Ingredient of the Week: Tortillas

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LexnGer
If you live in Texas, the tortilla is a staple in your pantry right next to the loaf of Texas toast. It's such a regular part of our diet, we often don't think twice about its history or endless possibilities. Stop a minute, and give the tortilla the attention it deserves. Here's some tortilla trivia to impress your amigos the next time you eat tacos.

What is it?

Tortilla means "little cake" in Spanish. The Mexican version of the tortilla we often find in Texas is a flatbread made of either maize (corn) flour or wheat flour. (This latter form is what we commonly refer to as flour tortillas.) Because it contains more gluten, the flour tortilla is less delicate than the corn, and thus can be made larger and thinner without tearing. Authentic tacos from Mexico are usually made with corn tortillas, but flour tortillas are frequently used in Tex-Mex cuisine.

The first Mexican tortilla dates back to thousands of years BC and was made of maize. When Hernando Cortez arrived from Spain in what is now Mexico during the sixteenth century, he observed the Aztecs making flatbread, then called tlaxcalli. The flatbread was later dubbed "tortilla" by the Spaniards. In Spain, though, if you ask for a tortilla, don't expect the same thing; over there, a tortilla is a potato-based omelet.

How do I use it?

With the exception of a few dishes, both corn and flour tortillas can be used interchangeably to make Tex-Mex food. Tex-Mex cuisine has such variety that it's easy to get confused: What's the difference between a taquito and a flauta? Worse yet, many non-Texans don't even know the difference between a burrito and a taco. Here's a quick rundown.

The traditional taco is made by wrapping a tortilla loosely around meat (or beans if you're vegetarian) and topping it with some salsa or pico de gallo. If you use scrambled eggs, chorizo, and potatoes, it becomes a breakfast taco.

If you wrap a corn tortilla tightly around meat or potatoes, leave the ends open, and deep-fry it, you've got a taquito.

Burritos are large flour tortillas wrapped around beans and cheese with the ends tucked in. Other meats, vegetables, rice, and sauces can also be added to a burrito's filling.

Fry that burrito, and you've got a chimichanga.

Enchiladas are typically made with corn tortillas: stuff with meat and sauce, top with more sauce, and bake.

Fry that enchilada, and you've got a flauta.

Serve tortillas with grilled skirt steak, onions, and bell peppers, and you've got fajitas.

Topped with cheese, folded, and toasted? Quesadillas.

Cut, deep-fried, and served with salsa, queso, or guacamole? Tortilla chips.

It's limitless.

Both corn and flour tortillas are low in fat and cholesterol, although the corn has less sodium than the flour variety.

Where can I find it?

You can often buy tortillas straight from the Tex-Mex restaurants themselves. At the Original ninfa's on Navigation, you can watch tortillas being made fresh. Revival Market sells pre-packaged tortillas from Hugo's. I personally love the bigger-than-your-face, buttery-thin tortillas from Lupe.

If you're truly adventurous, the Homesick Texan offers a homemade flour tortilla recipe. Otherwise, you will find tortillas in the bread aisle of almost any grocery store. Having surpassed bagels and muffins, they are the second most sold packaged bread product in the U.S. next to sliced bread.

Recipe: Beef Flautas
Once again, the Homesick Texan shares her beef flautas recipe. Are they flautas? Taquitos? Tacos dorados? Whatever they are, they're good.

Do you prefer corn or flour? Where can we find the best tortillas? I've heard that if you have to buy the pre-packaged kind, Mission makes the best tortillas, but I often find them too doughy. Any recommendations? Any tips to prepare tortillas for eating? Heat in the microwave? Heat in a pan with butter? What do you do with your tortillas?



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Location Info

Ninfa's

2704 Navigation Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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14 comments
Joan Marie Davidson
Joan Marie Davidson

Hmmm. Perhaps true in NM and Texas, your definitions of foods but.... ain't necessarily so in Mexico

missXminnie
missXminnie

I noticed Whataburger changed the tortillas on the "taquitos." They are flakier and more authentic now than that ghostly white, chewy thing the used to wrap them in. To me, a real tortilla de harina should be thin and flaky, therefore, to get the good, pre-packaged ones, you may have to try a Mexican meat market, or a grocery store like Food Town. Either that or have a traditional mom/grandma who makes them. :)

Roy Schneider
Roy Schneider

Nothing like a Texas Tortilla a little chewy compared to Mexican tortillas. 

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

Re: "Fry that enchilada, and you've got a flauta". Not really. The confusion comes from the fact that most people do not understand that enchilada is short-hand for the correct but much longer "tortilla enchilada". That is, a tortilla that has been coated with chile in some form (and this would typically be a sauce made from reconstituing dried chiles). In the same way a tortilla entomatada is just called entomatada and a tortilla enfrijolada is just called enfrijolada. The tortilla is understood.

Now, a flauta (flute in Spanish is a filled, rolled (toothpicks to keep it from unravelling) and deep fried tortilla.

In my opinion you can forget about a separate definition for taquito. To a Spanish speaking person that would just mean a little taco as in an appetizer size or, as an endearment. Just call them tacos and leave the "taquito" appendage to the Jack in the Boxes and Taco Bells of the world.

Terry Alexander
Terry Alexander

Fresh tortillas are the food worlds way of saying to food - I love you. It's like the hug before the kiss when paired with the right food. I think I may go have Tex Mex tonight.TA

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

With this said, I'm still not sure what the difference between a taquito and a flauta is.  Or for that matter, the difference between a chalupa and a tostada?

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

The confusion respect to chalupa and tostada is understandable. It's a regional thing. Not on par with the insanity of a Taco Bell that uses a Spanish word for one kind of thing for a completely different kind of thing (their use of gordita for example).  In Texas, chalupa is pretty much used interchangeably with tostada I've notice and indicates a flat, crispy tortilla slathered with refried beans and topped with lettuce and tomato as a minimum and (typically) the same ground beef filling that you'd find in a Tex-Mex taco.  Now, chalupa is a name for an indigenous boat or canoe. In central Mexico it is typically fresh masa shaped into a round form with a little ridge so that the filling is held in place. Keep in mind that a lot of these dishes are what Mexicanos would call antojitos ('before the eyes" - appetizers) and the same type of filled crispy tortilla may have different names based on its shape (similar to the names given to differenct shapes of pasta). Thus, you'll find chalupas, sopes, huaraches, etc. pretty much describing a flat tortilla of varying thickness filled with a combination of such things as frijoles refritos, meat, salad ingredients, etc. One of the best places to sample antojitos of these kinds is at Gorditas Aguascalientes. Order one of each and compare. And keep in mind that if you were in a different region of Mexico the same names might indicate a slightly different variation.

Christine Ha
Christine Ha

I do know that flautas mean "flutes" in Spanish, so they are long and thin.  I have heard (even before previous comment) that you secure toothpicks on the ends before frying.  Taquitos seem to be an invention of the American per se.  I would think of taquitos as more finger foods and flautas as more of a main dish.  Tostada literally means "toasted" so I think anything could be tostada as long as it's toasted.  Again this is a guess, but maybe all chalupas are tostadas but not all tostadas are chalupas?  Me duele la cabeza.

So Freaking Hungry
So Freaking Hungry

To my Mexican-American family, a taquito was just the way to say "small taco" for breakfast. A flauta is a meat stuffed corn tortilla rolled (secured with a toothpick) and deep fried. An enchilada is a corn tortilla coated in a red gravy (chili powder, flour, water and spices) and filled with cheese. A tostada is a fried flat corn tortilla topped with beans, meat, cheese and veggies. On that note, I need to visit my Abuela and beg her to make me dinner tonight=]

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

My guess (without doing any research) is that if you're eating a flour tortilla based faluta, you're probably in California. In Mexico, I've only seen corn tortilla flautas. Then again, the flour tortilla thing may be Northern (Sonora, Sinaloa, etc.) .

Bruce R
Bruce R

And where does the Crunchwrap Supreme fit into all this?

Call them what you want, but corn tortillas work better for deep frying, as in flautas.  Notice the abundance of fried corn chips but not so many fried flour chips.  We tend to bake flour chips and call them crackers.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

It now seems that flautas are with tightly wrapped flour tortillas rather than the taquitos.  The Chalupa/Tostada thing needs to be answered.  But the best combination has already been made.  Hugo's couldn't out-do the masterpiece.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

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