COOKING THE BOOKS
Food writer Dotty Griffith is rolling corn tortillas on an old butcher block table in her Live Oak duplex. Her kitchen is packed with memorabilia from a lifetime as a food editor, restaurant critic and cookbook author. Three certificates of appreciation for judging the Pillsbury Bake-Off hang on the wall, along with a 1980 Terlingua chili cook-off poster and a framed clipping of her first Thanksgiving story. “It’s been three or four years since we’ve eaten sautéed rattlesnake for Thanksgiving,” reads the first sentence of the article published Nov. 20, 1978.
Griffith retired from The Dallas Morning News in 2006 after 36 years. She is the author of 11 cookbooks, most about Texas-style cuisine. Her first was “Wild About Chili” and her latest is “The Ultimate Tortilla Press Cookbook,” 125 recipes for make-your-own tortillas. A native Texan, she once said, “Barbecue is the most American of foods; to hell with apple pie.”
Why make your own tortillas?
There’s simply no comparison in the taste. A fresh flour tortilla is like a really good homemade biscuit. It’s lighter. The taste of a good corn tortilla is almost like eating corn. It fills your house with good aroma. The tortilla is such a great food delivery system that doesn’t require a fork.
When should you make tortillas, and when should you buy them?
When the tortilla is the star of the show, the investment to make fresh tortillas is worth it. Not so much for enchiladas, but for a street taco or a quesadilla. Plus, you can make all kinds of flavored tortillas. You can add cumin or chili powder to the mix. Some of the ones that I like the best are made with sweet potatoes or pumpkin.
You mention marijuana-infused masa in the book. Is that really a thing?
In states where it’s legal, all different kinds of products are being made with marijuana, whether it’s candy, breads or infused oils. If it works for those things, why wouldn’t it work for a tortilla? There isn’t a recipe for it in the book though.
Which celebrities have you interviewed during your career?
I interviewed Julia Child on several occasions and had lunch with her at the Mansion. Jacques Pepin, Wolfgang Puck, Craig Claborne and Justin Wilson, the old Cajun comic who branched out with a cookbook at one point. A lot of people were coming through here, because Dallas was on the rise with Southwestern cuisine and the young Dean Fearing and the young Stephan Pyles. It was a great time to write about food, and there was so much to learn.
Did Julia ever eat a tortilla?
Julia would eat anything and love it. She was always very curious about different styles of food. She liked the lobster tacos at the Mansion. Before her husband died, she was teaching a class in Tyler, Texas. These two oil wives had a cooking school in Tyler and invited her to teach. I was out there to cover it. Julia was this giant and her husband, Paul, was this little diminutive man. I was talking to her, and he said, “Doesn’t she have cute legs?”
Where do you buy tortillas in East Dallas?
I buy them at the Supermercado El Rancho Grocery on Gaston and Peak. They have a great hot food line and tacos. And, of course, La Banqueta. E Bar is my Cheers bar. It’s where I go to hang out. But, damn, the food is good, too.
Flour or corn tortillas?
It depends. I love the taste of corn with the red chile sauces and the green chile sauces. And I love flour with eggs and anything cheesy.
What are some of your favorite recipes in the book?
I love to make chili. I make it a million different ways. The Mexican seafood stew — it’s like a Mexican cioppino — is so good. Mexican soups and stews are some of the biggest flavor explosions around. Any kind of soup is worth the effort to make a great tortilla to go with it.
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.