Homemade Corn Tortillas

mahi mahi taco

On the list of things I have never even attempted to make at home (along with pasta and sushi) are homemade corn tortillas. The ingredients must be too exotic to find, right? It must take hours. You probably need special equipment.

So I keep buying store bought corn tortillas when I plan to make tacos. And I keep throwing away at least half of the package because I never use them all before they go bad (yes they eventually go bad or at least get overly dried out). I’ve already conquered homemade sushi this year. Certainly I can made homemade corn tortillas?

It helps that I got gifted a tortilla press for Christmas. Nothing like gift guilt to get you motivated.

Tortilla press

Got It In The Bag

Homemade corn tortillas require two ingredients. That’s it! Masa harina, which is corn flour, and water. Find it near other flours in any grocery store. As it turns out I had purchased masa harina for my attempt at recreating the shredded chicken and chile tamales that my friend Maria used to make for me. That story later.

I had to buy a huge bag of masa of which I needed about 1 cup for my tamale project. After that, I put the rest in the freezer and promptly forgot about it. So excited when I realized I had another use for it and that I could liberate freezer space!

Maseca Instant Corn Flour

Lost In Translation

Quick side story on tamales before we get to corn tortillas.

I met a lady named Maria a few years ago. She spoke mostly Spanish. I was trying to learn Spanish at the time and she was eager to learn more English so we used to practice with each other.

One day she was telling me that she was making tamales for her family. She asked me if I liked them. I told her I’d never tried them. Next week she shows up with a couple of her shredded chicken and green chile tamales which were the most exotic and delicious thing I’d ever eaten at that point in my life.

I tried to ask her how they are made but that was a little beyond both of our bilingual vocabularies. Instead, I asked her if she would make a large batch for me and I’d pay her for the ingredients and her time. I was about to have some family in town for the holidays and thought this would be fun and would take care of at least one meal.

“How many you want?” she asked in Espanol.

“About 18?”

She looked at me a little funny. I guess 18 was a strange number but she gave me the impression that she made tamales in pretty large batches so I thought maybe she was thinking that was too small a batch.

Fast forward one week. Maria shows up with this huge tray covered in foil. She sits it on my counter and says she will be right back. She brings in another tray. Then another.

This is where we figured out that my Spanish numbers weren’t muy bien. Apparently I had asked for 80 tamales, not 18.

Thank god you can freeze them.

Slow Learner

I didn’t truly appreciate what it takes to make 80 tamales until I tried to make 8 myself. The filling was easy enough but rolling them in the corn husk and steaming them proved to be way harder than it looked on YouTube. Video below of my pathetic tamale.

Tamale Success!

Not much to look at but they tasted amazing 🙂 Let’s hope homemade corn tortillas are easier.

Need to Knead?

So once you mix your masa and water, the question then becomes how much to knead. I tend to underdo it based on my experience with flour based doughs for pie crust. Less is more. I’ve now made homemade corn tortillas 3 times. My verdict is that they do need to be kneaded a bit. The dough needs time to absorb the water (use warm water).

When it came time to learning the cooking process, I went straight to Rick Bayless. I’ve been a fan of Rick’s for years. He is a celebrity chef specializing in Southwest/Mexican food. I like his video style. He looks like a guy you’d want to have a beer (and a taco) with.

Pursuing the Puff

His technique looks pretty simple. Technically it is. I even have the same press and cast iron griddle he used. On my first try I actually got a couple to puff!!

My first attempt – got some puff!!

On my next two attempts they did not. I think griddle heat and not kneading enough were the culprits. Still trying to get that part right. The good news is, they are still totally edible and better than store-bought even if they don’t puff.

Delicious even if they don’t puff

Endless Possibilities

Tacos offer endless possibilities – from basic with one or two ingredients to super bougie with fancy sauces and pickled toppings. For me, there are 4 important components.

  • Main filling – either fish, meat or a hearty veggie like cauliflower, mushrooms or beans
  • Crunch – either a slaw, corn, radish, pickled veggies or raw pepper
  • Moisture – I love cilantro crema but I’ve used hummus, Greek yogurt or just a lot of lime juice
  • Cilantro. To me, it ain’t a taco without it.

Here’s my yummy grilled mahi mahi taco from my initial attempt at homemade corn tortillas. I used guacamole AND Greek yogurt, radishes, shredded pickled carrot (you can buy pickled veggies!) and corn.

Grilled Mahi Mahi Taco with Guac and Pickled Carrots

Found this Easy Vegan Taco recipe online about a year ago and have made it multiple times. It’s the first thing I think of when I see pre-cooked lentils in the produce section at Whole Foods – makes it a super quick weeknight meal. I make the cashew cilantro crema for almost all of my tacos now.

Easy Vegan Tacos from A Couple Cooks, click image to jump

Elevate the Chanterelle

Chanterelle mushrooms are a rare visitor to the farmer’s market. They come late spring/early summer in humid, rainy weather. Some people are lucky enough to have them growing in their backyard (and most of those people have no idea what a treasure they have). Usually you’ll have to find someone who actually forages for them in the woods or swamp. They make a great taco filling.

‘Fraid of Fungus?

Check out my previous post featuring my Caramelized Onion & Mushroom Frittata for ways to conquer your fear. Chanterelles are a good place to start as they are probably the least mushroomy of mushrooms. Make sure you can recognize them so you don’t miss out!

Chanterelle Mushrooms

If you get lucky enough to come across these at a Farmer’s Market, grab them and make these delicious chanterelle and corn tacos. Saute chanterelles in oil and butter, add fresh corn cut from the cob to the pan until hot. Top with cilantro crema, chopped chives, crumbled goat cheese. Yum!!

Got tips on how to make perfect homemade corn tortillas? Please share in the comment section!

Published by Jenny G

I'm sipping coffee in the morning, reading a cookbook for fun. Always planning my next trip and what I'll eat when I get there. Hoping to inspire others who share my love of cooking and eating, and to celebrate the wonderous diversity of food. I love to explore the world so I'll share my best itineraries and travel tips. Of course, sometimes I'd rather be snuggled up with a glass of wine and a good book so let's discuss those here too. And don't forget to feed the birds!

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