The Battle of the Tortillas

When you hear “tortilla”, what comes to mind? Is it a thick potato omelet or a round flatbread made from cornmeal?

Growing up, I associated the word with corn chips because, well… you know, tortilla chips (which a Mexican friend told me were actually called totopos and not tortillas). And then I got introduced to burritos and soft tacos, so tortilla became that flatbread thing used to wrap around and contain ground meat, beans, rice, veggies, and cheese.

When I started majoring in Spanish, my professors introduced us to the peninsular Spanish language and culture first, so I learned about the other tortilla. What does it say about me that I found the fact that there were two entirely different kinds of tortilla infinitely interesting?

As intrigued as I was by the distinction between the Spanish tortilla and the Mexican tortilla, I was even more fascinated by the way the tortilla de patata is made. All that flipping and sliding seemed like kitchen acrobatics to me – riveting stuff.

Spanish Tortilla

At that time, I couldn’t even boil water (and I was in the Girl Scouts growing up too!). I just had nothing to do with the kitchen. My mother told me when I was two years old not to mess around in the kitchen or I was sure to burn or stab myself to death (not in those actual words, but you get the idea) and I took the warning to heart well into adulthood.

In any case, the Great Tortilla Distinction remained a fascination until, well, the present day. As a Spanish teacher, I integrated cooking the two kinds of tortilla into the lesson, the Spanish tortilla for the upper school classes and the Mexican tortilla (which is definitely easier to make) for the middle school ones. I even ordered a tortilla press, which turned out to be next to useless as we ended up preferring the good old rolling pin.

Now that I have my own family, the tortillas are also frequently in the menu. I have a bunch of picky eaters on my hands, so I have to plan carefully to ensure that mealtimes aren’t a battle of wills and that food isn’t wasted. No, I haven’t been able to train them to eat whatever’s in front of them. I didn’t even try, so let’s move on.

Fortunately, my kids love the Spanish tortilla and like chicken quesadillas. My daughter usually helps me when she’s not minding her brothers (she’s a regular Kristy Thomas – a little Baby-Sitters Club reference there, heehee).

The problem with our Spanish tortilla is that there are five of us and we definitely need more than one “pie”. My husband recently bought a bigger cast iron skillet (the man loves his skillets), so that might make a big enough pie for our family. I doubt it, but we’ll see.

I’m not going to share my tortilla de patata recipe here because, honestly, I just wing it most of the time, but this recipe is closest to what I usually do, only I add some butter, carrots, and paprika as well.

As for my chicken quesadilla. It’s one of my dumb and fast food choices, provided I had already made and frozen tortillas and there’s a jar of my husband’s famous salsa (well, famous at our church, lol) in the fridge.

I basically heat up some chicken breast nuggets, cut them into strips, melt some butter in the pan, place a tortilla in it, arrange chicken strips on top, grate cheese over them, see that the cheese has melted some, place a second tortilla on top, make sure the mess is stuck together, and then flip the whole thing over to fry the other side as well. There may also be strips of bell pepper, depending on its availability.

Which tortilla do you prefer? What do you usually make with Mexican tortillas? Share your tortilla knowledge and experience in the comments.

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