Corn tortillas are a staple of almost every Belizean meal. Similar to rice and beans, corn tortillas are the perfect accompaniment for a variety of local dishes, from soups to stews, and especially classic breakfasts like beans and eggs.
At 23, I have pretty much consumed my fair share of corn tortillas, but making them by hand is another story! While most Belizean girls of Mestizo or Maya heritage pride themselves in making the perfect handmade corn tortillas well… let’s just say I may have skipped my lessons. But that doesn’t mean I still don’t try to make them!
Corn tortillas are made from masa (a cornmeal dough), pressed down into flat circles and then baked them over a hot comal (a smooth, flat griddle). Today, pre-prepped masa can be purchased at your nearest tortilla factory; but back in the days, the masa had to be made from scratch.
Growing up, I was always astounded at how my grandmother prepared the masa for tortillas (and other Mestizo dishes such as tamales, bollos and k’ol). The dried corn kernels were boiled with lime powder (Calcium hydroxide) and then grinded on a hand cranked grinder called a molino – this was the part I usually had to do. Many, many children went through this rite of passage!
Once the masa was done, it was time to make tortillas!
Add salt to taste to the masa and knead until the dough has a fine smooth consistency.
Heat the comal on your stove top or a fire hearth (cooking over open fire is the traditional way to go, and it’s the secret ingredient to an authentic flavor).
• Measure about three ounces of dough and shape it into a ball.
• Place the dough ball into the center of a plastic sheet on a flat surface and mold it with your fingertips to form flat thin disk. While you press down the dough with one hand, use the other to keep the circular shape of the tortilla.
• Remove the pressed dough from the plastic sheet and gently lay flat to grill on the hot comal. When one side is golden, turn it over using your hands. As the next side cooks, the tortilla will puff up, use your bare hands or a cloth to pat it down. (The inflation of the tortilla when cooking means that it will be light and airy in the inside – just the way it’s supposed to be!)
• Once cooked, remove the tortilla from the comal and store in an airtight, lined and insulated container until ready to serve.
• Serve up some hot and fresh corn tortillas with your favourite meal!
Fun Fact! According to both Maya and Mestizo tradition, if a girl who plans to make tortillas holds a Cane Toad, locally know as a “w’oh”, their tortillas are sure to puff when cooking. Of course, the procedures of the tradition slightly vary in each culture; in the Maya culture, the toad needs to be caught then passed over and under the girl’s hands nine times.
While in the Mestizo culture, it is only required for the girl to catch the toad and hold it for a short while (these toads are known to puff up the minute they are touched). I guess I might have to revisit this tradition is I ever want puffy tortillas in my future! I’m off toad hunting!