Author Topic: Houston's Tatemó will change how you think about corn tortillas  (Read 294 times)

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Offline Elderberry

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Houston Chronicle by  Emma Balter Oct. 12, 2020

A great tortilla is a thing of beauty. For Emmanuel Chavez, it’s a life pursuit fueled by a passion for corn. But not just any corn.

Three days after moving into a new but temporary space in Montrose, Chavez shows off the modest setup for Tatemó, the tortilleria he started in 2019 with his life and business partner, Megan Maul. He gently plunges his fingers into one of six bowls displaying different types of heirloom corn from Mexico, shimmering like jewels in shades of yellow, blue, black and red. They hail from Oaxaca, Tlaxcala, Jocotitlán and Mexico City, each resulting in various tastes and textures.

“Corn is not just one thing,” Chavez explains. These native seeds have been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. Farmers in Mexico produce them to feed their families and communities, and to keep their culture alive. Without the difficult work of preserving heirloom varieties, they will be lost in the sea of GMO corn that dominates the market today.

To make the kernels digestible and nutritious, they go through nixtamalization, a traditional centuries-old Central American process that soaks the corn in an alkaline solution for about 12 hours. Chavez shows the results in another bowl of slaked lime-treated water: The grains puff up to double their size, soften and change color. They also become enriched with nutrients such as vitamin B3 and calcium.

Chavez points to his metate, a tablelike volcanic stone with a slightly hollow surface and a cylindrical roller. That’s how the Mesoamericans ground their corn by hand, he says, but these days people use a molino, a motorized machine that grinds two stones together of the same lava rock. This turns the nixtamalized corn into masa, a soft paste that is the base of tortillas and other products.

Small, fluffy flakes fall from the molino, creating a mound that Chavez gathers and kneads. Then he breaks off a piece and rolls it into a ball, flattens it with a tortilla press and drops the disk onto a cast-iron pan, just a few minutes on each side. The resulting tortilla — made from conico amarillo — is warm and supple, with a complex, nutty flavor.


Emmanuel Chavez talks about the corn he uses to make tortillas out of his Houston tortilleria, Tatemo

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