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Esperanza’s World – Mexican American Cuisine Center – Dishes

Esperanza’s World – Mexican American Cuisine Center – Dishes

Activities / Teacher Resources

Corn Tortillas

Preparing Maize into Masa

metate y mano

One of Esperanza’s cooking chores was to help grind lime-soaked corn or maize into masa or corn dough for tortillas. To complete this task, she used a grinding stone or metate with a hand-held stone called a mano.

Although she thought it was hard work, Esperanza had successfully mastered the grinding of the maize into masa, but she had a difficult time with shaping the tortillas into circles and cooking them evenly. Re-read page 13 to refresh your memory about her “burnt tortillas” and the taunting she endured from her cousin, María Elena, about her misshapen tortillas.

On page 99, the process of tortilla making is described:

Esperanza had to make corn tortillas for dinner. Not her favorite job. She went into the kitchen and got the bucket of corn kernels soaking in lime water. Carefully, she carried it to the porch, setting it next to the large grinding stone called a metate. Scooping the corn out of the pot with a slotted spoon, she dropped it onto the metate, then pounded it into dough with a mano, a grinding stone that fit into her hand. Whew, it was hard work. When she had ground enough masa for dinner, she pinched a small ball, and rapidly patted it into a tortilla. The first try resembled a triangle more than the perfect round shapes that Mamá and María Elena made. Esperanza sighed, put the tortilla in a basket, and went onto the next week.

Making Corn Tortillas and Recipe

Note:You will need two days preparation for tortillas made from dried kernels because they need to be soaked in water for twenty-four hours before cleaning and grinding.


  • 2 pounds dried hominy kernels
  • water to cover kernels (about 3 quarts)
  • 2 tablespoons powdered lime (cal or calcium hydroxide)
  • warm water as necessary
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  1. Place the dried hominy kernels in a large pot with enough water to cover the kernels. Add the lime and stir into water and kernel mixture until dissolved.
  2. Simmer the kernels for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the skins are loose. Remove from heat and allow them to soak for 24 hours.
  3. After the 24-hour period is completed, skin the kernels by rubbing them between the palms of your hands, making sure to remove the “eye” at the base of each kernel. (Many of the kernel skins will have floated to the top of the soaking solution already.)
  4. IMPORTANT: Rinse the kernels thoroughly in at least three changes of water, to be certain that the lime has been completely rinsed off.
  5. Grind the kernels to a paste-like consistency, using either a traditional metate y mano or a food processor.
  6. Add the salt and enough warm water to make a sticky-dough.
  7. Knead the dough with moistened hands until it becomes smooth and loses its sticky quality. (about three minutes)
  8. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes before using it in a recipe for tortillas or other masa-based dishes.
  9. Separate the dough into equal-sized balls; then slightly flatten them with the palm of your hand. Place a wet towel or a plastic cover to keep dough from drying out.

Note: If you have a specialty Mexican market nearby, you can purchase the masa dough freshly made and ready to press or roll out into tortillas.

Using Masa Mix to Make the Corn Dough

Most supermarkets carry masa in a specialty aisle of the store. Ask a store clerk where you can find this product.


  • 2 cups Masa mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/8 cups of water


  1. Mix the three ingredients together.
  2. If the dough is too crumbly, add a tablespoon of water.
  3. Separate the dough into equal-sized balls.
  4. Slightly flatten the balls of dough with the palm of your hand.
  5. Place a wet towel or a plastic cover the dough to keep it from drying out.

Rolling or Pressing the Corn Dough into Tortillas

Using a rolling pin to make the tortillas:

  1. Place a floured plastic bag on a board or countertop.
  2. Place a slightly flattened ball of dough in the center of the plastic bag.
  3. Place a second floured plastic bag over the slightly flattened ball of dough.
  4. Use a rolling pin to roll out the tortilla into a circle six to seven inches in diameter of the right thickness. Use your finger to smooth any ragged edges.
  5. Remove the top plastic bag and then flip the plastic bag over in order to remove the tortilla from the 2nd plastic bag.
  6. Repeat until all of the dough balls are formed into tortillas.
  7. KEEP tortillas separated from one another with cling-wrap.

Using a tortilla press to make the tortillas

  1. Place a floured plastic bag on the bottom half of a tortilla press.
  2. Place a slightly flattened ball of dough in the center of the plastic bag.
  3. Place a second floured plastic bag over the top of the slightly flattened ball of dough.
  4. Close the lid and press down on the handle.
  5. Remove perfectly rounded tortilla from the press.
  6. KEEP tortillas separated from one another with cling-wrap or waxed paper.
  7. Repeat until all of the dough balls are made into tortillas.

Cooking the tortillas:

  1. Heat a heavy cast iron skillet, griddle or comal over high heat.
  2. Once you see some bubbles form or see it puff (about 30 seconds), flip the tortilla over with a spatula. Cook for 30 seconds on the second side. Small brown spots are fine.
  3. Place cooked tortillas into a basket covered with a towel in order to keep them warm. If you want to re-heat them for later use, then place them in a warm oven for a few minutes.


Carne Con Chile Coronado and Posole

Two dishes eaten by Esperanza and her family are more complicated to make. Consider ordering these from an authentic Mexican restaurant in order to taste these wonderful, traditional soups and stews.

rope  of chili peppers or ristras

rope of chili peppers or ristras



Nopales are a vegetable made from the young pads (leaves) of the prickly pear cactus or opuntia, which is native to Mexico and other places around the world. In Mexico, the plant is eaten commonly and is an ingredient in many Mexican dishes. Click for more information on Nopales. The green or purple pads are flat, hand-sized and are the most juicy and tender in the spring. They have a similar taste as green beans. The spines on the pads need to be carefully removed in order to prepare and cook the pads. Today nopales can be purchased fresh, canned or even dried in many supermarkets on the specialty aisle.

Scrambled Nopales or Nopales con Huevos


  • 1 or 2 cactus pads
  • 8 Eggs
  • small amount of butter or 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1/4 lb. of shredded cheese
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • Optional: a small amount of diced onion can be sautéed before the nopales and added to the eggs.


  1. Purchase nopales that have been thoroughly washed, with spines and nodules removed.
  2. Slice the pads into bite-size pieces.
  3. Melt a small amount of butter in a frying pan.
  4. Sauté the sliced pads for about 5 minutes on medium high heat.
  5. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  6. Beat the eggs with a whisk in a mixing bowl; add shredded cheese and the sautéed cactus pieces.
  7. Pour the egg mixture into a skillet and scramble it.
  8. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Serve warm with soft tortillas and salsa.


Pinto Beans Frijoles Refritos

Pinto beans are a staple of Mexican cuisine.

Cooking the Pinto Beans

  1. Place the beans into a large pot.
  2. Soak the beans overnight in warm water to soften them.
  3. In the morning, drain off the water. Cover softened beans with clean water.
  4. Bring water to a boil.
  5. Turn down the heat to medium and cook the beans until they are soft and almost done – about two hours.

Refried Beans (Frijoles Refritos)

Refried beans are actually only fried once; the word refritos means “very well fried.”


  • 4 to 5 cups cooked pinto beans
  • 1/8 cup vegetable oil


  • 1/2 large white or yellow onion – finely diced
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese – cheddar, queso quesadilla, Monterrey jack


  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over a medium heat.
  2. Carefully add the beans and mix well with the oil.
  3. Fry the beans for approximately 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. When done frying, mash the beans with a potato masher; you can mash it entirely or leave some beans whole.
  5. Serve with optional chopped onions and cheese.


On page 99 in Esperanza Means Hope, Mamá packed Papá and Tío Francisco some food in cotton bags. She included cornmeal and brown sugar to make pinole. Pinole is coarse flour made from ground toasted corn kernels and sometimes mixed with a variety of ground seeds or herbs. It can be made into a drink, a mush-like food or corn bread.

Hot Pinole Drink #1


  • 6 – 8 tablespoons of pinole
  • milk or water
  • brown or white sugar or honey to sweeten
  • optional dash of cinnamon


  1. For a cold drink, use cold milk or water.
  2. For a hot drink boil the milk or water.
  3. Pour all ingredients into a glass.
  4. Pour the appropriate amount of hot or cold milk or water to fill the glass.
  5. Stir with a spoon.
  6. Add a dash of optional cinnamon and enjoy!

Hot Pinole Drink #2


  • 2 c. milk
  • 2 heaping T. pinole
  • 1 T. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 T. malted milk powder (optional)
  • dash of cinnamon or nutmeg


  1. Heat milk to scalding.
  2. Whisk in remaining ingredients until frothy and serve in mugs.
  3. Sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg.

Pinole Corn Bread


  • 1 1⁄2 cup creamed corn
  • 3⁄4 cup pinole
  • 1⁄2 cup flour
  • 3⁄4 cup buttermilk
  • 1⁄2 cup melted butter
  • 1⁄2 — 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1⁄2 — 2 cups cheddar cheese
  • 4 — 5 fresh green chilies, finely chopped, or one 4 oz. can of diced green chilies


  1. Mix corn through baking soda well.
  2. Turn 1⁄2 batter into greased 8” or 9” pan.
  3. Sprinkle with 1⁄2 cheese, the chilies, and then the rest of the cheese.
  4. Top with remaining batter.
  5. Bake 1 hour at 350°.
  6. Let cool 15 minutes. Cut into squares.

Native Seeds – SEARCH Recipe for Pinole Cornbread:
Click to view recipe