Tag Archives: corn

Tribute to the Women of Oaxaca by Lila Downs. Disfruta bien! Enjoy!

“Era importante para mí hacer un tributo a algunas mujeres de mi país que muelen maíz y lo llevan al canto y lo celebran como un milagro que a mí me ha inspirado mucho para poder seguir caminando y cantando.” ~ Lila Downs

“It was important for me to honor the women of my country that grind corn in song and celebrate it as a miracle that inspired me a lot to keep walking and singing.”~ Lila Downs

Video footage filmed in the Tlacolula valley of Oaxaca and the village of Teotitlan del Valle. Disfruta bien! This is where I get to live. Thank you Lila Downs and Paul Cohen for all you do.

Upcoming Oaxaca workshopscreative writing, photography, weaving and natural dyes — give you this sense of place.

Read more about the traditional trajes (costumes, dress) worn by Mexican women with commentary by Sheri Brautigam on Living Textiles of Mexico.

So Easy Recipe for Homemade Organic Corn Tortillas + Yummy Mini-Quesadillas

Mini-quesadilla on a Talavera de la Reyna plate

Who would have thought that making fresh corn tortillas would be so easy?  I have watched for years as Magda takes her organic corn kernels to the local molina (corn grinder) in Teotitlan del Valle, then adds lime and salt, mixes the dough, tenderly pats out the little corn circles by hand, and tends them with her thumb and forefinger at the hot comal in the garden kitchen.  I make a mental note:  Too much trouble.  Easier to buy them. But it doesn’t have to be like that!

I discovered the simplicity of homemade tortillas during the cooking class I recently took with Pilar Cabrera Arroya, chef of La Olla Restaurant in Oaxaca.   She bought the masa (corn dough) already prepared fresh that morning at her local market.  Back at class, we used the tortilla press to make 6″ tortillas that we used for mini-quesadillas — a perfect botana (appetizer).

Testing the masa (dough) for pliability

So, back home in North Carolina I bought a similar tortilla press at my local Mexican tienda, stopped at my local organic market and purchased a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Masa Harina (not organic), followed the recipe on the bag and went to work. (Readers recommend using Gold Mine organic masa harina.)  Of course, the comal (griddle) you see below is a thin steel one that I picked up from the Tlacolula market, hauled home and then seasoned.  You might be able to find a comal like this at your local Mexican store, too.  Thinner is better for making tortillas and roasting peppers, garlic, onions, tomatoes, etc.  Season it first before using!

I use Bob's Red Mill Masa Harina (organic)

Steps for excellent, fresh and easy tortillas:

1.  Mix the dough according to package instructions.  Let it rest for an hour in a covered bowl.  Test the dough with your thumb to be sure it is soft and no cracks appear on the surface.  If needed, flick water on it, then knead to absorb moisture.  Your thumb should make a nice, soft impression!

2.  Take a small thin plastic bag that you have used to package your vegetables from the supermarket.  Be sure it is clean has has no veggie residue on it.  Cut it in half and trip off any excess.  Lay one half on the bottom of the tortilla press.

Dough ball is centered on plastic

3.  Heat your comal on a medium-high burner.  Do not add oil.  The comal should be dry.

4.  Form a 1-1/2″ to 2″ ball of masa with your palms.  Center it on top of the plastic.  Lay the second sheet of plastic on top of the ball.  Press.  Flip the plastic covered dough to the other side and press again.  Flip and press again (3x).

5.  Lift the plastic encased dough off the press.  Gently remove one side of the plastic.  Careful, don’t tear the edges of the tortilla!  Then, remove the second sheet.  Place on the hot comal.

Gently peel the plastic from the tortilla

6.  Good things come in 3’s!  Pilar says to cook the tortilla on one side for about 30-45 seconds, turn it, cook again, and then turn it and cook one more time.  I like a little color on my tortilla, so you can watch to see how well you like it done.  There should be little bubbles on the surface of the first side, then the second side should be smooth and a little puffy.

Cook tortilla until it begins to puff, turning 3x

Lay tortilla onto hot comal (no oil)

7.  Make a little quesadilla:  use Oaxaca string cheese (quesilla) or a slice of Swiss or Monterrey Jack cheese.  Put the tortilla back on the hot comal.  Add the cheese, a tablespoon of green salsa verde, chopped onion or scallion, a sprig of cilantro, and Buen Provecho!

Quesadillas with fresh corn tortillas hot off the comal

And the taste is so much better than what you could buy in the store.  Plus, this would be a great party activity — make your own tortillas!

P.S.  Come to Oaxaca with us for the 2011 Day of the Dead Documentary Photography Expedition led by Bill Bamberger.  Register today!

NAFTA, Hybrid Corn, Oaxaca Milpas and Climate Change: Which Corn Will Survive?

June 16, 2010, The Nation, Retreat to Subsistence by Peter Canby


Here is a lengthy and worthwhile article written about the breakdown of NAFTA promises and the pressure on the indigenous Oaxaca farmer to give up small plot farming of native corn, beans and squash (milpas) in favor of supposedly more highly productive hybrid corn.  Never mind that it takes fossil fuel energy in the form of chemical fertilizers to feed hybrid corn.  Never mind that insecticides and herbicides required for this type of farming destroy the wild herbs and vegetables that could be the source for food evolution and seed adaptation.  The author suggests that it is the indigenous farmers who will develop the crops that will sustain drought, heat, cold, etc. because they will need to continue to feed their families and communities.  Just as maize was cultivated 8,000 years ago, the evolution of food will continue as long as adaption is politically and economically supported.