Bites & Starters

Corn Tortillas

Making corn tortillas at home is probably not at the top of your to do list, but just maybe I can persuade you otherwise.

I used to make corn tortillas regularly when teaching visitors at the Santa Fe School of Cooking years ago. But I have to admit making tortillas at home fell by the wayside while living in Asia.
But I’m back in the Americas again where there are an abundance of ready made corn tortillas to choose from. Convenient, yes, but if you have ever tasted a freshly made corn tortilla you know there is no comparison.

Corn tortillas date back thousands of years to the Maya and Aztec cultures in Central America who developed a process of nixtamalizationof the corn that gives tortillas their distinctive flavor and also releases the nutritional values of the corn. You can read about this process in my post on Polenta ( click here)r Today corn tortillas are made using the same ground nixtamalized corn masa harina flour and the same traditional preparation methods. Corn tortillas fresh off a hot comal are colorful, aromatic, soft and pliable, and ready to be filled with whatever strikes your fancy.

So, with that in mind, let’s get to it!

There are only three ingredients required . corn masa harina,salt,  and water.

Masa harina is readily available in most grocery stores these days. Maseca is the standard white corn masa harina brand that iswidely available. There are also several other brands of both white and yellow and corn masa harinas that My recommend brands are Bob’s Red Mill organic golden corn flour masa harina for its rich yellow color, flavor, and texture. Or try King Arthur organic white corn masa harina. Both arevailable in somesupermarkets,as well as as Whole Foods, and online.

You will also need a tortilla press. I would recommend n economical and perfectly adequate aluminum tortilla press for around 16 $ on line. There are also a variety of heavier cast iron presses out there for the seriously committed at home tortilla maker!

For any press you choose you will need 2 plastic liners that are the same size as your tortilla press’s upper and lower plates. These plastic liners insure easy release of your tortillas once they are pressed. Freezer bag plastic works perfectly for this purpose. Just trace and cut them out to size. They are reusable. FYI, parchment or wax paper will not work!

Tortillas are traditionally cooked on a hot round cast iron comal, but a griddle, or a well seasoned cast iron skillet will be just fine..

And finally you will need a designated tortilla basket and a cotton cloth to wrap the tortillas in to keep them warm in the basket.

Corn tortillas: makes 116 tortillas or halve the recipe for 8.

  • 2 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill organic yellow corn masa harina or King Arthur organic white corn Masa Harina
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 2/3 cups warm water, approximately

Combine the masa flour and salt in a mixing bowl and mix to combine. Then, using your hand begin adding water while working it into the flour. Continue this process until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Slowly continue adding a little more water at a time until the dough comes together with the consistency of play dough. Ideally you want the dough to be moist, but not sticky. Then knead the dough for several minutes to allow the dough to absorb the moisture evenly throughout.

Then using an an ice cream scoop, d ivy out equal portions of dough and roll into 16 balls. Set them aside and covered with a damp kitchen towel.

Preheat your comal or skillet over medium heat for 15 minutes before you are ready to begin cooking the tortillas. You can adjust the heat slightly higher as needed once you begin cooking the tortillas.

Once you are set up and ready to go, place a plastic liner on the bottom tortilla press plate. Place a ball of masa dough in the middle of the press plate. Place the other plastic liner on top. Flatten the dough a little bit using your hand and then lower the upper press plate and apply pressure to pres the dough into a thin round tortilla. With a little practice you will be turning out perfectly round thin tortillas in no time!

Once pressed, lift the upper press plate and remove the tortilla and place it in the palm of your other hand. Gently peel off the plastic liner. Then flip the tortilla over inyour hand and peel off the remaining plastic liner. Then slide the tortilla onto the comal or skillet and cook for 30 or 40 seconds. Lift the edge of the tortilla and flip it over with a spatula, or fingers once you feel comfortable with the process. Let the tortilla cook another 60 to 80 seconds. Flip the tortilla over once again and cook another 15 or 20 seconds. You may see the tortilla puffing up slightly. Then transfer the tortilla to a basket lined with cotton cloth and cover while you continue making the remaining tortillas. This whole cooking process will become second nature in no time!

You can keep the tortillas warm in the basket for an hour or so. For longer storage, cool the tortillas to room temperature. Then stack them and slip them into a plastic bag, seal, and store in the refrigerator. Freezing is not recommended.

To rewarm the tortillas, remove them from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Then wrap the stacked tortillas in a cotton cloth and microwave for 10 to 15 seconds.

You may now congratulate yourself! You are on your way to becoming a tortilla master!

Well done!

…. and Buen provecho!

Wild caught Tuna Burger with Wasabi Mayo and Soft Pretzel bun

Thanks to Whole Foods this craveworthy paring can bed kept on hand in your freezer for one of those inevitable meals on a whim that you can whip up in no time.

Once cooked these tuna burgers are plump, juicy, and flavor sum and more so when topped with a heady wasabi mayo and tucked into these lightly toasted soft pretzel buns.

No recipe required other than a few preparation tips that follow.

Plan ahead and thaw out the tuna burgers and buns to room temperature.

Wasabi mayo:                                      

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise                        
  • 1 generous tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 0r 2 teaspoons wasabi paste (available in tubes)
  • a meager splash of soy sauce

Stir all the ingredients together in a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate.

Lightly toast the sliced soft pretzel buns, interior sides up, and set aside.

Sparingly glaze a non stick pan or grill pan with oil. Set the pan over medium low heat. Add the tuna burgers and cook for about 2 minutes. Flip the burger and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. Flip once again and press the tops lightly. When the tops feels just firm the burgers are done.

Spread a little wasabi mayo on the bottom halves of the buns and place the burgers on top. Top the burgers with a generous dollop of wasabi mayo, add the tops of the buns and serve.

Suggested: Serve the tuna burgers with a crisp seasonal salad dressed simply with olive oil and vinegar and seasoned with salt and pepper.

This is a lovely quick meal that you will find yourself returning to again and again!




















Chicken corn soup (click here) from my childhood has inspired many reinterpretations influenced by places I have lived over the years and here is yet another inspired by my life in Thailand.

Making an early morning warming rice based porridge is a ritual found across t Asia as well as in Asian communities here in the US!

I find myself returning again and again to the Asian practice of using rice as a foundation for soups in the same way we use potatoes in the west. The advantage in using rice is that it is flavor neutral, a perfect medium for flavor, a smooth texture, and a hearty viscosity.

Taking that idea a step further, slowly simmering 1 cup unwashed Short grain rice in 2 ½ cups stock will transform the rice into a thick translucent paste that is ideal for thickening stocks, soups, stews and sauces.  I  make a batch, store it in small containers and freeze it for use on demand.

Stock is of course the flavor base for so many applications, and making a Thai stock will requires finding and including some perhaps unfamiliar ingredients such as lemongrass, ginger root, coriander roots, galangal, Thai bird’s eye, chilies etc. I have found Whole foods is a good source if other options fail, but do not be be discouraged if you can’t find some of these ingredients. Just improvise, keeping in mind the more assertive the flavor the better.

Thai inspired Sweet Corn Soup aka Jok

3 qourts of of strained Thai flavored stock prepaired in advance, strain, and set aside or refrigerated.

If you would like to add chicken to this poridge, poach 2 chicken breasts in advance.

Rice for thickening the soup

  • r2 1/2 cups stock 
  • 1 cup precooked short grain rice
    Heat the stock in a sauce pan and add the precook rice, stir until simmering. Stir continuously until the rice has been completely broken down and translucent. Then puree using a hand held immersion blender until completely smooth and creamy, and set aside to use later.
  • Preparing the Soup
    21/2 quarts Thai flavored stock
  • 4 fresh sweet corn on the cob, kernels cut from the cob, include cob scrapings
  • 3 young celery stalks, finely diced
  • 1/2 inch knob ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced and diced
  • 1 or 2 small Thai red bird’s ye chilies, seeds removed and finely minced
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 6 Thai basil leaves sliced lengthwise
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • sea salt or soy sauce to taste
  • 2 tablespoons freshly sliced chives
    If you are adding chicken to this soup, use prepared poach chicken breasts.

Pour the Thai stock into a stock pot set over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add the cut corn and cob scrapings, celery, ginger root, and chilies and and simmer for 12 minutes. Add the fish sauce, oyster sauce and bring back to a simmer.

Add some of the pureed rice mixture and stir until simmering. Adjust the consistency by string in more rice mixture sa needed.

Add he Thai basil leaves and simmer while stirring until you are ready to serve.
Taste and add salt or soy sauce to taste

If you are using poached chicken breast pull it into bite size strands and place in individual soup bowls before adding the soup.

Stir the lime juice into soup and ladle it in to individual soup bowls. scatter fresh chives over the surface and serve promptly.


Yam Som O in is a spicy Thai pomelo salad. Pomelo is a large tropical grapefruit like citrus fruit native to South East Asia. The salad includes shrimp, toasted coconut, shallots, peanuts, tossed together with a spicy chili-coconut lime dressing.

While I love the traditional Thai yam som o (click here) the conundrum is finding pomelo if you do not live in the tropics. That said I have found ruby red grapefruit to be an ideal stand in for the pomelo in an equally zesty Yam Som O.


The recipe that follows otherwise adheres to the traditional ingredients of this salad which will require gathering together some Thai ingredients that you may not have on hand as well as preparing a roasted Thai chili paste which I promise will fill l your kitsch with a “breathtaking” aroma of an authentic Thai kitchen. This chilli paste can be prepared in advance and refrigerated.

Thai roasted chili paste

  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 3 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons dried red bird’s eye chills, seeds removed and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon shrimp paste
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons palm sugar or light brown sugar

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a small saute pan set over medium heat. When hot add the shallots. Saute until wilted. Add the garlic and saute until the shallots and-garlic are golden. Then Add the chills and saute until softened.

Transfer the contents of the pan to mortar, or small processor and set the pan aside. Add the shrimp paste, fish sauce, and sugar and pound or process the mixture until emulsified.

Add dd the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan. When the oil is hot add the chili mixture and saute for several minutes until reduced to a paste like consistency.
Allow the mixture to cool and then transfer it to a jar. Bets used while fresh, or refrigerate for up to a month or so.

The dressing may also be prepared ahead and refrigerated.


  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons roasted chili paste

Pour the coconut milk into a small sauce pan and bring to a low boil. Add the palm sugar and swirl the pan until dissolved. Add the fish sauce and lime juice and swirl to combine. Then add the roasted chili paste and stir until it is incorporated. Reduce he heat to a low simmer and cook for10 minutes. Set aside to cool and then store in a jar with lid and refrigerate.


Thai Yam Som Oo salad      Serves two


  • 2 cups precooked and de veined small shrimp that has been well chilled
  • 2 tablespoons shallots tht have been thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons garlic that hat has bee thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 4 tablespoons toasted shredded coconut
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh red chills
  • 2 cups fresh ruby red grapefruit sections
  • 2 tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts
  • 2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves
  • 2 iceberg lettuce cups for lining the individual serving bowls

Place the chilled shrimp in a non reactive salad bawl. Scatter the sliced shallots and sliced garlic over the shrimp. Scatter three quarters of the toasted coconut and chopped fresh red chilies over the contents of the bowl. Pour some dressing over all and toss, adding more dressing as needed until the salad is evenly dressed.

At this point the salad may be refrigerated briefly while you prepare for serving.


Divide the salad into two individual serving bowls lined with iceberg lettuce. Tuck ruby red grapefruit sections into the salads generously. Spoon a little more dressing over the salads if needed. Sprinkle toasted peanuts and coconut over the salads. Add the remaining grapefruit on top of the salads and dust with a few pinches of peanuts a toasted coconut and garnish with fresh coriander leaves or zesty sprouts and serve.

Serve promptly.

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