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How to make tortillas-Belize style

At our island kitchen in Belize we employ 3 local women to cook for our groups. Belizean cuisine has only a few good recipes (from my point of view)… almost everything is either deep-fried, over-cooked, or made with processed ingredients, like white flour. It has taken me years to teach these wonderful women to cook for American tastes. Our guests tend to prefer whole foods, low in fat, and simply prepared.

Belize cooking, homemade tortillas
Aurora Roches making tortillas and Marcy Noralez making chocolate chip cookies!

One excellent local recipe that we serve many times during the week are freshly-made flour tortillas. This stretchy dough is broken into bits and deeply worked by repeatedly folding it over itself in a one-handed push on the counter. As they are formed, rows of plump balls line up neatly as they continue to rise. Cooked on a hot, dry griddle and served almost immediately, they accompany breakfast burritos, quesadillas, and fish tacos with secret sauce! (For more about Belize food visit our website.)

How to make tortillasKnowing what goes into these tortillas, I have always been surprised at how sophisticated Americans fall over themselves to get at these hot and supple bread loaves. Most of our guests would never eat this kind of processed white bread at home. I believe it’s because in our busy lives we simply don’t get to eat breads hot out of the oven very often (or hot off the griddle in this case); these tortillas remind us of a simpler time.

Inspired by this experience of daily fresh bread on the table, I decided to incorporate fresh tortillas into my diet at home, but without the white flour and Crisco. I wanted to use both corn and amaranth flours, and the recipe needed to be easy so I could make them even when I had little time. I discovered the way to accomplish this is to make the recipe for the dough mix fill most of a gallon jar, so I could simply scoop out the right amount for one meal, adding water only. I use a rolling pin on a floured board, as I’ve never mastered the Belizean technique of patting the dough into circles. Cooked on a hot skillet with no oil, these brown cakes puff up a bit, even with no leavening. Sometimes they turn out pliable, sometimes a bit crispy, but they are always excellent, and take so little time.

We still serve the Belizean-style tortillas on the island, they are EXTREMELY popular! Here are both recipes:

Belizean Flour Tortillas

For 6-8 persons
4 cups white flour
1/8 cup shortening (Crisco)
1-1/3 T baking powder
½ t. salt
¾ cup coconut milk or milk

Mix dry ingredients together, add shortening and liquid. Knead lightly until well-kneaded (about 5 min). Form into small balls (somewhat larger than a golf ball). Let sit for 10-15 min then flatten with finger tips onto a smooth counter and press into a circular flat shape, about 3 times the thickness of a kayak paddle. Cook on griddle for about 5 minutes on each side.

Lucy’s Wheat, Corn, and Amaranth Tortilla Mix

5 cups spelt flour (or other wheat flour)
1-1/3 cup amaranth flour
1-1/3 cup corn meal
2 T salt

Mix all ingredients together and store in a glass gallon jar until needed.

For one person, to make 2 tortillas:
Scoop out ¼ cup of the mix. Add about 1 T + 1 t. water. Stir until well mixed, kneading dough until stretchy. Add more of the mix if you accidentally added too much water. Divide into 2 balls and let sit on counter for up to 15 minutes. Flour your counter and roll out into a thin circle, about 6” across. Get a skillet very hot, then put the tortilla in with no oil or butter. Bake there until it begins to look lighter in color on the bottom, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Flip the tortilla and cook more until it puffs up and brown spots appear. Turn back onto the other side to finish baking through, another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Serve as soon as you can.

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