m going to take very good care of mine. There are cheaper models, but I’ll confess I’m a fan of the cast iron variety.

Getting the dough the right consistency takes a little practice. I end up using almost a 1/1 mixture, half water, half masa. I plan on one-half cup of masa for each person balanced with about 1/3 cup of water to start. There are rarely leftovers. I normally forget to add salt, but a little is a good thing. Start with a pinch.

I use the Chef’s Design Ultimate Griddle that covers two burners. I like mine because I can use it on both gas and electric glasstop ranges. Again, I bought this at Amazon and since buying the first one the price has skyrocketed. Just follow the instructions and do NOT heat this baby above medium or it won’t last and you’ll be shopping again soon.

While my griddle is heating I cut a plastic bag in half along the folds so I have two identical sides. You don’t need fancy slider bags. I use the bread bags that come with wire ties. I like them better for refrigerator storage anyway because they’re so flexible. Open the press and cover each side with half the bag. Then take a chunk of dough about golf ball size, which should not be sticky or crumbly. Roll it around a bit and place it on the bottom of the press–on top of the bag–make sure the other half is covered with its half of the bag, then close the press. I usually press twice. Once, then I open it, turn the tortilla around holding on to the bags which are now flat against both sides of the tortilla, and press again.

Carefully peel off the top plastic square. Then flip and balance the tortilla in your non-dominant hand–plastic still intact. Carefully peel off the remaining  square of plastic.

If you can’t get the tortilla off without it tearing you have probably used too much water. No problem. Throw it back with the rest of the dough, add a bit more masa, knead a moment and try again. Ditto if it feels grainy. Toss it back and add a bit more water. Practice makes perfect. I tend to use more water than I’ve specified above. But I know what works for me.

Grill the tortilla until it begins to develop darker spots on the side against the griddle. It won’t brown. Corn tortillas don’t; they dry out and look firmer. If you’re lucky they may puff a bit. I sometimes press my spatula gently against the edges and that encourages a bit of puff, but it’s just for fun. Flip and cook the other side the same way.

Tortilla keeperHaving a tortilla keeper is a very good thing. And guess what? These, at least, aren’t expensive. Here’s the one I use. I line it with a paper towel, and each tortilla goes right into it as I finish it, and then the lid goes on. The keeper keeps your tortillas warm and they stay moist and flexible.

I just discovered this little miracle, though, from Imusa. Not only does it keep tortillas warm and moist, you can heat them in the microwave and it really does do a fabulous job of heating leftover tortillas and keeping them warm. A lot better than paper towels or dish towels. Now when I have company I can make my tortillas ahead of time and just run them through the microwave before we eat.

This seems like a lot of stuff to own, doesn’t it? To be clear, you can use a frying pan if you don’t have a griddle. You can roll out the tortillas, although the consistency will be different. I never saw a tortilla press on my trip to Guatemala where they seem to be patted out by hand. The tortillas were thicker, puffier and delicious. But they were tortillas.

You will need masa. And you will need something to keep the tortillas warm as you cook more, perhaps cradled between two plates, or under plastic wrap or foil? The rest is up to you.

For me making tortillas is a tradition, a hobby, relaxation all rolled into one. We eat ours with whatever we have on hand. I make the tortillas and my husband prepares the fillings. Tonight, for Cinco de Mayo, we’ll do them with leftover pork tenderloin, avocado, cilantro, tomato, red onion, grated cheddar, salsa and hot sauce. If we don’t have leftover meat we often grill shrimp, or open a can of black beans we spice up with onion and garlic. We add lettuce if we have it, or cabbage slaw, and grilled chicken is luscious. Tacos are a “do-it-yourself , clean out the fridge and freezer” kind of meal.

And don’t get me started on fish tacos. I have two dozen recipes, all of which I’m dying to try. Fish tacos are food for the Gods.

Are you on board already? What do you like to put in your own tacos? What have I missed?

**I’ve used my Amazon associate links here, but look for the best bargain on all these fun tacos things.


  1. Karen Burshnick on May 28, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    You make it sound like so much fun and delicious. I plan to look into it and give it a try. Thank you for sharing. Enjoy your summer.

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