Top 10 Foods: Past & Present – #5: Tortillas (Dwell Edition)

What do well-known Mexican dishes like enchiladas, chilaquiles, and tacos have in common (aside from being delicious)? They all count tortillas as their keystone ingredient. The tortilla, a thin flatbread made from corn or wheat, is a staple of Mexican and Central American cooking. Although the packaged flour tortillas we find at every grocery store are mainstream, the traditional tortilla has a history that dates back thousands of years.

NCI_flour_tortillasMayan legend tells a story of peasants in ancient times that created the tortilla to appease a hungry king. Although this tale has never been proven, the claim of the tortillas origin dating back to antiquity is accurate; the first tortillas were discovered in approximately 10,000 BC. Grinding whole kernels of corn and maize into a cornmeal, the dough was then rolled into small balls, flattened by hand, and cooked over earthenware to create a flatbread that the Aztecs called tlaxcalli. When Spanish conquistadors arrived in the New World in 1519, they renamed these breads tortillas, or “little cakes.”

Nowadays, tortillas have become the #2 packaged bread product sold in the USA, beating out muffins and bagels. Aside from traditional uses, tortillas have been reborn as an important element of Tex-Mex cuisine, and as an alternative to sliced bread. Deep friend or baked tortillas have found new life as tortilla chips, the quintessential party food.







Ready to look at tortillas in a new light? Try your hand at making your own, or incorporate store bought tortillas into delicious Mexican inspired dishes like this one from kitchen designer Rebecca Reynolds, which won Best Entrée in the Designer Cookoff at Dwell on Design 2012 this past June. Co-sponsored by Capital Cooking & American Standard, Capital’s booth was turned into a live kitchen for spectators & media alike. This cookoff saw six designers and food/design bloggers go head to head in a battle of taste and presentation using Capital Cooking’s Culinarian range. Heading one of the teams, Rebecca Reynolds, Owner of Culinary Kitchen Designs in Greenwich, CT, was joined by Lori Gilder, Interior Designer, Principal of Interior Makeovers in Beverly Hills, and Jennie Cook, local food advocate and blogger, owner of Plant Based Parties/Vegan Events in Los Angeles.

Rebecca Reynolds has been designing kitchens for 18 years. Growing up in an Italian family, cooking, eating and sharing food is a part of who she is, which is why she always endeavors to create a kitchen environment that encourages cooking, entertaining and sharing great times with family and friends. Rebecca believes that a kitchen is a very personal and intimate space, and always considers herself honored when hired to impart functional and fabulous changes in a person’s home.



“spicy cowgirl style is key to a perfect dish”



  • 2 medium onions
  • 4 gloves garlic
  • Olive oil for sautéeing
  • 1 – 26 oz. can Cream of Chicken Soup (98% fat free can be substituted)
  • 2 cups milk (nonfat can be substituted)
  • 1.5 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup Jalapeno peppers (canned pickled or fresh)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp. Cumin
  • ½ tsp. Cayenne pepper
  • 3 whole chicken breasts OR chicken tenders
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (a favorite blend of Cheddar & Queso Blanco)
  • 4 fresh corn tortillas  (for crispy topping)
  • Note: At the #dwellcookoff, chorizo sausage was added – yum!

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Preheat Oven 350º F.
  2. Prepare Chicken: In nonstick pan coat light coat bottom of pan w/olive oil and sauté chicken strips (If using whole chicken breasts roast in oven for 45 minutes)
  3. Prepare Tortilla Strip Topping: Brush all 4 tortillas lightly w/olive oil, sprinkle w/ garlic salt and cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Stack tortillas 2 at a time on top of each other and use rolling pizza slicer to cut into thin strips. Bake in oven until crispy and lightly golden. Watch carefully not to burn.
  4. Sautée onions and garlic in olive oil until translucent in large nonstick saucepan (when garlic is softened smash with fork and stir in well).
  5. Add soup, milk, chicken broth, chilies and salt and pepper to onion mixture.
  6. Bring to a simmer and stir. Simmer for 5 minutes, remove from heat and add sautéed chicken.
  7. Bake in a 13″ x 9″ casserole glass pan or similar, layer chicken mixture with cheese and top with tortilla strips for 25 minutes.
  8. Serve in Mexican crisp tortilla bowls for beautiful presentation or dish (make your own or purchase at Mexican markets or your favorite local Mexican restaurant).

This dish is lovely topped with a tsp. of crème fraiche and a small scoop of fresh guacamole. Serve with warm bread and salad for a wonderful meal.