Many years ago, I was introduced to the wonders of blue corn on a trip from the Texas Hill Country up through New Mexico to Hopi Land in Arizona… to the Third Mesa, to be specific.
Restaurants throughout New Mexico and Arizona offered the blue corn tortillas for enchiladas, burritos and tacos. I gobbled them up, so excited about my new tortilla discovery. I knew all about yellow, white and even red corn tortillas… but blue corn as an option was a surprise to this Texas gal.
When we got to the Third Mesa in Arizona, we stopped at a village where the Hopi sold jewelry, art, food and other goods from their homes. No photography or electronics were allowed, and even though my camera is typically an extension of my hand, I respected the rules and left all electronics and cameras in the RV while we visited each artisan’s home.
In the 12 independent villages of Hopi, there are some of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements on the North American Continent. Some of them date back to 1100 A.D. The area we were in had only been inhabited since 1200 A.D., so it wasn’t quite as old as others.
I say that tongue-in-cheek, because just being allowed – and welcomed even – into an area so deep-rooted filled me with a sense of awe and reverence, as well as a quiet peace… which was amazing in the middle of a family summer trip with two pre-teen daughters in the RV, where peace was a little tough to come by. The place and the people had a sacred air about them. It was so wonderful.
At one of the homes we visited, a Hopi woman was selling handmade turquoise and silver jewelry that bore her husband’s initials as the maker. One of my favorite rings came from her home, from her husband’s hands.
She also sold rolls of the traditional paper-thin Hopi piki bread, and bags of freshly ground blue corn meal. We also bought piki bread and corn meal that day from her.
(The following piki bread photos are not mine – I snagged them off the internet)
The term “bread” is misleading for piki bread, because it’s so thin and crisp, and is more like phyllo than bread. It’s a dry, thin bread that essentially melts in your mouth. Especially significant in the culture of Arizona’s Hopi tribe, women mix finely ground blue corn with water and juniper ashes, and spread the gray dough on a hot, flat cooking stone by hand. It cooks immediately and is quickly peeled away in a single, nearly translucent sheet and rolled up. Making piki bread is labor-intensive, which is why it’s usually reserved for special occasions.
I was thrilled the other day to find that Porter’s on 5th Street in Alpine now sells not one, but two different brands of blue corn masa. I’ve been making our corn tortillas at home with masa for the last decade. We have two antique tortilla presses and one modern one, and all three get used regularly.
The blue corn tastes a little sweeter than the white or yellow corn tortillas. It has more protein, less starch and a lower glycemic index than the others, too. My favorite thing about the blue corn masa is that it evokes memories of that trip to the Third Mesa, as well as amazing meals we’ve had in New Mexico. I could go on and on about the benefits of blue corn over the others, but I have a limited amount of space here today.
Grab a bag of the blue corn masa and make some blue corn tortillas… if I can get my hands on juniper ashes, I might just try making piki bread one of these days… but until then, fresh blue corn tortillas will have to do.
Blue Corn Tortillas
2 cups blue corn masa flour
1-1/8 cups warm water, plus more as needed
Pour water into blue corn masa and mix thoroughly for 2-3 minutes until forming a firm dough ball (if dough feels dry, add 1-2 tablespoons of water). Divide the dough into smaller dough balls (the larger the dough ball, the larger the tortilla – I usually make them about the size of a ping-pong ball), making 16-18 small dough balls. Cover the dough balls with a damp cloth to keep the dough balls moist.
Using a tortilla press (make sure you’ve got both sides of the press covered with plastic), flatten the dough balls into a 5-6-inch diameter tortilla. Carefully peel the tortilla off the plastic sheets and place on a very hot (about 450 degrees) ungreased skillet (or comal). Turn the tortilla over with a spatula after about 20-30 seconds. Allow to cook for another 20-30 seconds and turn it over one final time to cook for 15-20 seconds. Remove it to a tortilla basket with a clean tea towel inside, or to a plate, and cover it to keep it warm and pliable. I’ve found they’re best eaten on the first day.
Printed with the permission of the Alpine Avalanche