The kitchen at El Mirasol at Los Arboles Hotel in Palm Springs is relatively calm. It’s a Thursday afternoon during a lull between the lunch and dinner rushes, and the cooks have only a handful of orders to prepare.
Lisbet Castañeda stands over the prep station, which is lined with stainless steel pans teeming with crimson sauces, diced vegetables, and rice. She pulls a piece of soft masa from a metal bowl on the countertop next to her and rolls it between her palms. The corn dough quickly transforms from an unshapely lump into a sphere. She extends her arm and presents the ball, resting in the base of her hand, as an example of what masa should look like before it’s flattened into a tortilla.
“There’s a science to cooking a tortilla,” Castañeda says. “There’s more to it than putting it on the grill and flipping it. It’s not as easy as it looks.”
She demonstrates the next step without the aid of any kitchen gadgets — mashing the dough back and forth in her hands until it stretches into a flattened oval — then places it across the flat-top grill.
“This is the traditional way,” she says.
Castañeda rolls a second ball and then makes another, only this time with a cast-iron tortilla press (the preferred way to form tortillas if you run a busy restaurant).
The co-owner of El Mirasol has been making and serving tortillas since arriving at the restaurant in 1991. Her husband, Felipe, opened the first location on East Palm Canyon Drive in South Palm Springs in April 1985. They now operate two locations.
“The secret to delicious corn tortillas is nixtamal,” Castañeda explains. “It’s very important — from selecting the corn to cooking the corn and then forming the masa.”