I’m a Western girl at heart. Any chance I get, that’s the direction I head, and I’ve just returned from a long weekend in Santa Fe, one of my favorite cities in the American west.
I met a couple longtime girlfriends there (I can’t say “old girlfriends” anymore, since we’re now actually OLD), and we ate and shopped (but mostly ate) our way through the town. If you’re unfamiliar with northern New Mexico and it’s cuisine, there are three ingredients which really define it: Hatch chilies, both green and red, and both HOT; piñon nuts, AKA pine nuts; and blue corn.
As a heat-freak, I love the fire-y Hatch chilies in everything from salsas and enchiladas to pizza and burger toppings. Locals string the red chilies together in the early fall to form ristras, allowing the chilies to dry and provide a ready supply all year. As for piñon nuts, I’ve been munching on them all my life — living on the west coast and spending time in the southwest provided easy access. One of my girlfriends on the trip, a native Midwesterner, was surprised to learn the nuts are actually harvested from pine cones. But not just any old pine tree’s cones will do – they must be from a piñon pine, the short, scrubby looking pine tree that prefers the higher altitudes of northern New Mexico and Arizona.
Blue corn, however, is perhaps the most exotic of the cuisine’s native ingredients. Originally cultivated by the Hopi tribe of New Mexico and Arizona, blue corn is ground into a powder for use in tortillas and native breads. In the hands of white folks, it’s found it’s way into muffins, pancakes, and even pizza crust. Blue corn provides 20% more protein than white or yellow corn, and has a sweeter, nuttier flavor. Sunday morning found me and my friends feasting on delicious and lightly crunchy blue corn and piñon pancakes at the Plaza Restaurant, one of the oldest restaurants in Santa Fe, and as depicted in the name, right on the main plaza, across from the Native American artisan market. You don’t have to travel to Santa Fe to pick up some blue corn meal – look for Bob’s Red Mill at your local specialty store! Get your hands on some and try these pancakes some weekend morning soon!
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ cups blue corn meal
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- Salt to taste
- 2 eggs
- 2 ½ cups milk
- ½ cup buttermilk
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- ½ C. Piñon pine nuts
- Additional melted butter for griddle
- 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 3 tablespoons piñon pine nuts
- Salt to taste
- Confectioner’s sugar or maple syrup for serving
- Using a small spatula, combine the butter, honey and piñon nuts in a small bowl and season to taste with salt. Set aside at room temperature. (Refrigerate if making more than an hour in advance, bring to room temperature before using.)
- Place dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to blend. Combine the eggs, milks and melted, cooled butter in a smaller bowl or large glass measuring cup. Whisk to blend, then pour into dry ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon until just incorporated, the batter should still be a bit lumpy.
- Preheat a griddle to moderate heat (350 if it has a thermostat.) Lightly butter the griddle and ladle the batter onto the griddle to form the pancakes. Sprinkle with a few of the pine nuts and cook until the underside is golden, about 2-4 minutes. Turn and cook the other side. Transfer to a platter and hold in a warm oven until all the batter has been used.
- To serve, pile onto plates and dollop with the soft piñon nut butter. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar or drizzle lightly with maple syrup and enjoy.