Growing up in California, especially in the Bay Area, Mexican food was pretty much the main cuisine served in our house. Burritos, tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas and nachos graced the dinner menu anywhere from 3-5 times a week and after moving out on my own, it probably went up from there. Mexican food always appealed to us because it was quick and easy, cheap, the flavours are kickass, and it’s widely adjustable to fit every family members needs, so it was kind of a no-brainer for our busy household.
When I moved to London though a little over a decade ago, Mexican food was hardly easy to find, unlike today where Mexican food is having its own little renaissance here in Britain and these days it is not uncommon to find more than one or two burrito joints on the same high street. However, back then, fresh across the pond and dying for the flavours of my home I had to learn to do it all myself. It wasn’t long before I was a master tortilla maker and much to my husband’s annoyance, Mexican food was back on the menu multiple times a week. Life was good again, but I have to admit, making my own tortillas was a messy pain in the butt and so when Mission tortillas made the jump to this side of the world, even though my poor husband didn’t think it was possible, burritos was my official go-to when I didn’t feel like cooking, which was almost daily. In all honesty, if it were up to me, I would probably eat burritos every single day for the rest of my life if he let me, but sadly he just doesn’t get the appeal that those finely wrapped pieces of deliciousness sing to my California soul.
Well, after a few years of this, a major shift happened in our house food wise and much to the delight of my husband and to my horror, those fluffy pieces of bready perfection were out of the question. White flour and all its gluten evil were no longer invited into my life. I tried many alternatives after that, lettuce leaves, gluten free flours (which even though they worked out for awhile, sadly I had to get rid of those too when I went completely grain free on the AIP diet) and even Mexican cauli-rice bowls. None of it was the same though and ultimately they all failed, so with a heavy heart, I finally gave up my dream of burritos every day.
During this time period, I was in the full swing of the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol to help deal with my autoimmune hypothyroidism and it was through my research trying to find actual food to eat that I came across the single ingredient that had been staring me in the face for years, completely unbeknownst to me, Cassava. I live in a very Afro-Carribean area of London and I had always seen cassava in its root form pretty much everywhere, from Sainsburys to my local corner store, but I had no idea what it was or what to even do with it. Cassava, also known as Yuca and Manioc depending on what part of the world you are from, is a tubular root that is eaten all over the world, from South America to Africa. Most people in the western world even use a derivative from the cassava plant and aren’t even aware of it, and that would be in the form of Tapioca. Tapioca is the starch that is pressed from the root and then dried and either left in ball form or powdered. Who knew? I sure as heck didn’t.
A cross section of the cassava root
So anyways, cassava, the plant of my dreams, was the answer to all of my Mexican food problems. Cassava flour amazingly can be used (almost always, every brand differs slightly in consistency) 1:1 for white wheat based flour. It holds up very well in every recipe I’ve ever used it for, it is fairly neutral in taste (again this varies slightly from brand to brand, some traditional brands are slightly fermented during the production process so produce a slightly tangy flavour more suited to savory dishes) and has great stretch and flexibility without added gums or other ingredients. I have used cassava in many different forms and made everything from cookies and cakes to chips (french fries) and empanadas and it all turns out fantastic. My favorite way to use cassava though is in flour form for none other than tortillas! I’ve tinkered with a few different recipes since discovering cassava flour and have tested a variety of brands of flour, adapting as I go, but I’ve finally settled on my perfect all around starting point recipe and it can be adapted for taco shells, tortilla chips and fried flatbread. With this recipe, pretty much the only thing you’ll adjust is seasonings or spices you want to add and moisture level depending on what you are making.
This recipe is not only easy, it’s pretty much fool-proof, and trust me, I’m a fool in the kitchen a lot so I know. It is very customizable flavour wise, and once you have a go at it, you’ll be making tortillas all the time. I’ll also share my method on how to get perfect tortillas every time with the last amount of mess and clean up.
What you’re gonna need before starting is cling film (saran wrap), parchment paper, a mixing bowl, measuring cups and spoons (eventually you won’t even need these as you’ll be able to eye it out, that’s how simple this recipe is), spoon, whisk (preferably one like the half moon one here which is what I use), a fork or your fingers, cassava flour, olive oil, and water. That’s it. Hardly a complicated list and the only thing you’ll likely have to track down is the cassava flour. The following steps I’m about to show you are my method and what I have found works best for me, but by all means, try things out and develop a method that works for you and your style.
To start out, take your mixing bowl and measure out 1 cup of cassava flour. this doesn’t have to be super exact, so if it’s level, heaped, packed or loose, it doesn’t matter, just chuck it in the bowl. If you feel like adding any spices, this is the time, salt, pepper, onion and garlic granules, chives, fresh or dried herbs, nutritional yeast, I’ve done it all and it’s all tasty so have fun and experiment or keep it simple and don’t add anything. Give it a quick whisk, then add in 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Take your whisk or fork and cut in the oil until it’s well dispersed and resembles a slightly crumb like consistency with no lumps of oil. you can even use your fingers for this by ‘pinching’ and ‘snapping’ the flour and oil mixture, mixing it all about. Now this is the part where you have to kind of pay attention. Slowly add in 1/3 cup or water mixing until it forms a dough that is not sticky or too crumbly. Ideally, you want it to be the consistency of play-dough, soft and pliable but not wet and sticky. Depending on the brand you use and how much seasoning you used, you may need more water to bring it all together, but I’ve used about 4 different brands now and never needed less than 1/3 cup. The best approach is to slowly add a tablespoon at a time until you find the right consistency. The great thing about this recipe though is that even if you add too much water, you can just add a bit more flour until you find the perfect balance.
This is the ideal crumb you want to achieve with the flour and oil.
Now we have our dough, it’s time to roll out the tortillas. Take your dough and roll it into one big ball of dough, cut it in half, and then half again so you have 4 equal wedges. Roll each wedge into a ball and set aside. Take a piece of cling film about 12 inches long and fold it in half width wise. Now take a square of parchment paper about 8 inches x 8 inches and set that aside.Preheat a frying pan over medium-low heat. Take the cling film and place one ball of dough in between the folded cling film and slightly flatten the ball. Using a rolling pin, roll out a circle between 6-8 inches in diameter, depending on how thick you like tortillas. Open the clingfilm and place the square of parchment over the tortilla smoothing it in place, close the cling film back over and flip the whole thing over.
Undo the cling film again, take the tortilla parchment and place it tortilla down in the frying pan. When the parchment starts to lift away from the tortilla, slowly lift it away. Meanwhile, start rolling out your next tortilla. After your tortilla has been in the pan a couple minutes, it will start to go opaque white and firm up a bit, you should be able to use your fingers and flip it, cooking for another couple minutes on the other side.
Remove from the pan and place in a tortilla warmer, or between a clean folded dish towel. Add in your next tortilla and continue until they are all cooked. These keep well in a plastic bag in the fridge for a day or two. They will ‘crisp’ up in the fridge, just warm them up in a pan though and they will soften again, just use them immediately after re-warming them.
- 1 cup cassava flour
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/3 cup water (plus more as needed, 1 TBSP at a time)
- Seasonings to your taste
- Mix flour and seasonings.
- Using a whisk, fork or your fingers, cut in the oil until it resembles a crumb consistency.
- Slowly add in the water until you get a soft, pliable play-dough like dough.
- Divide dough into 4 equal balls.
- Fold a 12 inch piece of cling film in half width wise. Cut a 8x8 inch square of parchment paper.
- Preheat a frying pan over medium-low heat.
- Take 1 ball of dough and place between the cling film, slightly flattening it.
- Roll out a 6-8 inch circle.
- Open the clingfilm and place the parchment square over the tortilla close the cling film. Flip over.
- Open cling film and place tortilla parchment, tortilla down in the frying pan.
- When the parchment starts to lift away from the edges of the tortilla, slowly peel it off.
- After 2-3 minutes when tortilla goes opaque white and firms up a bit, flip it over.
- Cook for another few minutes while rolling out your next tortilla.
- Place cooked tortilla in a tortilla warmer or between a clean folded dish towel while you finish the other tortillas.
- The more you make this recipe, the more you can start to adjust for your own personal tastes. It is very flexible and after awhile becomes one of those recipes you just eye ball.