As magnificent as fresh veggies are, their magnificence is magnified when you roast them — the heat emphasizes their best attributes and deepens their savoriness. Broccoli and cauliflower, for example, become slightly nutty when roasted, while root vegetables like carrots and beets become sweeter in an earthy, caramelized kind of way. Cherry tomatoes become intensely sweet with an edge of smokiness. Garlic becomes downright buttery.
Given the magic of roasting, I thought I’d put a roasted spin on a summertime favorite: salsa. You can sautée the onions and garlic while the tomatoes are roasting, and if you opt to make these fresh tortillas, you can polish those off, too, stacking them between overlapping towels to keep them warm. All you need to make the tortillas is salt, water, and a type of flour called masa harina.
Although it means “corn flour,” masa harina is not the same as what’s labeled as corn flour — the masa has been processed with lime to nixtamalize it. (Nixtamalization happens when you treat the kernels with an alkaline mixture like lime to break down the corn and make the niacin [or vitamin B3] more digestible. Early colonials who tried to skip this step — the natives were far too food-saavy to forgo nixtamalization — wound up dying in droves from pellagra, a nasty skin and brain disease that results from niacin deficiency.) In addition to being more digestible and nutritious, nixtamalized corn products like masa harina are also tastier. You can find masa harina in the Mexican/Latin section of most grocery stores, or sometimes you’ll see it mixed in with the general flours in the baking aisle.
Or you can simply make the salsa and enjoy it with everything from tacos to chips!
Roasted Tomato Salsa with Fresh Tortillas
For the salsa:
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Green onions, minced
Fresh lemon juice
For the tortillas:
Preheat oven to 350F and line baking sheet(s) with parchment paper. Figure on about 50 tomato halves per sheet, so if you have 25 tomatoes, you’ll need one sheet; if you have 50 tomatoes, you’ll need two sheets. Toss the halves with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of sea salt and space them out evenly on the sheet(s) with their cut sides down. Roast for 30 minutes or until the skins are shriveled and look slightly blackened.
While the tomatoes are roasting, sautée the green onions over medium-low heat in a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil for 3 minutes or until softened. Add garlic and continue to cook for another 2 minutes or until garlic is fragrant and soft and just starting to turn golden brown. Immediately remove from heat and scoop into a bowl. Add tomatoes and a squirt of fresh lemon juice and toss well. Taste and see if you’d like to add a little more juice or a shake of sea salt. You can add some chopped jalapeños if you’d like, too — don’t let my abject fear of those finger- and eyeball-searing buggers take the heat out of your salsa. (I still have vivid memories of the Burning Contacts Incident of 2009. It lasted three days, was highly unpleasant, and made me vow to never touch a jalapeño again.) Serve with tortillas, chips, raw veggies, tacos, chili, whatever you’d like.
The whole trick with making tortillas is to get the texture right: too wet, and they’ll stick to everything but themselves; too dry, and they’ll fall apart. It also helps to have a tortilla press — that’s the only way to get tortillas that are uniformly even — but two bowls (or your hands) works, too.
Shake some masa harina into a large bowl and whisk in a liberal dash of sea salt. Trickle in some water and mix with your fingertips. If it’s still dry and won’t clump together, trickle in more water. If it’s too wet and sticks to your fingers too much, add more masa. The dough should feel a little spongy and should be easy to shape. It will also dry out as you go, so if you’re making more than four tortillas, cover the yet-to-be-shaped dough with a damp paper towel or cloth to keep it moist while you’re shaping and cooking the tortillas.
Cover the bottoms of two flat-bottomed bowls with plastic wrap. Pinch off a fist-sized piece of dough and smash it into a rough patty with your hands. Place patty between bowls and press down gently, applying even pressure, until dough has spread to the edges of the bowl bottoms. If you have a tortilla press, cover both halves with plastic wrap and press dough between them. If you’re feeling brave and don’t mind a not-perfectly-flat tortilla, shape it between your palms, rocking and rolling the edge of your dominant hand across the dough to flatten it into the palm of your other hand.
Have a skillet at the ready. Heat over medium heat for 1 minute to get it nice and hot. Standing by the skillet, carefully peel the plastic wrap off the tortilla you just formed and slide the tortilla into skillet. Cook for 2 minutes or until the bottom is turning golden brown. Carefully flip and cook the second side the same way. Stack the finished tortillas between a clean towel to keep them warm while you cook the remaining batches. (No need to use any oil or cooking grease at any point — you want to essentially toast your tortillas into existence, not fry them with liquid heat.)
Making tortillas may sound complicated, but once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll probably do what I do and not even bother with a bowl or press — I find it easier to hand-shape them. And while you can save them as leftovers and rewarm them the next day, they’re so easy to make that it’s best to just make them on the spot. Plus, nothing beats a fresh tortilla hot off the stove.
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