Tortilla Crepe Stacks

To some of us, Mexican food terms get a little confusing. I mean there is the taco, burrito, quesadilla, enchilada and taquito just to name a few. Before anything, one needs to know what a tortilla is. Simply put, it is wheat or corn plain bread that is used as a wrapping material around different types of filling ingredients to make the various Mexican dishes. 

Masa Harina is a traditional flour used to make corn tortillas and tamales as well as other Mexican meals. To make masa harina, field corn (or maize) is dried and then treated in a solution of lime and water called slaked lime (or wood-ash lye). This loosens the hulls from the kernels and softens the corn. In addition, the lime reacts with the corn so that the nutrient niacin can be assimilated by the digestive tract.

The soaked maize is then washed, and the wet corn is ground into a dough called masa. It is this fresh masa, when dried and powdered, that becomes masa harina. Water is added again to make dough for the corn tortillas or tamales.

Cornmeal and masa harina are very different preparations of corn. Do not try to substitute cornmeal or regular wheat flour in recipes calling for masa harina as they will not produce the same results.

Today, I want to make some tortilla crepe stacks. Crepes as we all know, have always been a hallmark of French cuisine. So the question is, ‘how did they come to be in Mexican cuisine’? In the 1860’s, French forces invaded Mexico. They came, they conquered, they cooked and then they got kicked out. Cinco de Mayo commemorates that victory for Mexico from 1862. However, it took another five years before the French left Mexico for good. During their stay, the French left their mark on the country’s cuisine.

One of the reasons I have always loved crepes, is that they are so easy to make and taste so good. You can either roll the filling inside or just stack them with their fillings and make a ‘cake’.

These tortilla crepes are made with half masa harina and half white flour. Next, I made a mushroom rice & barley pilaf and some guacamole. You can pick and choose when it comes to the extra filling add-ons. I guess it did get a bit more involved but worth it —.

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Tortilla Crepe Stacks
Tortilla Crepes
  1. In a blender, beat eggs with milk & oil. Gradually add masa harina, white flour & salt, beat until smooth. Allow to stand for 1 hour or longer. Heat an electric griddle to 350 F. Using a 1/4 cup measure, scoop batter onto griddle. With bottom of 1/4 cup, make circles in the batter, gradually enlarge to size of tortilla you wish to make. I made 3 for each crepe stack. Cook each crepe for a few minutes on each side then remove to a wire cooling rack.
Rice & Barley Pilaf
  1. In a saucepan, saute onion, garlic & mushrooms until tender crisp. Add chicken broth & bring to a boil. Add all remaining pilaf ingredients & reduce heat to simmer. Simmer until barley & rice are cooked & liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; place in a dish & set aside to cool.
  1. Mince onion & sun-dried tomatoes & mash avocados. In a small bowl, combine avocados, onion, sun-dried tomatoes, & remaining guacamole ingredients. Blend well, cover & refrigerate.
Crepe Stack Fillings
  1. Cook chicken & shred, Grate cheese & prepare all filling ingredients.
  1. Spread 4 tortillas with guacamole, reserving a bit for 'decorating' the top of each stack. Over the guacamole, put a layer of rice/barley pilaf. Top each of them with chicken, green peppers, olives, corn, red onion, fresh tomatoes, zucchini, black beans & a sprinkling of cheese. On 2 serving plates, place one filled tortilla topped by a second one. Complete each stack with another corn tortilla. 'Decorate' each with remaining guacamole, salsa, sour cream & remaining cheese. Heat each crepe stack for a few minutes in the microwave before serving.

Fish Tacos with Guacamole

The countryside around Merida, Mexico is home to many plantations or haciendas.They grew a cactus of the Agave family and processed the leaves to remove the fibers inside to make what is called a ‘sisal’ rope and other  related cordage products. Although most haciendas laid abandoned for  many years after the Mexican Revolution and the invention of synthetic  fibers, today many have been restored and turned into luxury hotels,  restaurants, museums and attractions.

On one of our day trips we went to Hacienda Sotuta de Peon. This is a  restoration project focused on preserving the history of how a native plant was farmed for its fibers and made into rope. You can witness the whole process step by step; from plant in the ground, to raw material, to fibre and finished product.

This tour of the plantation was very interesting!  The ‘grand hacienda’, or landowner’s home, was one, very long building. The rooms from kitchen through the bedrooms were all in a row connected by doors. The veranda ran the length of the house  overlooking the pool and beautiful gardens. Sheer opulence in comparison to the conditions of the factory workers a short distance away. Over in the factory, the sisal leaves are lifted up from the street onto a conveyor belt  where it is arranged by hand for maximum efficiency. Equipment,  powered by a loud diesel engine, with overhead drive shafts and big  leather belts, squeezed the leaves. Rivers of green pulp and liquid ran  down to the carts below. The cleaned leaves came out the other side and  workers made individual batches of the fibre and sent them down a rail to the room below where they would be hung out to dry in the  sun.

In the next process, machinery separated short and long fibers, spun it  into grade rope or baled it. When nylon and other synthetic materials  were created it changed the economics of this industry. No longer able to  compete they ultimately had to shut down. At the end of this part of the  tour we were taken on a mule drawn, covered cart to see the fields of the  sisal growing. What was interesting about the ride was that the mule  pulled all of us around the plantation in this cart attached to the same rail  system  that was used over a century ago to transport the workers.

I’m including some of the highlights of Brion’s photos of that day for you  to enjoy. In keeping with the Mexican theme, here is a tasty little recipe  for some fish tacos as well.

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Fish Tacos with Guacamole
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Place a metal rack over a baking sheet & spray the rack with vegetable spray. Set aside. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, cumin, chili powder, salt & pepper. Set aside. Cut fish fillets into fingers & brush with olive oil. Toss the fish fingers a few at a time into the flour mixture until well coated. Transfer fish to baking rack. Spray the top of fish lightly with vegetable spray. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden & cooked.
  1. In a large bowl, coarsely mash avocados, lime juice, salt & cumin using a fork; stir in tomato, garlic, onion & cilantro. Cover & refrigerate until ready to assemble tacos.
  1. In a bowl, combine coleslaw with ranch dressing.
  1. In each (heated) tortilla, place a small amount of coleslaw. Top with a couple of fish fingers, guacamole, red onion, diced tomato, grated cheese & the remainder of coleslaw. Serve any extra guacamole on the side. Of course, nothing wrong with adding a bit of salsa to the equation!

Chicken Avocado Flax Crepe Stacks

Flax is a flavor that has always appealed to me. I like it both in the ground or seed form. Flax is sown and harvested much like a spring cereal crop and matures at the same time as wheat. Although its place of origin is unknown, it seems likely it it would be southwest Asia. Flax is one of the oldest textile fibers used by humans.  Evidence of its use have been found in Switzerland’s prehistoric lake dwellings as well as fine linen fabrics being discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs.

Here in Canada, flax is produced as an oil seed crop. Superior oil quality and higher oil content have long been major features of Canadian flax seed, attributed to Canada’s climate. I remember my father growing flax as a trial crop one year in southern Alberta. The thing that made a lasting memory for me was its pretty azure blue flowers and interesting little seed pods. Thinking about that, it must have been in the late fifties or early sixties.

Today, I’m making some crepe stacks using flax-meal in the crepes. It should give a nice nutty flavor to compliment the chicken-avocado filling.

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Chicken Avocado Flax Crepe Stacks

Flax Crepes
  1. In a blender, combine crepe ingredients & blend for 1 minute at high speed. Scrape down sides; whirl for another 15 seconds. Cover & refrigerate for at least 1 hour or longer. Heat a non-stick griddle (or use a crepe pan). Using a 1/4 cup measure, pour batter on griddle using a circular motion to create the right size of crepe needed. Cook about 2- 3 minutes on each side. When cooked, cool on a wire rack until needed. This batter makes about 10 crepes.

  1. In a saucepan, melt margarine; add flour to make a roux & cook for a few seconds. Slowly add milk/broth combo, stirring to combine well. Add spices & continue cooking for about 5 minutes or so. Set aside

Crepe Filling
  1. Mash avocados & add yogurt, spices, lemon juice, onion & sun-dried tomatoes. Set aside. Slice mushrooms & if you prefer, saute for a few minutes otherwise you can leave them raw. Prepare fresh tomatoes, red & green onions. Grate cheese.

  1. On a work surface, lay out 3 crepes per person (for 2 people). Spread all but 2 crepes with avocado mixture, leaving a 1/2-inch border on each. Place two of the avocado 'spread' crepes on serving plates. Top each with some chicken, corn, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, 'sauce' & cheese. Lay another avocado 'spread' crepe on top of each plate & repeat with fillings, sauce & cheese. Now, top each stack with an un-spread crepe. Spread any remaining sauce in a small circle in the center. Top with the remaining filling ingredients & sprinkle with last bit of cheese. When you are ready to serve just give them a few minutes in the microwave & your done! Any remaining crepes can be frozen.

Recipe Notes

Flax can replace fat or eggs in a recipe:

  • 3 Tbsp  ground flax = 1 Tbsp butter, margarine, shortening or veg oil
  • 1 Tbsp ground flax + 3 Tbsp water = 1 egg  (combine & allow to sit 1-2 minutes before using)