Making your own tortillas is a lot like making homemade pasta or bread. It’s not that difficult (though you still might want to wait for a weekend night to do it), AND it’s so worth the effort.

While in some parts of the country, folks can get fresh tortillas or masa and an assortment of chilies in their local grocery stores, we in Maine generally need to resort to packaged corn tortillas or make our own.

We also need to be flexible about the kind of chilies we’ll use in a recipe unless we’re willing to mail-order.

Over the past several years, I’ve been experimenting with cooking techniques from Mexico and Central America. Truthfully, until recently, I’ve been reticent to use chilies to any great extent in the food I create. I love spicy, I just don’t love the blow-the-back-of-your-head-off feeling that comes from a haphazard and liberal use of spice.

I’ve also been careful to not inflict that sort of torment on the folks for whom I cook. However, in the process of playing with ingredients from south of the border, I opened a door into a world of flavor.

To make tortillas, you need either fresh masa or masa harina. In Maine, it’s pretty uncommon to be able to find fresh masa — freshly ground corn that has been processed with lime. Masa is very perishable, and needs to be used fresh.

Masa harina, dehydrated, powdered masa, is almost as good. Make sure that you are NOT buying corn meal. Masa harina is finer in grain and more regular in color than corn meal is. You can usually find it in either the specialty foods section or the bulk section of your grocery store.

You will need a tortilla press to make your own tortillas. If you have a friend who has one, maybe borrow it to make sure that it’s a process you’ll want to continue. In any event, the experiment is worth the effort. Give it a go!

FISH TACOS WITH SALSAS

Serve with mixed greens, brown rice, avocado slices and lime wedges if desired.

FISH:

1 pound fresh haddock or other flaky white fish

Several pinches of kosher salt

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons sliced garlic, about three cloves of garlic

1/2 cup sliced red onion, about half of a small onion

Pinch more of salt

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/2 cup diced tomatoes, about half of a tomato

Lay haddock out on a platter or the butcher’s paper in which it was wrapped. Salt both sides and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, the garlic and the onions. Saute until both begin to slightly brown on the edges. Add the fish and a little more salt and the black pepper. Cover and reduce heat to medium. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes without stirring. The fish is done when it is nearly opaque all the way through. Add the lime juice and tomatoes to the pan, very gently stir to break up the fish ever so slightly. Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve immediately with salsas, beans, rice and greens.

Servings: Four to six

 

REFRIED PINTO BEANS

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup diced onions, about half of a medium onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic, about one clove

1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper, about half of a pepper

2 14-ounce cans pinto beans, with juices

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and pepper and saute for another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the beans and bring to a simmer. Cook down all of the liquid. When the beans begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, reduce heat and cook for another 1 or 2 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan with a spatula. Serve immediately.

Servings: Four to six

 

RADISH AND RED ONION SALSA

1/2 cup julienned radish, about four radishes

1/2 cup julienned red onion, about half of a small onion

Pinch of kosher salt

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons lime juice, about a quarter of a lime

1 teaspoon minced cilantro

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and serve.

Makes: 1 cup

 

PINEAPPLE AND RED PEPPER SALSA

This salsa is like a burst of sunshine in your mouth with fresh pineapple (not worth the effort with canned pineapple).

1/4 cup minced red pepper

3/4 cup finely diced pineapple

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon minced jalapeno pepper

1 teaspoon cilantro

Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and serve.

Makes: 1 cup

 

TORTILLAS

If you have leftover tortillas, you can use them in soup like you would pasta. Just tear them into bite-sized pieces and let them simmer in the broth for about 5 minutes before you serve.

Two to three tortillas per person is about the right amount for a full meal.

13/4 cup masa harina

11/4 cups hot water

Combine the masa harina and water in a bowl and let sit, covered, for 30 minutes. Add more cool water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough is workable but not too sticky; it should be pliable and easily rolled into a ball without sticking to your hands or cracking on the edges when you try to flatten it.

To press, use a plastic bag cut down to size and fit it over the tortilla press. Test dough in the press to be sure it’s not too sticky or too dry. Divide the dough into 15 golf ball-sized rounds and cover with plastic wrap, as they tend to dry out quickly.

Heat a griddle or skillet that fits over two burners to two different heats: One side should be medium-low and the other medium or medium-high. Once the tortilla is pressed, peel the plastic off and flip onto the low-heat side for about 15 seconds. It will stick initially and then come loose. If you leave it too long on this side, it will tend to dry out. Then, with your fingers, flip to the higher-heat side for about 1 minute, or until it’s browned a bit. Flip again on the higher-heat side and brown the other side. They should puff up if you’ve prepared them correctly.

Transfer to a cloth-lined basket and cover with the cloth. They are better when they’ve rested for about 10 minutes and steamed a bit in their own heat.

If you need to reheat the tortillas, place them, wrapped in cloth, in a steamer and steam for 10 minutes or so. Serve immediately.

Makes: 15 tortillas

 

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of “At Home, At Sea.” She can be reached at chefannie@mainewindjammer.com