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'Three Sisters' pitch ancient dough in Sellwood

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - Wendy Downing and Adriana Azcarate show packages of their Three Sisters Nixtamal masa. A Sellwood-based naturopath, Adriana Azcarate, is on a mission: To help people discover the taste and nutritional benefits of eating “real” fresh tortillas.

“I grew up in Mexico City, eating fresh tortillas. My grandmother made tortillas three times a day,” Azcarate told THE BEE. She and chef Wendy Downing were preparing a demonstration of what they were describing, at Portland Homestead Supply in Sellwood not long ago.

“The tortillas you buy in the store, no matter how fresh, still taste old,” Azcarate reflected. “And, freshly-made masa (prepared corn dough), prepared with a traditional corn-cooking method called ‘nixtimalization’, is much higher in nutrients than are mass-produced tortillas.”

To this end, Azcarate, her husband Pedro, and chef friend Wendy Downing, started a company they call “Three Sisters Nixtamal”.

During the class at Homestead Supply, the two began by explaining that the “three sisters” in their company name refers not to family members, but to indigenous methods of growing corn, beans, and squash, as devised by indigenous Americans.

“Nixtamal”, the class learned, is a word derived from the Aztec Nahuatl language, which refers to corn masa or “tamal” that has been cooked with an alkali. But, because this thousand-year-old process of making masa is beyond the ability of most cooks, their company makes this product locally, in small batches.

They start with whole, dried organic corn, and cook it with calcium hydroxide, then let it sit overnight. After that, it’s put through a special stone grinder called a “Molino”. What comes out is a moist dough.

“The ‘nixtamalization’ makes the corn’s core easier to grind – and when cooked, easier to digest and more nutritious,” Downing explained.

“And the flavor is so much more delicious than regular ground cornmeal,” Azcarate added.

When folks attending the class tasted the freshly cooked tortillas, they it seemed that they agreed.

To learn more about Three Sisters Nixtamal products, and the classes being taught, go online to: HYPERLINK "www.threesisterspdx.com/"www.threesisterspdx.com

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