Fresh corn tortillas by Giselle (Samara, Costa Rica)

Just-cooked corn tortillas hot from the pan are exponentially more delicious than store-bought ones. Giselle is the cook at the local public high school, where she cooks a lunch from scratch for 80-100 students every day. Corbin says that the lunch is always delicious. If he has a free period, he sometimes goes to the kitchen to lend a hand. She’s also the cooking teacher at Intercultura, the language school where I took Spanish lessons, and she’s taught us several classic Tico dishes. 


  • 2 cups masa harina*
  • 2 cups tap water
  • A pinch of salt


  1. Mix masa harina with salt.
  2. Add 1 ½ cups of water to start.
  3. Mix with your hands. Add a bit more water if needed to make the dough soft and pliable, but not sticky. 
  4. Form dough into balls (2” diameter for small tortillas; 3” diameter for larger ones)
  5. Flatten dough ball into a thin disk*
  6. Cook in a dry pan over medium heat until speckled brown; turn and cook the other side. 
  7. Repeat with other dough balls.*
  8. Serve hot with cheese, beans, avocado, pico de gallo or any other topping.   

*Note on masa harina: this is a special type of corn flour used widely in Latin American cooking. It’s made with corn that has been soaked in limewater or other alkaline solution, which makes it easier to grind, increases its nutritional value and changes the flavor. In other words, you can’t substitute regular cornmeal or polenta. 

*Note on hand-making tortillas: You don’t need a tortilla press or any fancy equipment! Just cut waxed paper or a plastic bag into circles (10-12” diameter – bigger than the size tortillas you wish to make. Put the dough ball in the center of the circle. Using one hand, pat down the dough with one hand while cupping the edge of the tortilla with the pinky-side edge of your other hand, to keep the edges from breaking apart. Pat the dough enough to progressively flatten the dough but lightly enough so the dough doesn’t stick to your hand, and in a way that also slightly turns the entire tortilla along with its waxed paper base. The tortilla will develop a slight lip around the edge; once the tortilla is the size and thickness you want, pat around that edge one last time to flatten it.   

*Note on cooking: The raw dough disks can’t really be stacked, so most usually each tortilla is patted and cooked immediately. The next dough ball is being worked into a disk while the previous one is being cooked, and the cooked tortillas are served immediately. Otherwise, you would need multiple sheets of waxed paper for each dough ball.

Variation: add some grated cheese to the dough and cook as normal. Giselle uses a salty fresh white cheese made with cow’s milk (Turrialba), which is similar to an Indian paneer, but I think that a Monterey Jack cheese would also be equally delicious!

Giselle: una cocinera fabulosa!

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