By Randy Jackson
As a bread lover, it’s of little wonder that wherever or whenever I tried my first tortilla, I loved it at first taste. The Aztec (Nahuatl) word for tortillas is tlaxcalli (pronounced PLUX-cal-a). The Spanish name for this delightful flat bread is tortilla (“little round cake”). Maize tortillas emerged in early Mesoamerica and almost single-handedly enabled the flourishing of successive advanced civilizations in Mexico and Central America. The maize tortilla provided a stable source of calories and nutrients for millions of people across centuries.
Mexico remains the world’s largest consumer of tortillas. The Mexican per-capita tortilla intake, mostly in the form of corn tortillas, is 85 kilos per year (a little more than 187 pounds). In some parts of Mexico, this consumption is as high as 120 kilos per person, per year (just over 264 pounds). Checking in our fridge, 1 pkg of 10 whole wheat tortillas is 340 grams, so doing the math; 120 kilos of tortillas per capita per year = 9.6 tortillas per person per day. Global sales of tortillas in 2012 was estimated at $12 Billion USD, while tortilla chips and other corn snacks accounted for a further $10 Billion USD. Eso es mucho!
As a tortilla consumer – I’m a flour tortilla guy. And, although I’m OK with the reasonably healthy tortilla wraps, there are other, some might say, less healthy tortilla options too. I’m referring to a category of tortilla recipes called “stuffed tortillas.”
I would define stuffed tortillas as a baked or fried dish where some sort of filling is encased in tortillas. Enchiladas, chimichangas, and quesadillas are the most recognizable versions of stuffed tortillas. Of course, there are many more. One recipe I can speak to is something I call Mexican Deep Dish Tortillas. My version of this dish is made using an air fryer, and you can see my YouTube recipe video for it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJtCC9OSsiM.
Of course, there is Tortilla Lasagna too, a dish that is right up my alley. Unfortunately, the current (July) heat wave in Western Canada has kept me from using the oven to make and report on this delectable stuffed tortilla dish.
Beyond food, for the real tortilla lovers the Internet has plenty of tortilla-themed items. In wearables I’ve found women’s dresses and skirts that look like tortillas. Something that caught my eye was a tortilla-style baby blanket. This could allow young parents to wrap their newborn up like a burrito. There are tortilla/burrito blankets for adults too – as you might imagine, they are round. I’m putting one on my Christmas list. And what about tortilla car air fresheners to hang from your rearview mirror? Yup, that too is just a click away.
In 2003, the state of Texas, proclaimed tortilla chips and salsa to be the official state snack (who knew – Texas even has an official state cobbler – Peach). NASA has used tortillas for astronaut meals in space since the 1980’s. Unlike bread, tortillas don’t leave crumbs to float about the space station. Scientists at the University of Houston have been working on extending the shelf life of tortillas for long-duration space missions. Tortillas now remain fresh tasting for up to 18 months on the ISS (International Space Station).
In 1977, in southeast New Mexico, in the kitchen of Maria Rubio, the face of Jesus appeared on a tortilla. This event became known as the Tortilla Miracle. The apparition became an international curiosity. Over the years thousands of people came to see the tortilla. The Tortilla Miracle changed the lives of the Rubio family. There were several TV appearances for Maria, including one on the Phil Donahue show. A movie titled “Tortilla Heaven” was made (starring George Lopez) based on this tortilla story. Through it all, Maria Rubio remained a devout Catholic. She believed in the divine origin of the Jesus image on the tortilla. It arrived at a critical time for the Rubio family. They were facing severe poverty and Maria’s husband was an alcoholic.
Unlike the Rubio family, few lives are changed by a tortilla. The virtue of tortillas is that they do represent an important food staple for the peoples of the Americas. And, I believe, eating a stuffed tortilla while wrapped in a tortilla blanket, can only be a good thing.