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Tortillas (Recipe: moo shu chicken)


Ten years ago, Ted's aunt and uncle retired to Ajijic, a town on the north shore of Lake Chapala, due south of Guadalajara, Mexico.

Ajijic (pronounced ah-hee-HEEK) is a quirky little town, a mix of English-speaking ex-pats, locals, and wealthy Guadalajara residents looking for a weekend escape from the city. Though there's a Costco in "Guad", in Ajijic everyone shops at small, more traditional markets.

Best of all, just a few hundred yards downhill from aunt-and-uncle's house is a tiny storefront tortilleria, a tortilla bakery, where every morning the aroma of freshly-made tortillas pulls you in. Purchase a dozen for a few pesos; eat them the same day; buy more the next morning.

A tortilla -- the kind I keep in my pantry -- is an unleavened flatbread, made from corn or wheat flour, that originated in Mexico. (The Spanish tortilla, after which this tortilla was named, is a thick, layered omelet, often made with potatoes.)

Though wheat tortillas are popular in northern Mexico, they are a fairly recent invention. From ancient times, tortillas have been made from corn cured in lime water; the process, called nixtamalization, causes the skin of the corn kernels to peel off, which increases the nutritional value by activating the niacin and tryptophan in the corn.

Overall, corn tortillas contain only half as many calories, fat and carbs as their wheat-flour cousins, but recently those of us who are carb-challenged have been able to enjoy low-carb flour tortillas made by several companies. My newest passion, a true shadow of the basic flour tortilla and available in my local supermarket, is Joseph's brand wheat-oat bran-flax tortilla, with 70 calories and just 5 net carbs. With the carbs reduced, tortillas seem to lose a bit of their heft, so they're not wonderful for heavy fillings, but they're perfect for quesadillas.

All supermarkets now offer a selection of tortillas, often in the dairy section of the store. That's where I find the low-carb wonders that may be better for my health, but cost a whopping $3.29 for 6 tortillas.

If you live near a city and don't know of a local market, ask your favorite Latino restaurant where to shop. That's how I found a terrific Latino market in Providence that sells packages of 50 six-inch blue corn or white corn tortillas for less than $1.00. With a bit more asking around, I found a small tortilleria on Atwells Avenue in the Olneyville neighborhood.

For the longest time I limited my use of tortillas to Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes. But, like my wonton epiphany, I've learned a secret about tortillas. They are dough. Dough that has been mixed and rolled thin. Dough that can hold things, cover things, and layer with other things, such as sandwiches and roll-ups and pizza and pinwheels.

Of course tortillas, with or without corn, and with or without carbs, are pretty good for quesadillas, soup, chips and tostadas, too.

Moo shu chicken

The incredible flexible tortilla stands in for Chinese pancakes in this restaurant favorite dish, adapted from the Tortilla Industry Association web site. Substitute leftover cooked or store-bought rotisserie chicken, if you prefer. Serves 8.


8 flour tortillas (steamed or warmed in a microwave)
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, julienned
PAM or other canola spray
1 Tbsp fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
2 Tbsp shao hsing wine or sherry
2-3 oz bamboo shoots, julienned
2-3 oz mung bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
6-8 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, julienned
2-3 Chinese dried fungus, reconstituted, julienned, soaking liquid reserved
20 lily buds, reconstituted, tied in knot
3 Tbsp black bean garlic sauce
3 Tbsp soy sauce
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Cornstarch or arrowroot, as needed
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup hoisin sauce


Marinate meat in soy, ginger, and wine or sherry, for 20 minutes to 1 hour. Heat wok, add PAM, and cook the chicken. Add mushrooms, cook, then add fungus and lily buds. Cook, then add bamboo shoots and bean sprouts. Mix well and finally add in mushroom soaking liquid. Thicken with cornstarch or arrowroot mixed with a bit of water. Add black bean sauce, soy sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Thicken if needed with a bit of cornstarch dissolved in water. Remove from heat and adjust seasoning. Top with green onion.

To serve, lay a steamed tortilla on a plate. Spread lightly with hoisin sauce. Place 1-2 tablespoons of chicken mix, spreading evenly across the diameter of the tortilla. Roll the tortilla like a burrito and it is ready to eat.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Also in The Perfect Pantry:

Roasted halibut tacos with mango salsa
Mole colorado
Turkey tacos
Frijoles de la olla
Pueblo vegetable stew

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I use wheat tortillas in all sorts of different things, too! At first I was a bit shamefaced, but then I though, what the heck, it´s just a pancake, right? Anything goes!

I'm big on using tortillas in all sorts of dishes, so naturally your post appealed to me. For some reason though, I've gotten out of the habit of using tortillas as of late (I seem to get into various cooking ruts throughout the course of a year,) but you've definitely reignited my desire to use them again.

When I first started blogging (before I knew you, darn!) I visited a friend in Rhode Island and had the Joseph's low carb tortillas and loved them! I've had people leaving comments on my blog for two years now asking if you can buy them online and recently one of my readers reported they're available at Netrition. I haven't tried ordering them yet, but I did check and they're offered there. I'm planning to order some soon.

today you solved my puzzle... only heard about moo shu chicken but didn't know what it looked like (sort of like Tso's chicken in the States... sweet & sour chick... name already changed once after traveled)

What a novel idea Lydia:D

You know, I love moo shu chicken and I've never thought of making it at home. What a good idea.

I really like the Joseph's flax-oat tortilla or lavash bread too. Great toasted as crackers. I remember raising my eyebrows when Chinese restaurants started serving flour tortillas to accompany mu-shu pork in lieu of pancakes...but they worked well.

When I discovered tortillas at my grocers, "regular" store-bought bread pretty much ceased to exist.

Love mooshoo anything...


So good to think outside the box -- or the taco. For gluten free people, corn tortillas are much better than convoluted obscure breads, and we can all enjoy any kind of sandwich on them. And Joseph's makes a good low carb pita too...time for them to franchise or go national?

Yum! I wish I was not tortilla rolling impaired. I keep tryin various things - break break break. Oh well! They still taste yummy - broken or not! :)

Lobstersquad, yes, anything goes! It's taken me years to get out of the little box that says tortillas are only for Mexican food.

Sandie, I'm always looking for new ways to use tortillas, especially in the summer when I use them as wraps for all sorts of sandwiches.

Kalyn, I don't know how local the Joseph's brand is, but I'm happy to send you a starter supply.

Gattina, Bellini Valli, Julie, Jasmine: one of the easiest recipes for moo shu is to use shredded cole slaw mix (mostly cabbage), and cook it with reconstituted mushrooms and soy and black bean sauce. Then roll it in a tortilla, and while it's not authentic moo shu, it's pretty darned delicious.

Callipygia, I've recently tried the Joseph's lavash -- it's delicious. In fact, all of their bread products are great.

Susan, I keep many packages of the pitas in my freezer -- it's now become my first-choice bread. I'd love to see them go national, or at least get into online so people outside New England could enjoy their products.

Chris, I've never been very good at making tortillas from scratch, though I really want to give it another try.

Lydia, not until very recently we could find tortillas in the grocery stores. I haven't tried them yet, and you've made me even more curious!

I am pretty much challenged to have Chinese fungus and lily buds in my pantry but was pleased to see your suggestion of an alternative moo shu using pre-shredded coleslaw mix and a few other ingredients. I love tortillas - I buy them on sale and freeze them (reheating whenever in a cast iron pan). Last night we had Whole Grain Jalapeno Corn and also Whole Wheat&Flax tortillas with seasoned beef and fresh salsa. But I am trying the coleslaw version soon! It sounds delicious. Thanks for the interesting post as usual.

Since I can't eat most Mexican food...I love this idea(as I do eat much Chinese food).

My parents were visiting this week, and I was just saying how much I miss veg moo shu from Seven Moons restaurant in RI. I think it's time to whip up a batch. Thanks for the reminder!

I can't imagine how wonderful it must be to smell the aroma of fresh tortillas at a local bakery! That's an experience I would like to have!

Patricia, I think the quality of store-bought tortillas has really improved -- but they are not the same as homemade. My own homemade ones, however, were never very good -- and they were never very round!

Arlo, jalapeno corn tortillas sound delicious. I do love the shortcut of using cole slaw mix for moo shu -- can't remember where I first heard of it, but it's a great idea.

Peabody, I like pretty much anything wrapped in a tortilla, and of course I'm a huge fan of Chinese food, too.

Susan, hope your parents were able to bring you lots of goodies from RI!

TW, there are a number of tortillerias in Boston, in Providence, and in the part of Jackson Heights where our kids live. They always seem to be tiny storefront places, tucked in among other things. Follow your nose, and you will find them in NYC. And, honestly, once you've gotten hooked on local tortillas, you'll recognize the store-bought ones not as a lesser tortilla, but as a different product altogether!

Your cooking is so exciting Lydia,
it seems like there's such a range of dishes you try every week! I'm so amazed!
And I want a tortilla of yours right now.

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