20+ Ways to Use Leftover Corn and Flour Tortillas
Tortillas are a study in kitchen frugality: they are a versatile, long-lasting, boundary-defying food that you can use in so many ways, from the classic taco and enchilada wraps to less traditional school lunch roll-ups or personal pan pizzas to DIY favorites like turning leftover tortillas into homemade chips.
In fact, the first tortillas were made in this spirit of providence, as a way of preserving an essential staple crop of ancient Mexico. Corn, often called maize, was dried to store and use it beyond the harvest season. To prepare, the dried corn kernels were soaked in water and limestone to soften, then ground by hand to make masa. The dough was then rolled by hand or pressed into thin cakes for tortillas, or used to make tamales, empanadas, arepas and more. Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortéz named the cakes “tortilla” after the Spanish word “torta” (which means little cake) when he arrived in what is now Mexico in the early 1500s.
Although tortillas traveled north with the spread of European colonization, the ingredients and labor-intensive technique for producing them stayed the same until relatively recently. It wasn’t until World War II that mechanized corn grinders relieved tortilla makers of the backbreaking work of hand-grinding the corn into masa. And each tortilla was individually hand-formed until the 1960s when the first small-scale tortilla presses whirred into action.
Today tortillas are a staple in Mexican and Central American cuisines, and have become a beloved stand-in for other breads in the US, from pinwheel sandwiches to riffs on Mu Shu pork or Indian roti. A $4.5 billion market, the US tortilla industry has increased steadily over the past 5 years, leading tortillas to become the second most popular bread in the country. So it wouldn’t be surprising if you happen to have an extra package or a few leftover tortillas in your pantry or fridge.
Using those stale and leftover tortillas as the basis of a tasty meal is not only delicious but also a great way to honor the foodstuff’s early beginnings as a food based in preservation and to prevent food waste. From classic Mexican recipes and fusion cuisine takes to turning leftover corn tortillas into DIY tortillas chips, a few leftover tortillas are handy ingredients that can be turned into delicious and authentic dishes.
Finding Good Tortillas and Chips
Today, the majority of tortillas are mass-produced. However, a growing interest in handmade food, coupled with the rising popularity of gourmet food trucks and resurgence of interest in traditional cuisines and recipes, has created new demand for hand-pressed tortillas.
Good corn tortillas can and should be made with very few ingredients. For corn tortillas, you need just corn, calcium hydroxide (from limestone) and perhaps salt. While simple in ingredient list, the main ingredient — corn — is one of the most commonly genetically modified organisms (GMOs). To avoid GMOs, look for tortillas that are certified organic or have a Non-GMO Project Verified label.
Homemade flour tortillas are also made using a simple ingredient set — water, flour, fat and salt — but commercial flour tortillas often contain commercial leaving agents and other preservatives.
What to Do With Leftover Corn or Flour Tortillas
Once you’ve got your hands on some solid tortillas, you want to get the most out of them. Whether you have stale tortillas, or simply a ton of leftover tortillas from a weekend taco party, here are some ideas that will help you use them up:
- Fill Them for Enchiladas: If you have a ton of leftover corn tortillas, this party-ready dish is a great way to use them. Try it the classic Mexican way — dipping the tortillas in sauce, frying them, and filling them only with meat — or the Tex-Mex version, which fills the tortillas with cheese, veggies and/or meat, then slathers them in sauce and cheese.
- Layer Them: Similar to enchiladas — and other recipes which can make use of large amounts of leftover tortillas — make the traditional layered tortilla lasagna and tortilla casserole.
- Make Migas: Migas, a scramble of eggs and torn tortilla pieces, is a breakfast game-changer perfect for stale tortillas. This recipe adds rice and a Thai dipping sauce for an Asian-Tex Mex twist of migas fried rice.
- Use Them in Soup: Tortilla soup is an obvious one; the soup is often thickened by simmering corn tortillas into the broth and crisped tortilla strips are always sprinkled on top. Crunchy tortillas are also delicious stirred into a hot bowl of posole. And don’t limit yourself to Mexican fare: fresh tomato soup, squash bisque or chowder would all be great garnished with crispy tortilla strips.
- Swap Tortillas for Other Bread: What do pizza, Stromboli, stuffing, and fried chicken have in common? You can swap the dough or bread crumbs used in each recipe for tortillas! Now that you’re thinking outside of the box, try using tortillas in other ways. You can use leftover tortillas to make French toast, baked cups for dip, or crispy wrappers for vegetables.
- Make your own chips: Want to make your own chips? It couldn’t be easier and it’s a great way to use leftover tortillas or give stale tortillas a second life. Then use the chips to make chilaquiles (recipe below).
What To Do With Stale Tortillas
- Revive them! Use this trick to refresh dry, old tortillas: Wrap tortillas in damp paper towels and microwave for about 60 seconds, or cover them with a damp dishtowel and heat in a low-temperature oven for about 20 minutes.
- Churro Chips: Who said tortillas can’t be sweet? Imitate the flavor of churros: cut leftover tortillas into triangles for chips or strips for an ice cream topping, then toss with oil, cinnamon and sugar, and bake at 350F until lightly browned and crispy. Other sweet ideas include using leftover tortillas to make a cannoli-like dessert or fruit roll-ups, although these are better made with softer tortillas rather than stale ones.
Sherri Brooks Vinton, FoodPrint
Chilaquiles is one of my favorite Mexican dishes, a meal that is both comforting and zesty, part breakfast, part lunch and filling enough to be dinner. I’ve done the dish here as a casserole so you can feed the whole family. Topped with a fried egg or some pulled pork or chicken, it’s Mexican comfort food at its finest.
50 stale tortilla chips, 4-5 ounces
2 cups salsa verde, homemade (see recipe below) or prepared
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated (about 4 ounces)
Optional toppings: fried eggs, warm pulled chicken, warm pulled pork, cilantro, sour cream
- Preheat oven to 400 F degrees. Refresh the chips by arranging them on a rimmed baking tray and heating in the oven for 5-10 minutes until crispy. Remove from the oven and set aside. Turn the oven to broil.
- Heat salsa in a large saute pan over medium heat until simmering. Crack the egg into a small bowl and whisk in a 1/4 cup of the hot salsa, stirring constantly, to combine. Add the tempered egg mixture back to the salsa in the pan and whisk to combine. Simmer for 1-2 minutes until the sauce thickens.
- Add the chips to the pan and toss to coat in the sauce, allowing the chips to soften and soak up the salsa, 2-3 minutes. Spread the sauced chips out in the pan so they are in one single thin layer. Top with cheese and broil until cheese is melted, 1-2 minutes. Remove from oven, being very careful of the hot pan. Add optional toppings such as fried eggs, pulled meat, cilantro and/or sour cream. Serve immediately.
Recipe: Quick Salsa Verde
Sherri Brooks Vinton, FoodPrint
Makes 2 cups
Salsa simply means “sauce” in Spanish and it isn’t always tomato-based. This tangy green salsa gets is color and flavor from tomatillos, a cousin of the tomato with a papery husk that is removed before cooking. You can find them with increasing frequency in farmers’ markets or the produce section of your local grocery store. If you can’t find tomatillos, green tomatoes make a fine substitute.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 jalapeno, stemmed and sliced into rings (seeds removed for a milder sauce)
1 garlic clove, sliced
16 ounces tomatillos, husks removed, fruit rinsed, cored and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
Pinch of sugar
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.
- Add onion and jalapeno and season with salt. Partially cover pot and sweat vegetables until the onion is transparent, 5-7 minutes (if the vegetables start to show any coloring, lower the heat).
- Add garlic, cover and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatillos, vinegar, sugar and 1/4 cup water, and increase heat to medium.
- Cook, uncovered, until the tomatillos are softened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Using an immersion blender, puree salsa until smooth but not without texture. Stir in the cilantro. Use immediately for cooking, or cool to room temperature and serve with chips.
- Salsa keeps, cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days.
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