Tortillas (Recipe: shrimp and avocado quesadillas)
Down the hill from the house where Ted's aunt and uncle live, in Ajijic on the shore of Lake Chapala, a small tortilleria opens in mid-morning, six days a week.
When you hear the slap-slap-slap of the masa dough between the palms of the women's hands, and when the aroma of corn toasting on the comal (griddle) works its way up the road, you know the shop has opened.
A dozen tortillas costs very little, just a dollar or two, and a meal would be unthinkable without them. Tortillas -- the round, thin, flatbread made from corn or flour -- are the sandwich bread of Mexico. They're the sandwich bread of The Perfect Pantry, too.
There are three ways to make tortillas.
Or this way:
I admit I'm too lazy to make tortillas at home, thought I've tried to justify buying a tortilla press (I haven't bought one, yet). My local supermarket sells at least ten types of tortillas, in sizes from six to ten inches: corn or flour, carb or low-carb, gluten-free, whole wheat, sun-dried tomato, spinach. The ones I use most often are Joseph's brand oat bran and flax tortillas, just 70 calories and 5 net carbs each. (I keep them in the vegetable drawer in my refrigerator, for up to a month in a sealed bag.)
When I want yellow or blue corn tortillas, I go to Sanchez Tortilleria in Providence, or a good Latino market.
Or the little tortilleria in Ajijic, when I'm lucky enough to get there.
Shrimp and avocado quesadillas
If tortillas are the sandwich bread of Mexico, quesadillas are the grilled cheese sandwiches. With tortillas in the refrigerator and leftover grated cheese in the freezer, you can make these in minutes. Serve as a lunch dish, with spicy salsa, or cut into small wedges for an appetizer. Figure on two tortillas per person. This recipe serves 2; can be doubled or more.
8 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 tortillas (I use Joseph's 10-inch oat bran and flax tortillas)
1 avocado, diced, tossed with juice of half a lime
1-2 small tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 tsp minced jalapeño (remove seeds and ribs before mincing), optional
1-1/2 cups grated cheese of your choice (Monterey Jack is good), or crumbled queso blanco
Salsa, for serving (I like Trader Jose's habañero-lime, which is very spicy, or Paul Newman's mildly spicy peach salsa)
In a small saucepan, bring one or two inches of water to a boil. Drop in the peeled and deveined shrimp, turn the heat to simmer, and cook for 2-3 minutes or until shrimp have just turned pink and curled. Drain the shrimp and rinse them under cold water. When they are cool enough to handle, slice in half horizontally, to make two thin slices out of each one.
Heat a nonstick griddle to low-medium. (If you use a nonstick pan or griddle, you will not need any oil on the tortillas.)
While the griddle is heating, build your quesadillas. Lay one tortilla flat on the countertop. Sprinkle it with one-fourth of the grated cheese. Spread half of the shrimp pieces around here and there. Dot with pieces of avocado and tomato. Sprinkle with a bit of minced jalapeño. Then top with another one-fourth of the cheese, and a second tortilla.
Gently press down on the quesadilla to compress the avocado a bit. With a large spatula, move the quesadilla to the heated pan. Cook for 3 minutes, until the bottom tortilla is lightly browned and the cheese on the bottom is melting. Carefully (and fearlessly) flip the quesadilla, and cook 2-3 minutes, until the bottom tortilla is lightly browned. Lift the edge to check for brownness, and check that the cheese inside has melted.
Slide the quesadilla onto a cutting board, and let it sit for at least 3 minutes. With a large, very sharp knife, cut the quesadilla into wedges, and serve with your favorite salsa.
Note: if you're making your quesadillas on a grill, form them slightly differently. Use one tortilla per quesadilla instead of two. Set one on your countertop, arrange the fillings on one-half of the tortilla, and fold the top half over. Tortillas made this way are easier to flip on the grill.