Flatten the curve, and flatten all your food.

By Margaret Eby
April 30, 2020
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Credit: Greg DuPree

Two things have remained constant during the last six weeks of self-isolation in my Brooklyn apartment: I am cooking a lot and I am full of feelings. The feelings are of frustration, sadness, stress, and anger. The cooking is a convenient outlet for those feelings, particularly when I get to do certain tasks that require some amount of punching or crushing, like kneading dough, squishing whole canned tomatoes until they pop, or cracking peppercorns by absolutely whaling on them with the bottom of a pot. And, I’ve found, using my tortilla press

Making tortillas is one of those projects that I had previously avoided because tortillas are cheap and readily available. But now that I have time and a lot of flour on my hands, it seemed like a good time to try my hand at a few different kinds. After consulting with Twitter, where folks  advised me to get a metal press rather than a wooden or plastic one, I put in an order for a kicky cast iron version, walked over to Claro, a Oaxacan restaurant within a few miles of my apartment, bought some of their freshly made masa, and went to work. 

I found the act of flattening little golf-ball sized pieces of masa with my no-frills tortilla press not only immensely satisfying, but also very convenient, given that I have about 12 inches of counter space and any recipe that requires me to roll out dough is a logistical nightmare. The tortilla press makes short work of turning dough into thin, even circles without having to rearrange my whole kitchen and sprinkle flour all over. Yes, you have to remember to cover the surfaces with plastic wrap or the dough will stick to the press and be impossible to scrape off. But otherwise, it’s a fairly intuitive process, and it’s excellent for getting out those cooped up, pandemic panic feelings. 

Credit: Williams Sonoma

After the initial success of those tortillas, which I ate piled with red chile beans and pickled onions, I found myself making more kinds of flatbread just as an excuse to use the press. I used it to make naan bread, pita, and scallion pancakes. About a week ago, the folks at Verve Culture sent over a box of kitchenware for me to try out, and, to my delight, included their extra-large aluminum tortilla press, which allowed for larger, burrito-size tortillas, and for crushing more food at once. I used it to crush potatoes I par-boiled before I roasted them, and to smash a handful of garlic cloves all at once for easy peeling. I don’t know why it took so long for me to understand the joy and relief of flattening things. Flatten the curve, flatten your food. 

Cast Iron Tortilla Press, $30 at williams-sonoma.com

Verve Culture XL Artisan Tortilla Press, $60 at surlatable.com