Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pinole - Central America's Chai?

Now that I have the cornmeal, I had to try this beverage in the Food and Recipes of the Native Americans book called "pinole." The recipe the book gives is as follows:

Ingredients:
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup boiling water

Instructions:
1. Heat a heavy frying pan on medium high heat.
2. When the pan is hot, sprinkle in the cornmeal to dry roast it. 
3. Stir until you see the cornmeal starting to brown. This will take about six to eight minutes. Keep stirring the cornmeal or else it will burn.
4. When it's brown, scrape the cornmeal into a small bowl.
5. Add the honey and cinnamon and mix well.
6. Stir one tablespoon of this mix into 1 cup of boiling water, as the Native Americans did (sic), and let it sit for ten minutes.
This serves one person.

I followed the above instructions exactly, and I feel I must warn you of two things. First, it's going to smell like popcorn, and then burning popcorn. Keep stirring! Second, don't use a plastic instrument to stir. Wood is best so you don't scratch your pan. When it is all mixed together, it rather looks like light brown sugar and has a similar consistency.

When I first came across this recipe, I was struck by its similarities to traditional recipes for the Indian beverage we, in English, call chai. Obviously, pinole uses cornmeal while chai uses tea leaves, but the ideas are the same, as are many of the spices. Because you can use many different spices to make pinole. Here is a whole Wikipedia article about it! Cocoa, I think, would be very interesting.

The pinole I made is really quite tasty! The flavor reminds me of a weak coffee (that's probably the dry roasting) sweetened with honey rather than my usual sugar. You could probably get all English on this stuff and add milk, but as it is very tea-like, I just can't do it. I will only drink milk tea in Japan! Preferably out of a bottle that has been purchased at a conbini  or supaa (convenience store and supermarket, respectively). But you could add milk if you wanted. As I said, it is very tea-like and bears quite the resemblance to chai.

If you have some cornmeal and are feeling adventurous, give it a try! This would be a great accent to any Central American themed meal.

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