Its cold. I want to go to Mexico soooo bad I can almost taste it. Actually, I can taste it. The it is masa harinacorn dough, to be precise.
Since my family is not planning a southern jaunt this winter, it is fortunate that Mexico, in a manner of speaking, has come to us. In the past five years over 10,000 people from central and south America have immigrated to Quebec and most of them live in Montreal. This has been fantastic for food lovers as previously hard to find essentials for Latino cooking, such as tomatillos, chilies and masa are sold in many supermarkets, not just smaller stores that cater to a specific clientele.
Processed corn products pervade so much of todays food in forms of corn oil, corn starch, etc., that it is hard to remember what real corn flavour tastes like. This isnt the case with masa which is dried corn that has been treated with an alkali to remove the hulls and then dried. Cracked into meal, it is sold as hominy grits. Ground into flour it is masa harina. The alkali, which could be slaked lime or lye, also releases the niacin in the corn which makes this food much more nutritious. Real masafresh, moist and luciousis impossible to find n Montreal. But masa harina, the flour made from dried, ground masa comes pretty close.
As North America becomes increasingly Hispanic, we are more familiar with corn-based dishes such as tamales and tacos. Tamales start with a soft dough of masa, water and lard or oil. Chicken, beef, cheese, vegetables or even fruit are incorporated into the dough which is then wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks or foil and steamed. Corn tortillas are made from a stiffer dough of masa and water which is rolled into small balls, flattened and cooked on a griddle. In the home, tacos are usually made from left-over tortillas. They are fried and folded. Foods such as cooked meat, cheese, shredded lettuce and salsa can then be added. While these dishes have become Mexican-style staples, sometimes it is nice to just wake up and smell the masa and know that for many people a simple meal of tortillas and beans is a balanced diet, tasty and filling.