A few weeks ago, I took a trip to the farmer’s market in my town center, and while perusing the crates of veggies at the The Neighborhood Farm stand, my eyes landed on one crate labeled “Green Oaxacan Corn.” These emerald ears of corn brought back childhood memories of long summer days in Mexico.
My grandfather always used to have bags of dried corn lying around the house. As a farmer, he kept sacks of corn as seed for the next year’s crop. Some of the corn, unbeknownst to me, was also used to make masa. I loved popping the kernels off the ears of corn with my fingers. Or better yet, I would shoot the small kernels at an unsuspecting dog or chicken. I played with the corn without understanding its purpose. Ubiquitous and unexciting, the corn was merely a part of the background of my grandparents’ house. I never realized that the delicious tortillas or gorditas I ate came from those precious kernels.
In all my child’s play with the corn, I’d never seen ears of corn in such a beautiful shade of green. When I saw them at the farmer’s market, I immediately picked one up and began inspecting it under the dim light. Suddenly, a thought crossed my mind. What if I tried making my own masa… from scratch? I considered the fact that a few weeks prior I’d made sopes from masa harina, something that I had considered “from scratch” until that point. That had felt like a huge accomplishment, but making masa actually from scratch? This would be more difficult.
As I continued inspecting the corn, I began talking to the person at the stand about my plans to make masa with the corn. She excitedly shared that they had grown this variety of corn because one particular customer was really enthusiastic about making tamales from the corn. Convinced, I grabbed the corn, but as I handed my corn over to pay for it, the kind woman working at the stand refused to let me pay and encouraged me to let her know what came to be of the corn. (Thank you Kate from The Neighborhood Farm)!
I left the farmer’s market ecstatic with my new “purchase” and went home to research the process of making masa. I was nervous about whether or not my cheap food processor would be able to grind the corn since I didn’t own a grain mill, but I was reassured that it was indeed possible by this post. The next item that I needed to make tamales was cal mexicana–pickling lime. After calling about a dozen stores and asking for pickling lime to no avail, I decided to go look around myself. Later that day, when I’d almost given up hope of finding cal in Boston, I stopped at a random Mexican restaurant in East Boston to grab dinner. As I waited for my food I asked the owner (a lovely Mexican woman from Jalisco) if she knew of any Mexican grocers that carried cal. She shook her head, and I almost lost all hope, but then she said, “Actually, I have some cal that I brought from Mexico that I could give you.” She made a phone call home and her husband brought over a ziplock bag full of the cal for me. I was overjoyed and so grateful! Cal and burritos in tow, I headed home.
After watching countless YouTube videos and reading many posts on the process of making masa (listed below), I began by creating the cal slurry and adding it to a pot of boiling water along with the corn. I was amazed to see that the corn immediately turned a brighter shade of yellow. I let the corn and cal mixture cook for about an hour and then turned the pot off. The next morning I found the corn much softer; however, though the skin of the kernels did peel off, it was not as easy to peel off as some sources seemed to suggest. After I peeled off as much skin as I could, I transferred the corn to my tiny food processor. Three batches and 25 minutes later, my glorious masa was done!
Masa (from scratch)
Yields 4 cups
Cooking Time: 1 hour
- 2 tablespoons of cal mexicana (calcium hydroxide)
- Enough water to cover the corn
- 3 cups of dried corn
- Prep: Mix the cal with water and stir until the two integrate fully. Heat a pot (stainless, non-oxidizing*) of water until boiling. Add corn and cal and reduce heat to a low simmer. Allow corn to simmer for 1 hour. Turn off heat and let contents rest overnight (between 8-12 hours).
- Next day: Rinse corn in running water and remove as many of the corn skins as possible by rubbing them between your fingers.
- Grinding: Put corn in food processor and grind until it combines into dough. For my cheap food processor that took almost 9 minutes. If your corn meal is not turning into dough, add water in teaspoon increments until the masa is formed.
- Enjoy! Make tamales, sopes, tortillas, etc. with your delicious masa.
*Make sure you use a stainless steel pot. Otherwise, the cal could damage your pot.
Websites and videos used to inform this process:
The wisdom of someone who has done this many times
Awesome step by step pictures (also uses food processor)
Explains the science behind the nixtamalization process (PH levels included!)
Also describes the process of making masa in a super comprehensive way and helped me to troubleshoot some hiccups along the way
¿Como hacer el Nixtamal? It’s by Yuri de Gortari, what’s not to love? (Spanish) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLda6IdPqnE