If you know about history, you will be aware of the years that followed the discovery of the Americas…
i.e. the not-so-proud moments of Spanish history tinted with greed, imposition of old culture, colonisation etc.
However, what you might not be aware of is the culinary contributions that came out of it: for instance, as Belgium was technically Spain, the potatoes and chocolate that are now part of its culinary heritage were brought to the country (then region) but those returning from the New World (the original one rather than the wine producing one). Of course, there are tomatoes, chillies, peppers, vanilla, sweet potatoes….and corn.
Corn is another one of those ingredients that were brought back to the Old World by the men who returned from the New World. They brought it back from Cuba, or so the story goes, however, as we all “know” now, it is Mexico that seems to be the likely place of origin for the specimen.
Basque citizens have always being big travellers / adventure seekers, and so have been avid fishermen and seafaring (s), therefore, it comes with no surprise for people such as El Cano (the celebrity citizen of the little village of Getaria which precedes both Cristobal Balenciaga and Placido Domingo) would be part of the exploring missions which sought to unveil the secrets of those new emerging worlds and which moved ingredients around the planet. But before anyone accuses me of getting out of topic and even confusing expeditions, which I have not, I will return to why I am discussing corn and Mexico, in the context of the Basque Country.
The reason is called Talo. Talos (taloak) are a Basque version of the Central American region’s corn pancakes… so caller tortillas. (Not to be confused with the Spanish tortilla). They are made very simply with corn flour (real one, not the thickening agent) and water and were the original bread in the homes of the Basque people. However, it is now reserved for special occasions such as village markets or St. Thomas day…
Make a note in your diaries for the following (21st of December), because it is worth it!:
After the killing of the pigs in St. Martin’s day, the 11th of November, the different pork products to be consumed along the year, are made. A month and a half later, on the 21st of December, and just on time for the wintery/ end of the year celebrations, now Christmas, various cities and town within the Basque region organise the best in show type of markets where the local producers showcase their best and where locals dressed up in traditional costumes “flood in” every street.
For the people attending the party, in addition to watching animals and vegetables, it is also a chance to taste the firs of the year’s chorizos. They are not chorizos as foreigners know them but txistorras: Thin, young chorizos which are fried and served in a warm freshly made talo.
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Quantity: this mix makes 8 talos of a 10 cm diameter
1. Buy good quality corn flour (for tortillas) and use it as soon as possible. I find that this flour is rather more delicate than others.
180 gr of flour
150 ml of luke warm water (this may need to be adjusted)
pinch of salt
Mix the salt and the flour and make a hole in the middle… like a volcano. (This is how my gran did it) Add the warm water in the middle and mix everything together until you have a paste which looks a bit like modelling clay. It will need to be a paste that allows you to work with it, therefore, if when you have added the water and mix it, it is too crumbly, add a bit more water.
Make a ball and cover it with a wet cloth. Leave it to rest for around 20/25 minutes.
Divide it in eight parts, cover the working surface with flour and flatten each to a thin circle. I use my hands and i like to find a thicker part where the talo is slightly undercook (it reminds me of my childhood) but really, the best way is to make them as thin as possible… here there is a nice video to show you a way and here another one where you can even appreciate the texture.
Then using a very hot pan, cook them until golden in both sides. Do not overcook as they would break.
You can accompany them with txistorra (or fried chorizo), or/and cheese (my favourite Idiazabal, sheep milk cheese), but what ever you choose, make sure that you eat them warm as they taste much better.
Photograph by Cristina Lanz-Azcarate
Recipe by Cristina Lanz-Azcarate based on what I remember that my gran Maria Cristina Ruiz Gonzalez used to do
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