The traditional from-scratch way to make tortillas is to buy field corn, soak it in slaked lime, wash it thoroughly, and then grind it by hand into fresh masa. In an effort to make this recipe accessible to everyone, I’ve called for masa harina. It will yield tortillas that are vastly superior to grocery store tortillas for relatively little work. Masa harina is a flour made from dried masa. You can sometimes buy fresh masa made the traditional way from Latin American grocery stores.
If you find fresh masa, make sure you get it plain, not preparada, which is for tamales. Also check if it was made from masa harina. If it was, don’t bother. You may as well make your own. The Maseca brand is widely available and produces consistently good tortillas. I wish I could find a good organic or local brand of masa harina. I’ve tried a few other types and keep coming back to Maseca for its dependability.
Adapted from "D.I.Y. Delicious" by Vanessa Barrington.
In a medium bowl, mix together the masa harina and salt. Add 1 cup of warm water and begin mixing with your hands. The dough should be moist and smooth, like Play-Doh. It should stick together easily when pressed but not be too wet. Add more water as needed, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Form the dough into 12 equal balls, about 1 ounce each. Lay them on a plate and cover them with a damp towel.
Get your tortilla press ready (use a produce or resealable plastic bag to line the press – plastic wrap is too thin and difficult to work with).
Heat a cast-iron skillet or comal over medium-high heat. Pick up one of the masa balls and press it between your palms to flatten it slightly. Place it in the tortilla press between the plastic. Press the tortilla firmly, but not as far as the press will go. You will need to experiment with the proper thickness. Overly thick tortillas are harder to work with and can overpower a dish. Overly thin tortillas are difficult to peel off the plastic. The tortilla should be about 6 inches in diameter.
Gently peel the tortilla off the plastic and lay it carefully in the hot pan with a sweeping motion of the hand. Cook it for 45 seconds to 1 minute, and then flip it over with a spatula. It should have small brown spots and look dry, but not cracked.
Cook the second side for 30-45 seconds. Flip again and lightly tap the surface of the tortilla all over 4 or 5 times with your fingertips. This creates tiny pockets that make for lighter, more delicious tortillas. Cook 15 seconds more. Turn again and tap the other side, cooking for another 15 seconds. The tortilla should smell like toasty corn and have a dull surface. Nestle each tortilla in a clean towel-lined basket to keep warm as you cook the remaining ones. You should be able to get a rhythm going in which you are forming 1 tortilla while cooking another. You may need to adjust the heat under the skillet, now and then, while you work.
Use the tortillas immediately or let them cool, wrap well, and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for 2 months.