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Make Masa: Nixtamalized Corn

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These homemade tortillas start with a dough made from whole-grain corn masa that is shaped and then cooked like a pancake on a griddle. Homemade salsa makes a great accompaniment.
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Whether ground or whole, nixtamalized corn "has a taste and aroma like no other food on Earth — a delicately nutty quality combined with something almost chalky and mineral-like," says Zarela Martinez.

About 1,500 B.C., cooks in coastal Guatemala figured out
that cooking dried corn in alkali water removed the
kernels’ skins and produced a softer dough than unprocessed
ground corn.

More recently, food scientists have found that this
process, called nixtamalization, increases the
bioavailability of both protein and niacin, and radically
reduces the toxins often found in moldy corn. The resulting
dough, called masa, is the basis for corn tortillas, chips,
tamales and other specialty corn foods. Whole corn that has
been nixtamalized is called hominy or posole, while the
ground form is called masa.

Whether ground or whole, nixtamalized corn “has a taste and
aroma like no other food on Earth — a delicately nutty
quality combined with something almost chalky and
mineral-like,” says Zarela Martinez, owner of Zarela
restaurant in New York City and author of TheFood and Life of Oaxaca. She shared the
following recipe for nixtamalizing your own corn:


Nixtamalized Corn

2 pounds clean, dried flour-corn kernels (about 1
quart)
1/4 cup pickling lime (food-grade calcium hydroxide)
3 quarts water

Rinse the corn in a colander and set aside. In a large,
stainless steel (nonreactive) pot, dissolve the lime in the
water. Immediately wash off any lime that gets on your
hands. Add the corn and discard any floating kernels. Bring
to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, and cook
uncovered for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, cool the pot
and let it sit, uncovered, for 4 hours at room temperature
or overnight in the refrigerator. Pour the corn into a
colander in the sink. With the cold water running, rub the
kernels between your hands to rub away the softened hulls
(they will have a gelatinous texture). Rinse thoroughly
(some old recipes say to wash between 4 and 11 times).
Drain well. Use the whole, moist kernels in soups or stews.
Or, grind them through a food mill able to handle moist
kernels to make masa, to which you can add enough water to
make a slightly sticky dough for making tamales or, using a
tortilla press, tortillas. Promptly refrigerate any unused
masa, and use it within 3 days.

Published on Apr 1, 2004