Tortilla chips from scratch

Fetch 10 cobs of maize - ripe and dry - from plot next door. Remove the kernels with your fingers into a bowl. Pick up the ones that got away and add to bowl. Put them into a jug or something that will serve as a measure, note the volume, then tip the kernels into a stainless pan. Add twice the noted volume of water. Then add a handful of builders lime (wash your hands after).

Stir to distribute the kernels and lime in the water. The lime won't visibly dissolve, but enough of it will. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it boil for 10 minutes. The maize kernels will turn a bright yellow colour. Put a lid on the pan and leave it to stand overnight.

Next day you'll see that the liquor is cloudy and yellow white. The skins of the kernels have disintegrated. Pour the mixture through a sieve and discard the liquor. Put the kernels into a bowl big enough to allow you to wash them, then add enough water to cover them with an inch or more to spare. Stir initially with a wooden spoon - the liquor will be slightly caustic. Sieve again immediately to separate the kernels and discard the liquor. Add water again and rub the kernels with your hands to remove any remaining skin then sieve and discard the liquor. Do this three times.

What you have now is called nixtamal (an Aztec name). The skins are gone and the Vitamin D in the kernels has been released. OK, that's the easy bit done.

Now you need to grind the wet nixtamal to masa (dough). You might be able to do this in a powerful mixer, but I bit the bullet some time ago and bought a hand cranked grinder made for the purpose. You can get one from [Amazon]( I have to do two grinds, one with the grinding plates set loose, and then another with them tight and with some water added to the coarse grind. It's hard work. Anyway however you do it, what you're aiming for is a quite soft masa with no detectable graininess. Add salt after the first grind and mix it in well with your hands taste the mixture to see if you think there is enough. Make the masa into a ball and put it into a plastic bag or a pan with a lid to stop it from drying up. OK, that's the hard work bit done.

Now make the tortillas. To do that you'll need some sort of press. You can buy one from the same page at Amazon. I made a contraption for the purpose. You can probably get by with a plastic cutting board and a good solid wooden cutting board. I'll describe for that.

Cut two circles (roughly speaking) of polythene sheet about 20cm diameter (I use the polythene bags that they put your stuff in at our local supermarket. Not flimsy, but quite flexible.) Oil one side of each sheet with a few drops of vegetable oil spread out with your fingers. Before proceeding, organize a hot skillet, lightly oiled.

Put the plastic cutting board on the floor, and place one of the sheets, oiled side up, in its centre. Now break a 250g lump off the masa and roll it between your hands into a ball. Place the ball in the centre of the plastic sheet and flatten it to about 75mm diameter with the palm of your hand. Put the other plastic circle centred over the first one, oiled side down. Now place the wooden cutting board on top of the second plastic sheet, centred above the masa. Mark its centre with a pencil or something innocuous. Press the board down evenly with two hands to get the squashing process started. Then place your knee on the marked centre of the board and put your full weight on it for maybe 8 seconds. Remove the board and peel off the top plastic circle - not too slowly and with confidence. The exposed masa should be about 150mm diameter. If it is less, kneel on it for longer, or get a heavier person to do the kneeling, or add a little water to the masa and work it in to make a softer mixture (do this on a small portion of the masa to start with until you have found a suitable softness.) Pull the bottom sheet onto your left hand (or vice versa if you are left handed) and approach the skillet. Turn the tortilla onto the other hand with its fingers spread out to support the fragile tortilla. Now peel off the plastic sheet gently, but with confidence with your left hand. if you are left holding the tortilla, or most of it, slap it down onto the skillet with your right hand, taking care not to burn yourself in the process. Otherwise, exclaim 'oh shit', collect up the bits of masa, and roll them into a ball and repeat.

Once the tortilla has cooked enough so you can easily move it about the skillet, pick it up with a flat kitchen tool and turn it over. Cook the other side for the same length of time, then remove it and start a stack of them on a plate. If they stick together, cook them a little longer.

When you have converted all of your masa to tortillas, find some clean tea towels and lay them flat on your worktop. Put a large sieve on top of a suitably large pan, and stand that beside your cooker. Heat a quantity of oil in a stable vessel and get it close to smoking hot. Take about an inch of your stack and cut into 8 equal segments. Pick up a segment at a time and quickly pick off the individual layers and drop them in the hot oil to fry. Don't overdo the number of segments frying at the same time - they'll cook quickly. move them around as they fry with a slotted scoop, and when they are quite light brown (experiment with different shades of brown to see what cooking time tastes best to you), scoop them out and transfer them to the sieve to drain. Periodically tip the contents of the sieve spread out onto the tea towels to get rid of a little more oil.

Et Voila