It was probably the most anticipated event on our Navarra trip, and our talos cooking class didn’t disappoint. But what are talos you ask? Well, they’re like a tortilla– but not a Spanish tortilla (which is like an omelet) but rather a Mexican tortilla, made from corn.
A bit confusing, but it doesn’t matter what you call them, they’re delicious! Imagine my surprise when after living in Spain for nearly five years, I found out that the Mexican style tortillas that are so popular in the US and so difficult to find in most of Spain are actual a popular food in Navarra and Basque Country! I couldn’t believe it; it is another example of how regional Spanish cooking can be (for better and for worse).
A countryside cooking class
After a morning spent in a deep, dark Navarran cave, we had worked up a healthy appetite and were ready for our cooking class. We winded up the twisty roads of the Navarran countryside after taking a lovely walk through the small town of Leitza.
We arrived at a small, family owned farm, and were greeted by geese, chicken, and German shepherds. A small group of children and their mothers were finishing up their class, wrapping their piece of crispy chistorra in the warm talo.
Chistorra de Navarra
If you’ve never tried chistorra, I assure you this skinny sausage is a crowd pleaser. Made from a delicious blend of lean pork, pork fat, and pork belly, it is usually seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic. It is popular in most of Spain in the preparation of huevos rotos, and in Navarra was served often as a hot starter before the main dish.
Reminiscent of a Colombian arepa or a Mexican corn tortilla, talos are a historic dish found in Basque Country and Navarra. It seems that it was difficult to grow grains like wheat and barley in this high mountainous region, so the people turned to corn. At one point the talos became the people’s substitute for bread, and a typical dish at the time was leftover talos mized with milk. Our cooking instructor reminded us that this was a dish with humble origins, a poor man’s food that now is popular at regional festivals and holiday meals.
Making the talos is pretty easy, and you can stuff them with whatever you want. In Navarra the typical choice is chistorra, but you could also use pancetta, cheese, blood sausage, etc. Supposedly children even eat them with chocolate!
Here is a simple recipe for making talos at home:
- 3 cups of yellow corn flour (not cornmeal and not corn starch) *I've found this in health food shops in Madrid*
- 1 cup + 1 Tablespoon of hot water (as hot as you can handle)
- Pinch of salt
- Chistorra or other sausage/fillings
- Pour the corn flour into a large bowl and slowly add the hot water while mixing the dough together with your hands.
- Add hot water (you may need more or less than indicated above) until you get a nice elastic dough with the consistency of Playdough.
- Let the dough rest in the bowl for about an hour, covered with a damp cloth
- Knead the dough for at least 5 minutes before making the talos
- Sprinkle flour on a wooden work surface (either a butcher's block or cutting board)
- Make a small ball of dough and put it in the center of your work surface
- Slap the dough, adding more flour when necessary, until you have a thin tortilla (talo)
- Slide the talo onto a hot frying pan or electric grill and cook each side until it starts to brown and bubble
- Enjoy with your favorite filling (we recommend crispy fried chistorra sausage).
Have you every heard of talos? What would you put inside? Leave us a comment!