Garden to table: Nixtamal Cherokee White Eagle Corn Tortilla

A recipe to turn the joy of growing heirloom dent corn into tortilla for tacos, quesadilla, chips, etc.

Over a thousand year of cultivation
In addition to the neat appearance and coloration, heirloom corn have historical, geographical, and cultural significance. These heirloom varieties developed hundreds of years ago (and longer) became a vital food source for the indigenous people of the Americas.

One of the special qualities of corn is that it is a grain. Corn is grown with surplus in mind; it is then dried and stored to be consumed during the non growing season or times of lean harvests. Dent corn varieties with their starchy qualities are the most ideal type of corn to use as grain. Without machinery, turning this hard grain into an ingredient can take enormous amounts of labor. Nixtamalization was discovered as a process to make corn easier to work with. Developed over 1500 years ago in Mesoamerica, nixtamalization is a process of rehydrating corn in an alkaline solution. This process of rehydrating corn loosens and softens the tough hull and germ. Thus the corn becomes softer and easier to grind. More importantly, it makes corn more nutritious while also removing toxins from mold that may have grown during the storage of this grain. [Source: Wikipedia]

In this recipe, you will be making tortilla from nixtamal masa. (Masa is a dough made from ground dried corn. Nixtamal masa is masa made from nixtamalized dried corn.)


Makes about twelve 5-inch tortillas.


  • 1.5 cup dried dent corn (~two 6-inch ears of ‘Cherokee White Eagle’ corn. )
  • 1 tablespoon pickling lime (also known as calcium hydroxide)
  • water
  • salt
Two ears of ‘Cherokee White Eagle’ dent corn
yields about 1.5 cups

Turning dried corn to nixtamal masa to tortilla is a two day process. Recommended equipment: a food mill capable of making masa (or food processor,) cast iron skillet or carbon steel pan, 8 quart pot, colander, shallow bowl, wax paper, two small cutting boards (or a tortilla press.)

Nixtamal masa
Simmer and Steep
Fill an 8 quart enameled or stainless steel (non reactive) pot a little more than half way with water, add 1 tablespoon of pickling lime, and bring to a boil. Add corn and let boil for about a minute before reducing to a simmer. Simmer for 15-30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the corn to steep overnight (12 hours.) The alkaline solution will soften the hard outer hull (pericarp) and give it a membrane like characteristic. While the solution is safe to handle, do note that it is caustic to some degree. Handle with care until you know your tolerances.

Wonder Junior DELUXE PLUS w/ masa auger
(Product not endorsed by NeverEnoughDirt)

Rinse and Clean
Next day, drain and rinse corn in a colander. At this point the membrane, tip cap, and germ can be removed from the kernel. This is done by rubbing hands against the corn and removing individually. This is necessary for recipes that call for a very smooth masa; like tamale. For our tortilla, a little bit of grit gives it great texture. It therefore will not be necessary to remove everything entirely.

Mill and Dough
The next step is milling the nixtamal into nixtamal masa. Feed the masa mill a little bit at a time (less than a handful) and mill at the finest setting. Adding a tablespoon of water during the milling can help. Experiment with adding some water here and there to find what works best. A food processor is an alternative. Work in small batches and experiment with adding water.

Once all the nixtamal has been milled, add a couple of pinches of salt and knead the loose nixtamal. Add a little water at a time until it comes together into a large ball. When the dough is too dry, it will not stay together. When it is too wet, your hand will be sticky with nixtamal. An ideal ball of nixtamal masa will not leave your hands wet like you just washed them.

Making tortilla
Allow the masa to rest for about 15 minutes. 5-inch tortillas are easiest to work with. Shape a ball about the size of an extra large meat ball. Place one sheet of wax paper over a medium cutting board. Place the dough ball in the center of the wax paper. Then lay (on center) a sheet of wax paper on top. Using another cutting board, place it center over the dough ball and press straight down.

When the desired thickness is reached, set aside the top cutting board. Slowly peel away the top off the wax paper sandwich. Then gently place the wax paper back on top of the tortilla. Grab the bottom wax paper, flip it over and gently peel the wax paper away. Transfer the tortilla onto the palm of your hand. Finally, transfer the tortilla onto a heated pan. Carbon steel pans or cast iron skillets work best. Cook until one side is slightly toast before flipping it over and cooking the other side.

Finished tortillas are great as snacks, quesadilla, tacos, and even fried up as chips.

Recipe notes: This particular garden to table combines an ancient corn processing technique developed over 1500 years ago in Mesoamerica with a variety of corn that was developed in North America.

11″ carbon steel pan

Brian Truong is a kitchen garden cook. He enjoys cultivating historically and culturally significant ingredients for a garden to table experience. See what he is up to on Instagram and on YouTube @neverenoughdirt and also at

FROM THE GARDEN: Huitlacoche Quesadilla

In our garden we happily found huitlacoche (a fungus that took over development of an ear of corn). With it, we prepared in a quesadilla. So as to get a good gauge of this delicacy, we used minimal ingredients. In our tasting, we found the dark pasty part of the huitlacoche to have a nutty taste that is mild. Its texture is a very fine grain. When crushed between teeth, it has a tiny pop that is nice. The white membrane that encases the dark paste is airy and snappy with a fresh corn taste.

Huitlacoche has long been a delicacy in Mexico. In fact, corn truffle as it is also known also dates back to Aztec culture. What makes this a delicacy is rarity. The conditions that allow for this fungus to grow has to be particular. Rainy and weather is usually the key. Up until recently, in western cultures finding fungus in a corn patch was disheartening. Farmers and growers would call it corn smut.

Somewhere along the way, the secret got out. Corn fungus is tasty, unique, and contains amino acids that the body does not produce. The kinds of goodies that help fight infection among other things. Suddenly there was not corn smut to be found. Rather, there were harvests of huitlacoche and corn truffle.

FROM THE GARDEN: Oaxacan Green Tamale

Green tamale made with ‘Oaxacan Green’ dent corn. The red sauce includes paprika pepper that we grew and both dried and smoked. We were able to wrap a couple of tamale using the husk from the ‘Seneca Red Stalker’ corn. The husk has a dark red pigment and one can suspect that it contains lovely antioxidant compounds called, “anthocyanins.” In the steaming process, some of the compounds have infused with our tamale; giving it an even more interesting color.
When you unwrap a tamale, you unwrap much more than a delicious treat. As an outsider, you get to immerse yourself in cultures that date as far back as 5000 BC. This is a food that was developed in Mesoamerica long ago. The process precluded by breeding grass into the corn we know of today. Then came the development of the #nixtamalization of corn. Nutrition, food supply stability, abundance, and ease of preparation is the stuff that allows a civilizations to advance and thrive.
Following this long ago developed process, we turn our corn into masa by adding calcium hydroxide to a water solution, boiling our corn and allowing it to rest overnight. Nixtamalization increases the concentration of good things like calcium and niacin. It also reduces toxin as well as improve flavor and aroma. Lastly, it breaks the dried corn down so as to reduce the amount of labor required to prepare it. This is significant in its own right because it allows corn to be stored and used in the off season or years of scarcity.
From our 10 ears of corn, we were able to grind and turn it into about 4 pounds of masa. Which turned into about two dozen tamale.
This being Christmas time, we are reminded of how tamale is a festive food for many Mexican households. This is a time when many come together to take part in the process of making tamale together with family.
With that we have unwrapped a little bit of history, culture, and science. Please share if you have more to add.
Video recorded 2018, December 19 & 20.
Zone 10b / San Gabriel Valley / Los Angeles / Southern California / USA

2018 July 17 — Garden Update (Mini Watermelon + Corn Harvest)

One of the things we are doing this year is experimenting to see how early we can start our plants. We started many plants a month earlier than usual. In February we sowed plants like tomatoes, corn, and watermelon. Sweet corn usually requires warmed to sweeten up so we started with non sweet varieties first like ‘Strawberry Popcorn’ and ‘Seneca Red Stalker.’ Since these varieties are flint corn we had to wait until the plants dried before harvesting them. With them dried and the ‘Roma’ tomatoes ramping down in production, we took this time to clear and transition the beds to plant something else.

With the space, my son and I sowed seeds and are hoping to see 20 strong ‘Oaxacan Green’ dent corn plants.

As for the watermelon:
The ‘Klondike Blue Ribbon’ could have used a few more days to develop its exquisite crispy texture. Nonetheless, the flavor and sweetness was present. On the second tasting of a ‘Sweet Siberian,’ we find that the flesh is rather smooth and just sweet. Once again, the typical watermelon flavor is either non-existent or rather subtle.

Zone 10b / San Gabriel Valley / Los Angeles / Southern California / USA

Music: Dan Lebowitz, “Jeremiah’s Song”

2018 Tomato Growing: Ep 7 (First Taste) Druzba + Kellogg’s Breakfast

A couple of varieties new to our garden. This is our first tasting. These tastings are very subjective. Good tasting or not so great, I encourage you to grow and judge for yourselves.

Note on the Druzba: They taste much better fully fully ripe. Very ripe ‘Druzba’ has sweeter taste and flesh is not grainy.

Zone 10b / San Gabriel Valley / Los Angeles / Southern California / USA

Music: Dan Lebowitz, “Tipetoe Out the Back”


Today we prepare crab ceviche with ingredients we harvest from the garden; and direct to our dish.

Ingredients (to be adjusted according to your taste)
1 lb imitation crab
4-5 limes
1 bunch cilantro
1 medium to large red onion
1 1/2 lbs of ripe Roma tomatoes
1 Serrano pepper
1/2 cucumber (optional)
1 teaspoon salt

Zone 10b / San Gabriel Valley / Los Angeles / Southern California / USA

Cumbia No Frills Faster by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (

2018 Tomato Growing: Ep6 Black Vernissage, Weissbehaarte, Roma, San Marzano, Sun Gold, & More

A look at and tasting of tomatoes we are growing for the first time:
‘Black Vernissage,’ ‘Weissbehaarte,’ ‘San Marzano,’ ‘Sun Gold,’ and ‘Sun Cherry Extra Sweet.’ ‘Roma’ is one we have grown for at least 8 years.

0:09 Harvest Montage
3:51 Harvest Overview
5:30 ‘Black Vernissage’
9:30 ‘Weissbehaarte’ (Special thanks to @realhensofoc for the seeds)
11:53 ‘Sun Gold’ (hybrid)
12:47 ‘Sun Cherry Extra Sweet’ (hybrid)
15:53 ‘San Marzano’
16:28 ‘Roma’

Music: Chris Haugen, “Ibiza Dream”
Zone 10b / San Gabriel Valley / Los Angeles / Southern California / USA

HARVESTING: Ox Heart Carrots

June 10, 2018. More often than not, I grow for the fun of seeing plants like these ‘Ox Heart’ carrots. The larger carrots weigh around 20 ounces (a little over a pound.) Carrots make good edible landscaping plants. Especially when the goal is seed saving. They can grown as ornamentals and in the process frees gardening space for other crops. Carrots are also fun to harvest and I got to share the fun with our oldest. Large harvest like these are rare for us these days as we have turned our focus onto very small and super fresh harvests. These ‘ox heart’ carrots were pulled to grow something else. We will be sharing this abundance with our rabbit, tortoises, and ducks (from carrot top to carrot bottom. The actual carrot itself will be given as treats.)

This carrot is one of the easiest carrots to grow– easy in terms of getting a straight and filled out looking carrot. As imagined, the flavor becomes more mild as they get bigger. This flavor profile makes them ideal for stewing and dishes that incorporate a lot of seasoning. While probably not a great one for the kitchen, they are excellent in permaculture soil breaking applications. ‘Ox heart’ carrots may be grown in compacted soil as a way to naturally loosen soil.

Special acknowledgement to Owen for his fine camera work in one of the scenes.

Zone 10b / San Gabriel Valley / Los Angeles / Southern California / USA

Music: Dan Lebowitz, “Parkside.”
E’s Jammy Jams, “Shine on Harvest Moon”