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Crafting Tortillas Has Never Been So Exciting

Oct 08, 2021

By: Team Made In

For Chef Christine Rivera of Galaxy Cantina & Grill in San Diego, working with heirloom corn to make masa has never been so enthralling.

As a Mexican-American growing up in Southern California, tortillas were always a part of life. But it wasn’t until she got into the world of crafting tortillas from kernel to masa

,

that she truly felt connected to the process.

“It sounds dumb but I felt like my soul was like ‘you needed this!’ Now I really understand,” she said.

Christine’s journey included many deep dives into masa culture, into the ancient practice of

nixtamalization

*, and into how to grind corn using a

molino

. It was through this research that Christine was able to feel more connected to her heritage. “I might not have it all, I speak Spanish, I don’t write it or read it, but I speak it, and I’m making Mexican food, and I’m making my own masa from scratch. To me, that makes me feel closer to my culture than anything.”

For Christine, sourcing the best quality heirloom corn available to her is even more important than the nixtamalization process itself. “There’s a huge difference, in 3 things: the texture after cooking it, the vibrant colors, and the flavor,” she says, “you can feel, taste and see the difference.”

Christine currently sources blue cónico and white olotillo from

Masienda

, noting that the quality of corn is even more important than the process itself.

However, her masa journey has recently given her a creative outlet that she didn’t expect. What started as a way to playfully present tortillas at events has now become her signature style—the use of natural dyes in her masa for tie-dye and playfully-colored tortillas. In true chef form, Christine dehydrates or purees fresh vegetables to make all natural and organic dyes for her tortillas. From tie-dye to tiger stripes, to rainbow tortillas for pride—she’s done it all, and will never stop envisioning masa as her canvas.

As for the cooking surface, heat regulation and retention are critical to achieving the coveted tortilla puff. While Christine admits that it can sometimes be difficult to replicate the exacting quality of restaurant equipment at home, the

Made In x Masienda Comal

helps her reach the same quality without compromising—and yes, she still gets that glorious puff. "The Comal has become a prized possession in my kitchen—it's a well seasoned, tortilla-making machine."

*Nixtamalization is the process of cooking dry corn in an alkaline solution to soften the kernels, release the skins, and maximize nutrient absorption, particularly in niacin and b5. Currently cal or calcium hydroxide is used for most nixtamalization, but wood ash can be used, and was used up to 3,500 years ago in Mesoamerica.

Photos by

Jim Sullivan

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