It’s January, the time for New Year’s resolution-inspired diets. And poor me, the grain-loving cook, who has a husband that believes in the effectiveness of low-carb diets. What’s a spaghetti without pasta? A stir-fry without rice? A burrito without a tortilla?
I came up with some good low-carb-substitutes for pasta and rice this year, substitutes that both of us like. For noodles, I take a medium zucchini, cut it in half lengthwise and then again so it’s in quarters, then run it lengthwise through my mandoline. Voila! Zucchini noodles. For rice, I process cauliflower in the food processor until it looks like rice, then lightly steam the the particles.
And a tortilla for a low-carb diet? That presented a problem. So I got to work researching online low-carb diet web sites and then went to my kitchen to modify my usual recipe for flour tortillas into a low-carb version. Happily, this post is the success of this endeavor! Below is my new recipe, and below that, a discussion of how I came up with the recipe and notes about the ingredients.
Low Carb Tortillas (my own recipe)
- 1 cup almond flour
- 1 cup coconut flour
- 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon xantham gum
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 7/8 to 1 cup water, heated for 1 minute on high in the microwave
In a bowl, mix the flour with the salt. Add about a half-cup of the warmed water and all of the olive oil. Mix together with a spoon. Add more water only as necessary for the dough to hold together.
Turn the dough onto a breadboard and knead a few times, until the dough forms a ball. Divide the dough into 7 equal sized pieces. Work each piece of dough until it is a smooth and pliable ball. Let the dough stand, covered with a damp towel, for at least 15 minutes and up to several hours.
Cut two parchment paper pieces, about 10-inch squares. Take one of the 7 balls of dough and flatten it with your hands, then place it between the two parchment pieces. Use a rolling pin to roll each dough ball into a thin sheet, about 7-8 inches in diameter. After rolling, my tortillas had some ragged edges, so I trimmed them a bit to neaten them. (You can use a bowl to invert on the rolled dough to make perfect edges. If you have a lot of trimmed edges, you can combine them and make an eighth tortilla.)
Place a heavy, flat pan or skillet on the stove top. If possible, use a cast iron griddle. Use a paper towel to wipe a bit of oil on the pan. Turn the heat to about medium and let it slowly heat for several minutes. The pan is ready when you feel good heat when your hand is about 3/4 inch above the pan. You do not want it smoking hot. I use a remote temperature sensor and try to get (and keep) the pan at about 400˚.
Put a tortilla on the pan and let it sit for about 20-30 seconds on the first side. It is ready to flip when light brown spots appear on the underside (peek!). Flip, and cook the other side of the tortilla the same way.
Recipe Development and Ingredients
My regular (non-low-carb) flour tortilla recipe has 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, olive oil, water and salt. For low carb-diets, almond flour and coconut flour are often used as all-purpose flour substitutes. Since almond and coconut flours have no gluten, they need something sticky to make them pliable. A popular ingredient for adding this pliability is xanthan gum. One low-carb site suggested (but did not try) vital wheat gluten, too, as this flour adds pliability and is relatively low in carbohydrates.
Xanthan gum is newly-discovered ingredient for me. I first tried xanthan gum a few weeks ago, using online recipes for both low-carb “corn” tortillas (made entirely from almond flour) and low-carb flour tortillas (made entirely from coconut flour). The xanthan gum was a success, the tortillas were not. It was amazing! I had this funky “corn” almond flour tortilla that folded easily, but tasted like . . . well, like dirt. When I tried solely coconut flour as the flour in tortillas, they they were again pliable, but they tasted sweet and like coconut.
What is xanthan gum? It’s a bacterial product made by fermenting sugar with Xanthomonas campestris. It is sold as a dry powder and it is fun to put in water because it immediately forms a gel! Is xanthan gum a healthy ingredient? According to WebMd, it is considered “likely safe” when used as directed. It’s main concern is that it is a laxative – a fact I found out the hard way when I tried using double the amount called for in an early trial. Don’t do that! That swelling in water to make a fun gel does the same “fun” swelling in your intestines.
I find xanthan gum readily available, on shelves in the supermarkets or online.
What is gluten flour? Called either “gluten flour” or “vital wheat gluten”, it is the glue that holds wheat bread together, that adds elasticity to doughs. I’m a fan of gluten flour, have been for years. (See Flours and yeast and My Daily Bread.) When added in small amounts to whole wheat flour, it helps the heavy flours rise up to fluffy loaves. Carbs in this flour? One tablespoon of gluten flour has 35 calories and 1 gram carbohydrate. My tortilla recipe calls for 1/2 cup or 8 tablespoons gluten flour, so that is 8 grams of carbohydrate per tortilla if you make 8 tortillas.
Vital wheat gluten can be hard to find these days. And to think, I used to purchase in from the bulk bins in either Whole Foods or Safeway! Nowadays I order it from King Arthur Flour. Bob’s Red Mill sells it too.
The combination of almond, coconut, and vital wheat gluten flours gives the tortillas a good taste, and the proper amount of xanthan gum lends them perfect pliability. I also like the olive oil in the tortillas – if you are going fat-free, you could leave it out.