June 7, 2012

Homemade Corn Tortillas Stuffed with Beet Greens

Open faced taco
I recently acquired a new toy for my kitchen - you might have guessed that it's a tortilla press. In the store, when I held the box in my hand for the first time, I was overcome with visions of fresh tortillas in all forms: tacos, tostadas, tortilla chips, enchiladas. It had me at tacos.

Before I get on with the actual recipe - a note on the line between scratch-made cooking and store-bought staples. I know that for the sake of time and money, it's always a balance to decide what should be made at home and what foods can just be purchased. It's true, these days there are a myriad of quality salsas on the market, and so you do not have to make salsa at home. The same could be said about store-bought tortillas, although how tasty or authentic or good-for-you they are is not as clear-cut. I rarely have a good experience with flour tortillas that I buy in the store, I find that they pale in comparison to the real deal. And, often, when I look at the ingredients, I put them straight back on the shelf. And, I don't think I've ever even attempted to buy corn tortillas. Both tortillas and salsa are incredibly simple to make and, there is no doubt about it, when made from scratch you will quickly realize that there is absolutely no comparison.

IMG_3649 So, I set out on my first completely scratch-made Mexican inspired kitchen adventure. The market was particularly good to me last weekend and I scored a plentiful bunch of picture-perfect beets, which I mentioned in my last post. I used the beets themselves for pasta and kept the beet greens for another day. I mean, look at these beet greens - they deserved their own meal.

Picture-perfect beets

Well - their dish had come - in the form of a rather, erm, let's say, unconventional taco.

Salsa | Tortillas
The flour for the corn tacos is called masa harina, and can be picked up in most grocery stores. Masa harina is a finely ground corn flour made from corn kernels that have been soaked and cooked in limewater and then dried and ground again. I used this brand, which you can order online if you have trouble finding it at your local store.

Masa is nothing more than masa harina seasoned with salt and mixed with water to form a dough. It's incredibly forgiving, so if you have a dough-phobia, there is no need to worry about this one. The only issue you might have is if the dough is overly moist or too dry. In either case, it is easily fixed. If the dough is too moist, it will stick to both your hands and the press, so simply add more masa harina to it. If it's too dry, it will crumble when pressed and break at the edges. If this is the case, simply add more water to the mix and re-roll.

Masa harina dough balls
Pressed Pressed corn tortillas Tacos fresh off the griddle

Once you get down with making masa at home, the possibilities are endless. I'm dreaming about all of the summer time fiestas already. Oh, and huevos rancheros for brunch. All as a result of this little tortilla press. We really were meant to be.

Tacos with Greens and Beans

What you'll need:
For the corn tortillas -
2 cups masa harina
A generous pinch of kosher salt
1 1/4 warm water, maybe more

For the beet green filling -
1 generous bunch of beet greens, rinsed, trimmed and greens separated from stalks
6 or 7 garlic scapes, rinsed and diced
8 oz of black beans, rinsed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
A dash or two of Tabasco sauce, or hot sauce of choice
2 Tablespoons olive oil or canola oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the tomato salsa -
16oz can of tomatoes
1 big handful of fresh cilantro, rinsed
1 jalapeno, trimmed and diced (optional)
3 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the masa by combining the masa harina, salt and water in a large bowl. Mix it together until it forms one smooth and cohesive ball of dough. Add more water if needed.
Cover in plastic and allow to rest for one hour.
After the dough has rested, cut the ball into 4 equal quarters. Then, cut each quarter into 4 equal portions again. Each of these 16 portions of dough equates to one tortilla.
Hand roll each of the 16 pieces of dough to form mini balls of dough that are roughly 1 1/2  inches in diameter.
Sprinkle the tortilla press with extra masa harina, to prevent the dough from sticking. Alternatively, you can also line the press with plastic wrap.
Place one ball in the center of the press, and using your thumb, press it into a small disc.
Bring the top of the press over the dough, and use the lever to press it into a flat tortilla.
The tortilla should easily come away from the plastic wrap, if using, or the press.
Follow the same process for each of the 16 pieces of dough. Laying each pressed tortilla flat on a piece of parchment paper.

To cook the tortillas - get a cast iron griddle or pan nice and warm over medium-low heat.
Add the tortillas directly to the heated griddle, one or two at a time.
Let the tortillas cook for about 1 minute, or until the edges begin to curl. Turn the tortilla over, it should be flecked with golden brown spots on top.
Cook on the other side for another minute and, using a spatula, remove the tortilla from the pan.
Continue until all 16 tortillas are cooked.

Prepare the filling by filling your sauté pan with salted water. Bring this to the boil and add the stalks of the beet greens. Parboiling them will soften the stalks a bit so that they can be sautéed with the tender leaves.
Boil for just 2 or 3 minutes, until they are al dente. Drain the stalks and water from the pan.
Dry the pan, return it to the stovetop over low heat and add the oil. Once the oil is warm, add the diced garlic scapes and sauté until they begin to turn golden brown at the edges.
Add the rinsed and dried beet greens and blanched stalks to the oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Sauté for just a 3-4 minutes, or until the greens have wilted.
Add the black beans to the mix, stir to incorporate and taste for seasoning.
Cook until the black beans are heated through.
Turn the heat off and leave filling to the side.

The salsa is as easy as putting all of the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor or blender and pureeing until smooth. Depending on your tomatoes, you will have to adjust the salt and pepper accordingly - some canned tomates are more flavorful depending on brand, how they were grown and when they were picked.
I used a whole jalapeno because I like hot salsa - but you can use half, or none at all.

Once all of your components are complete, you're ready to assemble the tortillas.
Reheat the filling if necessary, just by warming it in the pan over low heat.
I made some open-faced, kind of like tostadas, and some rolled like normal tacos.
I used a tongs to gather the greens and stalks and a spoon to make sure each taco got a generous portion of scapes and black beans as well.
Once stuffed, I topped with salsa and served with a wedge of lime.

The only thing that was missing was a margarita.


  1. have you ever tried to make corn tortillas without a press? I tried once and it really did not work. i couldn't get the right balance between too wet/sticky and too dry/crumbly. it was sad since i like corn better than flour tortillas but flour is easier to make at home.

    1. No, I have not made them without a press personally, but I know lots of folks who have! I have heard through the grapevine that using the back of a dinner plate, lined with plastic wrap, works well. And - if that seems too unwieldy, you can even take a dough ball and place it between 2 pieces of floured plastic wrap or waxed paper. Press the ball down into a little disc with your thumb to get it started and then roll it out with your rolling pin. Hope it works!

  2. ambitious! i know you just wrote a whole post about easy they are to make, but to me, homemade tortillas are a bridge i'm not quite ready to cross. thoroughly impressed.

    1. I'm gonna get you to cross that bridge, my friend! Stick with me, kid.

  3. I made these not too long ago and you're right, homemade reigns supreme over store-bought. The perfect comfort food. Now I want them for dinner...

    1. So glad you agree - now I kind of want them for dinner again too. Hmmmm.....


Thanks for sharing your thoughts!