Jean Anthelme Brillat-Severin states in his grand work The Physiology of Taste (a delightful book which I recently began reading, and that I recommend to everyone whose love for food leans as much toward the philosophical as to the epicurean side) that “good living is an act of intelligence, by which we choose things which have an agreeable taste rather than those which do not.” This aphorism, I believe, probably resonates strongly with people who must eat gluten-free and are always searching for the most agreeable gluten-free version of a gluten-containing food. Individuals may disagree with each other in their judgments concerning which foods taste agreeable and which do not; however, most people do have preference for food they find pleasant in flavor and texture. Usually, one has a standard by which he judges the quality in each category of foods he prefers, and he measures all food in that class by that standard. For this reason, a person who would never refuse a slice of pizza from such places as Mello Mushroom or Via 313 will often forego having pizza if her only choice is a piece of much less quality grocery-store frozen pizza.
This standard of judgement for food quality becomes problematic for people who have to eat gluten-free. Most people who have Celiac disease or non-Celiac gluten-intolerance are diagnosed years after we have been eating foods made with gluten-containing flour; ours is a gluten-centric society. By the time of our diagnosis, we have developed criteria for what determines a specific food to be agreeable, more than so, and less than so, and our criteria is drawn mostly from our experience with gluten-containing versions of the foods we’ve eaten from birth until that point. Once we find out that we must begin living lives without gluten, we must begin the work of establishing new criteria for what makes one food in certain class more agreeable than another. Certain foods, however, do not translate from gluten-containing to gluten-free very well, no matter whether commercially or home-made. We just have to face the reality that no one will ever be able to recreate a successful gluten-free version of a donut that will stand up to the standard set by Krispy Kreme. Other foods, such as muffins and cookies, can be successfully recreated as gluten-free, whether manufactured by commercially or made by hand in one’s kitchen. Gluten-free versions of some foods just have to be made by hand, though, in order to come close to meeting the standard of quality set by the gluten-containing counterpart we remember from our gluten-eating days. Such a food as this is the flour tortilla: a food that is nearly as important a part of life to people who live in the Southwest as air, itself (well, that statement may be a bit of an exaggeration, but not much so!).
Gluten-free corn tortillas, traditionally made without wheat, are readily available on grocery store shelves without having to be recreated as a different version (although many restaurants have begun adding wheat flour to their corn tortillas, creating the opposite effect of turning a naturally gluten-free dish into one that contains gluten). Corn tortillas serve a purpose. They can be cut and fried into tortilla chips, rolled into enchiladas or flautas, or folded and fried into taco shells. Corn tortillas, unfortunately, cannot do all the jobs required of tortillas. They do fail under the pressure of holding together such dishes as breakfast tacos and fajitas; they are too small and flimsy. They also become soggy very quickly. Flour tortillas are thicker, larger, and more hearty than corn tortillas; they are able to hold together the meat, vegetable, and egg fillings of fajitas and breakfast tacos without disintegrating into wet messes that one ends up having to eat with a fork. Flour tortillas can also be torn into pieces and eaten as a flat bread with soup or chili.
Commercial versions of gluten-free flour tortillas are available in most grocery stores, now, which is a good thing. The problem, though, is that none of these gluten-free versions stand up to the gluten-containing standard of a quality flour tortilla. They are dry, flavorless, and often crack to pieces while just sitting on the shelf in the fridge. They can be used to make quesadillas, but they don’t work well for egg tacos or fajitas. The exception to the poor quality of commercially manufactured gluten-free tortillas are those made by Siete Family Foods. The cassava flour and almond flour tortillas made by this company hold up pretty well and taste delicious (probably because they contain lard); however, the price for eight tortillas is exorbitant, and the tortillas have xanthan gum as an ingredient.
The solution to the gluten-free flour tortilla dilemma, then, is to make them from scratch. As with anything else home-made, making tortillas by hand allows you to control the ingredients that go into your tortillas. You can choose which flours to use, use a substitute for xanthan or guar gums (ingredients many people find objectionable), and choose which fat to use. Lard make the most flavorful flour tortillas with the most pleasing texture, and thankfully Whole Foods, Central Market, and Natural Grocers carry brands of healthy lard (no partial hydrogenated stuff, etc). Trust me. Your gluten-free flour tortillas will outshine the commercially produced flour tortillas so much that your gluten-eating friends and family may even prefer your home-made gluten-free tortillas to the commercially produced gluten-containing tortillas. Phillip, who can eat regular flour tortillas any day of the week, actually prefers the home-made gluten-free flour tortillas.
Just a note about forming flour tortillas: you can use a tortilla press, which will make a smaller, thicker tortilla, or use a rolling pin to roll out the dough, which will make a larger, thinner tortilla. Tortilla presses are really for use in making corn tortillas, but they work ok for the flour, too. For this post, I used both methods, just to illustrate the difference between the two methods. Sometimes you might want a smaller, thicker tortilla, and other items you might want a larger, thinner tortilla. Although tortillas can be made quickly, using the press saves time; if you’re short on time you might want to use a tortilla press. You can choose your method depending upon your time needs and your planned use for the tortillas.
As always, an all purpose gluten-free flour blend can be substituted for the flours I use. Just be sure, no matter which blend of gluten-free flours you use, that your flour equals 375 g, the same amount of flour I use in this recipe.
Gluten-Free, Grain-Free Flour Tortillas
Total time: 40 minutes
37 g Coconut flour
74 g Tapioca starch
264 g Cassava flour
1 tsp Himalayan pink salt
6 tbls lard
1 – 1 1/4 cup warm water
-Mix the flours and salt in a bowl.
-Using your hands or a pastry blender, blend the lard into the flour until the pieces resemble corn meal.
-Add one cup of water all at once. At this point the dough will look like a wet mess. Using your hands or a spoon, mix the water into the flour until a cohesive ball of dough forms. If the ball of dough is crumbly, work more water into the dough, 1 tbls at a time, until the dough is no longer crumbly.
-Shape the dough into a disk; wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest for about ten minutes (to allow the flour to fully absorb the moisture from the water).
-Form the dough into smaller balls, 6 – 10, depending upon the size tortillas you want.
-Preheat a skillet to medium high heat.
-If using a tortilla press, place the ball of dough between two pieces of parchment paper and press down with the press handle. If using a rolling pin, place the ball of dough between two pieces of wax paper and roll to the desired thickness and size.
-Place each pressed / rolled tortilla on the pre-heated, uncreased skillet. Cook the tortilla until it’s beginning to brown on each side (about 20 – 30 seconds for each side).
-Keep the other balls of dough covered, to prevent their drying out, as you are rolling out and grilling the tortillas.
-Place finished tortillas on a place and keep covered with plastic wrap to keep warm.
-Place left-over tortillas in a plastic storage bag, or wrap in plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator. Heat the left-over tortillas before serving, to make them soft again.