I am proud to include my family’s Panamanian tortillas asadas in the Project Stir initiative which was started by one of my talented blog buddies. Project Stir is a series of documentary films which launched this fall on Kickstarter. The films follow Abuelitas, Nans, and Mamaws passing down their heirloom recipes in kitchens around the globe in countries like Panama, New Zealand, Turkey, Croatia, and England. Click here to learn more about Project Stir.
Last year when we traveled to Boston for spring break to visit family, I had such a wonderful time with my mom and my cousins. I was able to participate – though minimally – in helping my cousins make some of our favorite Panamanian dishes. Since I am the only of this group of cousins who was not born and raised in Panama, I’m a little unfamiliar with the overall cooking processes for some of the typical foods. Granted, my mom often made these things when I was growing up, but I wasn’t always paying attention.
As I’ve grown older, I wish I would have been more astute to the bicultural experiences swirling around me as a child. It’s one of those things that little Amy would do differently if she had a chance for a do-over.
Tortillas asadas are grilled tortillas. They are basically prepared the same way as tortillas fritas (fried tortillas) except they are grilled in a small amount of oil rather than deep fried. Some people even choose to bake them.
We made these tortillas twice during our week in Massachusetts, once at my cousin Y’s house and the other time at my cousin D’s house. I snapped photos during both preparations and am combining photos from both kitchens here so you can get an idea of the whole process – which is why you will see two different kitchens and me in jammies in one photo and in clothes in another. Also, I wasn’t planning on blogging about this at the time (although I don’t know why I wasn’t) so the photos are simple snaps and nothing more. Please forgive the quality of my shots.
At Y’s house, we had a nice slow morning around the house. I was so impressed because Y made like 7 or 8 different items for breakfast. Ummm…at my house, there would have been probably two offerings at most. We had sausage, Panamanian meat pies, scrambled eggs, omelets, fruit smoothies, bacon, and the tortillas asadas. Ambitious, she is. Here, she pulled out the good ole’ corn grinder and she and my mom got busy grinding the fresh corn which had just been boiled in water.
A few days later, at D’s house, we enjoyed tortillas asadas again one morning before taking the ferry over to downtown Boston. I remember how cold it was that morning. My cousin’s house overlooks the bay, and the kitchen, living room, and den offer panoramic views of the water. Insanely gorgeous. Every morning when it is so cold outside, she has to run outside and wipe off all the vapors on the windows which are caused from the waves crashing on the rocks.
I remember how The Hubs rushed outside in his thin flannel pajama pants and jacket to wash down the windows for her. He had no idea just how cold that back deck felt in the early morning hours. Watching him run from one side of the windows to the other with that huge brush was pretty funny. He was so cold he was practically doing a jig out there, knees bouncing high as he ran frantically from one side of the windows to the other.
Scooter Britches, 18 months old or so at the time, thought it was pretty funny, too.
Told you. Insanely. Gorgeous.
Now, on to our tortillas asadas.
First, we soak dry corn in a bowl of water overnight, and boil it in salted water the next day. This dry corn can often be purchased at Hispanic food stores. If you cannot find the corn, you can purchase Masa Harina (corn flour) and make your corn dough from that. When using dry corn, some people like to add a bit of powdered lime dissolved in water (called Mexican Cal, found in Hispanic food stores) to the corn before cooking to help extend the life of the corn dough. My family does not use the Mexican Cal. It is important to check the corn while it is cooking to make sure that it doesn’t get overcooked. If it gets overcooked, the corn will lose its consistency and become really sticky.
Once the corn has been boiled, it is then put through a special grinder until it gains a dough-like consistency. We use a special hand-cranked grinder which you will see in the pictures. Salt and white crumbly cheese is added. The dough is then kneaded by hand.
Once the dough has been thoroughly mixed, it is rolled into balls by hand and then flattened into thick patties.
The patties are skillet or griddle-fried in very small amount of oil. We brown them on one side and then flip them, just as we would do with pancakes.
These tortillas are often served alongside sausage and eggs in Panama. Oh, and café con leche, of course.
I remember being so miserable the morning we made these at D’s house. I was about two months pregnant with Little One, and the
morning all day sickness was rearing its ugly head. My sweet cousins had tons of remedies for me that week!
- 1 lb of dry corn
- Just enough water to cover corn in large pot
- 5-6 oz of white crumbly Hispanic cheese, such as Queso Freso
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp oil, for frying
- Place dry corn in pot with water and bring to a boil.
- Turn corn down to medium-high and let cook about 45 minutes to an hour or until corn is softened.
- Drain (reserving some of the cooking water) and let corn cool until it is cool enough to handle.
- Rinse the corn several times.
- Place the drained corn in the bowl of a grinding machine and grind until it is a thick dough-like consistency, adding a touch of the cooking water to make the dough pliable.
- Add the cheese and salt.
- Knead the dough thoroughly by hand until all ingredients are combined.
- Shape the dough into small, evenly-sized balls.
- Flatten the balls in your hands.
- In a skillet or griddle, add a small amount of oil and place on medium-high heat.
- Cook tortillas a few minutes on each side until they are a nice golden brown. Do not overcook as the tortillas will become very tough.
Thanks for following along with my trip down memory lane, and thanks for supporting Project Stir! Be sure to check out the other Project Stir posts from other contributing bloggers for some of the best heirloom recipes and family storytelling around!
What are some of your favorite cooking memories with your family?
Linking up this tortillas asadas post this week with:
Tweak It Tuesday (Mondays)
Amaze Me Monday (Mondays)
Tips and Tricks Link Party (Mondays)