Masa, a dough made from corn, or dried hominy, is the building block for many Mexican favorites. Homemade masa is a labor of love—soaking the corn for hours, hand-grinding it through a molino, and then shaping it into a dough—, but in our experience, it's leagues better than the store-bought instant stuff. Homemade masa has a sweetness and richness to it that can only come from the from-scratch preparation.
Now that you've spent all that time making masa, make sure you're getting the most out of the fruits of your labor. Homemade masa is the best way to elevate recipes for tacos, tamales, empanadas, and scores of authentic Mexican dishes. From stuffed pupusas to tacos, we've rounded up our favorite masa recipes to try today.
These crunchy empanadas, featuring shells made with masa, lard, and salt, are filled with tender shredded beef tossed in a spicy salsa. You can prepare the masa and filling in advance, but don't fill or fry the empanadas until just before eating. Adding baking powder and using an electric mixer are two secrets to light, puffy empanada pastry. Get the recipe for Fried Shredded Beef Empanadas »
To become masa, dried corn must first be nixtamalized—that is, simmered in an alkaline solution to hull and tenderize the kernels for grinding. Nixtamalization is mostly hands off, but soaking takes 8 hours, so plan accordingly. Masa should feel like thick mashed potatoes, moist but not sticky. In case it's too wet, add a little instant corn masa flour (masa harina), like Maseca brand, to fresh masa. Get the recipe for Homemade Masa »
The key to moist, flavorful tamales is not being shy about adding fat. Lard is traditional in Mexico, but you can use softened butter for vegetarian versions. Tamales are best eaten doused in salsa or hot sauce. This salsa verde has a fresh, tangy sourness (and kick of heat if you like) that helps cut through the richness of the masa. Get the recipe for Corn Tamales with Tomatillo Salsa »
Corn or flour tortillas that are deep-fried until they puff are a specialty of San Antonio's Tex-Mex cuisine. This recipe for puffy tacos filled with spicy chicken and guacamole comes from Rolando's Super Tacos. Get the recipe for Puffy Chicken Tacos »
Chef Scott Crawford of the forthcoming Nash Tavern in Raleigh updates the simple Southern custard pie by adding cacao nibs to the butter crust and sprinkling a nutty cornbread crumble on top. Get the recipe for Chocolate Chess Pie with Cornbread Crumble »
Margarita Morales of Fresnillo, Zacatecas, shared the recipe for these crisp, bean-filled snacks. Get the recipe for Zacatecan Baked Masa Cakes (Gorditas Zacatecanas) »
This recipe from Rosaura Guerrero was the hallmark of the original Rosarita brand. Get the recipe for Red Chile Tamales »
These flavorful stuffed corn-masa cakes are the national dish of El Salvador. Get the recipe for Masa Cakes with Spicy Slaw (Pupusas con Curtido) »