Cooking Like A Mexican

Gorditas
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

Cooking-like-a-Mexie.jpg

If you have ever eaten at traditional Mexican food joints, markets or carts, chances are you have tried gorditas or at least heard of them or saw them and asked yourself what they were.

They look similar to pupusas or arepas but are so different. Latin American countries share a lot of similarities and ingredients but the magic lies in the different ways of marrying similar ingredients and making a whole different dish.

The word gordita means chubby, and it is sometimes used as a loving pet-name or nickname. I believe this particular dish was named so because of its looks, that simple.

Gorditas are a thicker version of a tortilla and preferably smaller in diameter, although this latter trait depends on the region where it’s made. José N. Iturriaga, author of the book “La cultura del antojito: de tamales, tortas y tacos” (Antojito culture: tamales, tortas and tacos) tells that in prehispanic Mexico, there was a great variety or tortillas, different sizes, colors, flavors and thicknesses, in various regions of the country. Most of these variations came from the use of ingredients added to the corn base of the tortilla.

Bernardino de Sahagún, a religious man who dedicated his life to writing about pre-colonial Mexico, has a very large chapter on authentic native Mexican cuisine. Many tortillas are described by him as “gorditas,” as in thicker than regular tortillas, not a separate dish. Knowing this, we can now separate the two kinds of “gordita,” tortilla and the thick corn patty known as “gordita” as well. Tongue twister extravaganza.

The most characteristic and famous “gorditas” are sold in Villa de Guadalupe, near Mexico City during the popular festivities of the slums and religious neighborhoods.

They’re small, lightly sweet and toasted in a Comal. Some of us Mexicans know them as “gorditas de nata.” This special kind of gordita is eaten as a dessert, with a café de olla, and sold as soft cookies wrapped in brightly colored tissue paper.

If we go to the north of the country, there’s a whole genre of gorditas in Aguascalientes, Durango, Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, and well, northeast. Gorditas if you ask there, are the size of regular corn tortillas, opened carefully and stuffed with different stews and other dishes and compliments such as chicharron in green or red salsa, picadillo (ground meat with vegetables), chorizo and potatoes, fresh cheese, beans, and the possibilities are endless.

Seventy years ago, a new type of franchise in Mexico appeared, and “Doña Tota,” a lady from Ciudad Victoria opened her gordita business, which her family still runs today. It is so successful more than 60 stores have opened in the country and one in Los Angeles. A particularity about Doña Tota’s gorditas is that they also make them with wheat dough.

The state of Tabasco also has a very famous recipe for gorditas, stuffed with fried garlic, lots and lots of fried garlic, finely chopped enough to make a vampire cry. Also, these kiss repellent gorditas are toasted a little more than usual, so they are quite the stinky crunch.

However, around the center of the country many states do not usually stuff gorditas but rather place the main ingredient on top; personally, that makes me question the difference between a sope and a gordita, but we’ll talk about those on another occasion. These are also usually paired with a slap of beans, grated queso fresco, sour cream and salsa. Lots of salsa, quite spicy.

Gorditas are one of those dishes that will never be fully discovered, and it is so versatile, new recipes keep being invented. There’s always a gordita for every taste. And most of us who love Mexican food will tell you, gorditas are geographic. The farther away from Civilization, the better: the best gorditas are those cooked by humble people in small towns or on the side of the road.

Making your own Mexican Gorditas at home is easy, cheap and perfect for those days when you have lots of leftovers. These little corn patties are made with masa so they’re also gluten free, vegetarian and vegan. Depending on the stuffing.

Say hello to Mexican gorditas! No, this is nothing like the Taco Bell cheesy gordita crunch you may have seen. And for your own good and of your intestines, tasted. These are real, authentic, homemade gorditas.

Essentially, gorditas are thick corn tortillas that have a pocket in the middle made for stuffing with delicious Mexican fillings. Preferably on the spicy side if you ask me.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups masa (tortilla dough if you can buy it in a tortillería, skip the liquids listed below or use maseca from the supermarket and follow the recipe)

1 3/4 cups to 2 cups water (chicken or beef stock will make it taste better, but watch the salt!)

1 teaspoon salt

INSTRUCTIONS:

    •    Mix together masa, water and salt to create a dough. (skip if you have hydrated masa from the tortillería) Roll the dough into 16 little balls. At this point, heat a large skillet, griddle or Comal over medium-high heat.

    •    Lightly flatten a masa ball in between two sheets of plastic wrap using a tortilla press or a flat plan, or two flat plates. Make sure not to press it down too much as it will become too thin like a normal corn tortilla. You want it about twice as thick as a normal tortilla. If you mess up and make it too thin, simply gather the flattened dough, reform it into a ball and try again. If the edges tear too much, your masa is dry. If it’s too sticky, it has too much water.

    •    Remove the flattened masa from the plastic wrap and place it on the hot griddle. Let it cook for about 10 to 15 seconds, flip it over and let that side cook for another 10 to 15 seconds. This helps to sort of seal the dough so that an air pocket can form more easily. Flip it over one more time and cook each side for about 1 minute, until they have beautiful brown spots.

    •    At this point, you should notice that the gordita inflates a little bit and starts to bubble up in the middle or the sides. This is exactly what you want. I’ve seen the ladies at my favorite gordita joint sort of slap the middle if they don’t rise. And then just like a stubborn toddler, they do. Remove it from the griddle, place it on a plate and cover it with a light kitchen towel.

    •    As soon as you can handle and hold the gordita (it should still be hot but not hot enough to burn you), use a butter or paring knife to cut a slit down the edge of one side. The gordita should open up and have a little pocket to stuff all the fillings.

TIPS FOR MAKING GORDITAS

I recommend using a zip-loc gallon-size bag instead of plastic or saran wrap when flattening the masa balls. Simply cut it open down the side seams and leave the bottom seam uncut. Then place it on top of the open tortilla press and voila! It’s a perfect size and it doesn’t tend to stick together like plastic wrap can.

Use a tortilla press. If you want to cheat a little. It makes the process so much easier and is a must-have item in the Mexican kitchen!

If you want to try frying them, make all the gorditas as outlined above but don’t slice them open until fried. Then add some frying oil to a medium skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. You don’t need to use a lot of oil, just enough to fully submerge one side of the gordita. Add the cooked gordita and fry on both sides for about a minute or two, until crispy. Remove from the oil and place on a paper towel to soak up any excess oil. Stuff them like normal and enjoy!

Stuff them with whatever you have leftover, or whip up one of my previous ask a mexie recipes!

Write to me at ale.borbolla@gringogazette.com and send pictures if you make them, ask me questions or tell me about any particular Mexican food craving you’d like to see here!

Buen provecho!