Just the name alone should conjure up warm memories of your Mexican grandmother in the kitchen, the sweet smell of corn on the griddle as her worn hands patted together those disc-shaped wonders. You were a child and she handed one to you, still steaming, perhaps with melted cheese or fresh butter on top, and you sank your baby teeth into it, firm and browned on the outside and so so soft inside, and you could tell: your Abuelita loves you very much.
Unless, like me, you didn't have a Mexican grandmother. Some of us just aren't born that lucky, so we must make do with what we've got.
In this case, I became my own Abuelita when I made fresh corn tortillas. You can do it too. Here's how:
2 cups Masa de Harina (we used Maseca brand)
1.25 cups warm water
A pinch of sea salt
1 tsp shortening or lard (unnecessary, completely optional authentic touch)
Mix everything in a bowl with your hands. The shortening or lard, if used, should be melted before it's mixed in. The consistency of the dough should be fairly dry, just enough to stick together without falling apart. Add water or flour to adjust consistency.
Use wax paper or a plastic bag on the tortilla press to keep dough from sticking to the metal. Form a golf-ball-sized ball of dough, put it in the tortilla press, and press that sucker down.
Now carefully peel off the tortilla and throw it on the hot griddle or in a pan. Tortillas!
If you don't have a tortilla press, that's okay. You can use your hands, a rolling pin, or a plate to flatten the masa balls into discs. Gwen got our tortilla press from a local Mexican market (Lepe's on Sebastopol Road), and it was cheap and has been more than worth it, considering how often I bust it out for a quick quesadilla, tacos for lunch, or just to show it off.
When I was a kid, our family was very close with Jose Perez, owner of the Perez Family Restaurant in Roseland. It was a truly old-school family-style Mexican restaurant, with fresh pozole and menudo on the weekends prepared by Jose's wife, Josie Perez, in the small kitchen in the back. Each huge bowl of soup was served with a stack of fresh, hot corn tortillas. Now I can bring that experience to my own kitchen and revive the memory of the Mexican grandmother I never had. I can be my own Abuelita.