Thursday, March 19, 2009

Steamy Lunchtime Adventure

I've been trying to buy foods that contain pronounceable and recognizable ingredients. I don't always succeed, but I'm certainly getting better at it.

I was surprised when I started looking for tortil
las that met these requirements. I really thought tortillas would be "wholesome". Not so. The majority of the tortillas available at my grocery store contain mystery ingredients that I don't want to consider. I was about to give up on tortillas when I discovered Alvarado Street Bakery's Sprouted Wheat Tortillas in the dairy aisle. Only 5 ingredients and all of them are pretty much recognizable. (I'm not completely sure about "unrefined" safflower oil, as vegetable oil refineries, unlike crude oil refineries, are outside of my experience.)

These tortillas seemed like the answer to my quesadilla prayers until I tried to work with them. The package suggested warming the tortillas, but it didn't seem to matter how I prepped them. They cracked and tore as I fumed and swore. I was beginning to think that I was doomed to live a tortilla-free life. Then I noticed a second serving suggestion on the package. Apparently I could also steam the tortillas. Perfect, except I had no idea how to go about steaming a tortilla and the package gave no directions.

Internet searches produced some vague instructions. Could steaming tortillas be a skill like boiling water? Is it possible
that the process is so basic that it doesn't merit explanation? Most instructions involved wrapping the tortillas in damp paper towels and microwaving them. Sounds reasonable, but "damp" is one of those subjective terms that is hard to convey on the internet. I was pretty sure any attempts would lead to more cursing, so I kept searching.

I eventually discovered that tortillas could be steamed in a basket over boiling water, which sounds easy enough, but I don't have a steamer basket that is large enough to hold burrito-sized tortillas. I was rooting through the kitchen, trying to find a reasonable substitute, banging together baking racks and my wok, when hubby remembered that we actually had a steamer rack/insert for the wok. Even better, he knew where it was. We've had the wok for so long that the handle has broken off and disappeared. As we'd never in my memory used the rack/insert thing, I was most impressed that he knew where it was. With that problem solved, the wok, its lid, its rack and about an inch of water went on the stove.

The rack alone seemed to be missing something, so I covered it with foil before adding the tortillas. It's a good thing I did. The tortillas stuck a bit, and I think it was much easier to peel the tortillas from the foil than it would have been to peel them from the rack. I'm sure you, unlike some of us, don't need to be reminded that steam it hot.

I steamed the tortillas on each side. Once they were flexible I filled them with scrambled eggs, veggies and cheese. The tortillas weren't as elastic as they could have been, so I stabbed the wraps with a toothpick and put them back in the wok. This allowed the tortillas to steam a bit more, and it gave the cheese a chance to melt.

The process looks more complicated than it really is. The tortillas steamed in the time it took the eggs to cook. Once the wraps were assembled and in the wok I took the wok off the heat and left them until we were ready for lunch. They stayed warm and the cheese got nicely gooey. Because I used the foil, clean up was easy. I tossed the foil and left the wok and its pieces on the dish rack to dry. Eventually, I'd like to work out a system that doesn't involve foil, but am pleased with this method for a starting point. And to think I was ready to give up on tortillas, when all I needed was a little experimentation. Next thing you know I'll be making my own tortillas. Or not. I don't think I'm quite ready for that much adventure. Yet.


  1. I throw my tortillas right in the steamer without the foil and they steam up perfect!

  2. Thanks Meghan, I'll try that next time.

  3. You can heat them in the oven, too. Sprinkle a few drops of water on each tortilla as you stack them up; wrap them in foil and heat at 250-300 degrees for about 15 minutes (maybe longer if you have a big stack). The same piece of foil can be re-used several times before you recycle it. If you don't want to fire up your oven, you can use a toaster oven, if you have one.

    Personally, I use the open-flame method to warm tortillas - I turn the gas stove on low and flip the tortilla back and forth over the bare burner, using long tongs - but that may not work as well with this specific type of tortilla. Also, it's a little bit dangerous, but it's really fun to do :-)

  4. Thanks Karen. I like that you can re-use the foil with your method. My method left bits of tortilla stuck to the foil, so it went right into the bin.

    I had read about the open-flame method, but, alas we live in the land of the electric stove. It's something I try not to think about too much. I can't imagine that this method would work with an electric burner, and I'm certain it wouldn't be as much fun.

  5. Another option (which works well for enchilada-making) is to heat up tortillas inside a large pan set over medium or medium-low heat. A cast-iron skillet is a good choice, since it can be heated without anything in it, and you don't have to worry you'll damage its surface. Cast-iron also retains heat, so once you've got the skillet at a temperature you like, it doesn't take much heat to keep it warm until you're done with your tortilla prep.

    But you did a nice job improvising in the kitchen! Kudos!

  6. Thanks Rosie. I'm overwhelmed with all the suggestions. It's good to know people are reading, though I already knew you were out there. I hadn't thought of using my cast iron frying pan. Good idea. I bought more tortillas yesterday, now I have to decide which method to use first!


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