By Alex Smith
Traditional cooking methods are traditions for a reason. Mothers and fathers teach their children, and the children make slight improvements over generations. In many cases it’s hard to imagine these processes getting any better. Hand-made pasta using traditional Italian methods is hard to beat. Seasoned meat cooked simply over fire is about as basic as it gets, but it doesn’t need to be more complex.
But with the advent of new technology and fast-flowing information, some of these traditional recipes and techniques can be improved upon. By using different ingredients and equipment, we can preserve the essence while making the food even better.
Tortillas are a great example of this. Traditional tortillas contain very few ingredients and are made using simple techniques passed down through generations. If you’ve ever had a freshly made tortilla, you’ve experienced what it’s like to taste the flavor of hundreds of years of skilled hands crafting a seemingly perfect flatbread.
But what if you took that simple recipe and used slightly different ingredients to make a tortilla that tastes delicious and is also packed with nutrients? That’s exactly what Lupita Nava has done with Tortillas Con Madre. She grew up in Mexico and learned from her madre and abuela to make the flour tortillas that are traditional to the region of Monterrey. Now she’s taken those techniques and modified them to use what’s available in Lynden, where she has lived for the past 20 years.
Using locally produced pumpkin seed oil and local grains from Skagit County, Lupita has created what she calls a “functional food” – a food that provides good nutritional value. These tortillas are also the only commercially available certified organic option made in the Pacific Northwest.
At this point, you may be asking an important question: how do these taste? It’s a valid question, and I’ve had my fair share of experiences with “alternative” tortillas that are dry, crack easily, or just don’t taste good. These are different. In fact, these might be the best all-around tortillas I’ve had. The pumpkin seed oil is nutritious, and it’s also wonderfully rich and buttery in flavor. The texture is soft and pliable, but just thick enough to keep from falling apart, even if you’re like me and always over-fill your tortillas. The size is just right, too. At about 8 inches, they comfortably fit plenty of carnitas, beans, lettuce, radishes, salsa, or whatever you like to stuff in them.
This amazing combination that resulted in “tortillas beyond their flavor,” (in Lupita’s words) was no accident. She worked directly with the flour mill to find the right blend, a whole wheat flour mixture. She tried several different oils before arriving at organic pumpkin seed oil. Neighbors, friends, and family acted as test subjects to help her dial in the recipe to perfection. Her husband Gerardo, along with their 3 kids, have helped with the business from the start as well, and it remains an entirely family-run operation.
This isn’t the first time Lupita and Gerardo have run a tortilla business. In Monterrey, Mexico they ran a tortilla company but eventually moved to Canada and their family continued to run the business. It’s always been a dream to start producing tortillas again, but Lupita has taken her time. “I’ve wanted to start a business, but I wanted to make something that’s good for people,” she tells me. “I want people to have good food on their table.” The recipe was developed for flavor, texture, and nutrition. While she never uses preservatives, the tortillas still last a week unrefrigerated, or up to a month in the fridge. You can also freeze them for longer storage, and when thawed they return to their soft, pliable texture.
The beauty of Tortillas Con Madre is in the simplicity. The ingredients that aren’t in the tortillas are as important as the ones that are. If you look at the ingredient list on most commercial tortillas, even organic options, you’ll find stabilizers, dough conditioners, preservatives, and other things that you probably don’t recognize as food. Look at Lupita’s label and you’ll find five ingredients: wheat flour, water, pumpkin seed oil, sea salt, and baking powder. Real food to nourish your family while supporting your community.
These tortillas truly bring to mind visions of the fresh tortillas that are abundant in Mexico but nearly impossible to find in this region. “I wanted to eat tortillas like the ones I had growing up,” Lupita says describing one of the reasons for starting the business. She has succeeded in taking the lessons learned from generations of Mexicans and sharing those with our community, while putting her unique spin on tradition.
You can find Tortillas Con Madre at both Community Food Co-op locations, The Green Barn, and starting in August, at Haggen stores starting with Barkley Village and Meridian.