Homemade Tortillas: Eat Them Plain, or Fill with Leftover Turkey

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Friend Linda Gutierrez of Redding gave me a tortilla-making lesson recently. I’ve watched people make tortillas from scratch before, but I learn better by doing. Tortillas, like French crepes or Norwegian lefse (stay tuned for the lefse story soon) taste great with leftover turkey inside. But Linda’s tortillas taste great plain, or with a little butter.

I consider Linda a tortilla-making expert since over her lifetime she’s made thousands of tortillas, beginning when she was just 9 years old. As the only girl in her family, the tortilla-making duties fell to her.

“There were seven of us with mom and dad,” said Linda as she quickly rolled balls of dough into perfectly round shapes. (Mind were oblong.)

“Every day I’d have to make about 50 tortillas. My brothers and dad each ate about 5 each, so I had to make a lot. I’d be crying, ‘Why do I have to do this?’ ”

If nothing else, Linda learned to make tortillas fast. In fact, on our tortilla-making day she was like greased lightning:

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She mixed . . .

She kneaded . . .

She rolled and she cooked the tortillas.

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It took her about seven minutes to roll out all her dough balls. It took me twice the time. Her tortillas were perfect. Mine . . . weren’t.

Linda offered some tips:

– “The good thing about making tortillas is that if the dough gets too sticky you can just roll it in some more flour. It won’t hurt it.”

– “You want the dough pliable, not sticky.” (It feels like warm Playdoh.)

– “If you want to freeze the tortillas, do it before you cook them. Just take the uncooked dough circles and put waxed paper between each one.”

– “If you want sweet tortillas, like for breakfast, or a treat, add about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of sugar.”

– “My mother used to say that if the tortilla bubbled, it means your mother-in-law likes you.”

These days, Linda makes tortillas when she feels like it, mainly to satisfy friends’ begging, or when she craves a real homemade tortilla, one that tastes the way she thinks it should.

“I have a hard time buying flour tortillas, because they don’t taste good to me,” she said as she flipped a text-book beautiful tortilla on the hot pan.

We stopped to sample hot tortillas with a little bit of butter. They were delicious, and Linda was right. There’s no going back to being happy with store-bought tortillas after this.

Make them at your own risk. Once you taste homemade tortillas, store-bought ones will never taste good enough again.

Linda’s Tortillas

4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
*1 cup Crisco butter-flavored shortening
1 1/4 cups boiling water (approximately)

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Drop the Crisco into the bowl, and use your hand to blend the shortening and flour together. Make a well in the middle of the mixture and slowly pour in about 3/4 cup of the boiling water. Use a wooden spoon to mix well. Add more water as needed to make a soft, supple dough.

Knead the dough, using the heel of your hand to press the dough down, then fold the dough over, then press down again. Repeat until the dough is smooth and soft.

Pinch off ping-pong ball sized pieces of dough and roll into balls, setting them next to each other on the work surface, until all the dough is gone and you have all the balls of dough ready to roll.

(You should have approximately 20 balls of dough. If you have more, then your tortillas will be a bit smaller than Linda’s; and if you have less than 20, your tortillas will be larger. Either way is fine.)

Using a rolling pin, flatten each ball of dough and roll out into a thin circle, giving the dough a quarter turn after each roll, so the tortillas are nicely rounded. As you roll out discs, stack them on top of each other until all the balls are rolled out.

Preheat a flat, heavy pan (I used a cast iron griddle) and rub it down with a little Crisco on a folded paper towel.

When the pan is hot, drop one of the tortillas on it, and cook that side until it’s golden brown. Flip the tortilla to brown the other side.

Remove the tortilla from the pan and place on a plate.

Cook all the tortillas as you did the first one, greasing the pan as needed to prevent sticking.

Makes about 20.

*Note: You can use Manteca lard, or plain shortening, but Linda prefers the Crisco butter-flavored brand.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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4 Responses

  1. Avatar Linda says:

    Thank you Linda! Now I will have to try making tortillas once again. It has been years since I made them. I may be calling you for a refresher course!! Linda 🙂

    Feliz Navidad a todos nuestros amigos en Alimentos para el pensamiento: Una Noticias Café

  2. Avatar Dan Fliehmann says:

    I tried to make homemade tortillas for years but never got it right. It takes years and a lot of patience or pressure to make them right. We as a family had a tradition to go to my mothers aunt bee's house and make hundreds of tamales. I loved them and the whole family bonding. It was the same for tortillas only just with my mom and us three kids. I loved those times. We made all of the sugar tortillas we could handle and then some. Its nice you put the recipe in cups not handfulls cause thats how i learned. I learned from one of the sweetest ladies i've ever met in my lifetime. The very woman in your story, my mother. I still make tortillas really poorly but i can always count on my mother as a mexican to drown my sorrow in sweets and great food that takes a family to make. It makes everything seem relivant.

    • Avatar Linda Gutierrez says:

      Dan, Reading your response to Doni's story really made me happy. It really made me feel really good about sharing the tortilla's with all of you boys. It means a lot to me, coming from you. Love, Mom

  3. Avatar Jennifer Pirro says:

    Linda!

    This is Jenni!!

    I googled your name after I just found out you moved back to Redding.

    Call me at work. same place I've been at for years

    Jen