Sunday, February 17, 2013

Native American Cooking: Pinole

This week in my Kumeyaay cooking class, we made a dish called Pinole. The good things about Pinole: It's tasty, healthy, easy to make at home, great for kids, vegetarian, and can be made vegan.

As I understand it, you can make pinole with many different kinds of seeds. Strangely enough, when we made pinole in class, we made it with 3 non-native foods: wheat, milk, and honey. (Prior to European colonization, North America lacked honeybees, cows, and wheat. In fact, the only domesticated animals on the continent were turkeys and Muscovy ducks.) Our teacher explained that pinole should be made with a native plant but it's so rare nowadays, they just buy wheat instead. When I find the name of the native plant, I'll update this post with it.

As sad as it is that the native plant is so rare that we used wheat, it's nice to have a recipe that uses easy-to-obtain ingredients. In fact, yesterday, I made it at home with elementary school kids.

To make pinole with wheat, use whole wheat berries. Start by heating the wheat berries on the stove or - as we did it in class - over a campfire. Stir constantly to avoid burning the wheat. You'll begin to see and hear the wheat pop and then you'll smell a nutty aroma. The nutty aroma is what you're aiming for. You can keep cooking it for a bit after you smell the nutty aroma, but be sure to remove it from the heat before it starts to burn.

Next, grind the wheat. You might want to let it cool first. The traditional way to grind it is with stones, but having spent several classes grinding various foods with stones by now, I don't recommend going that route. When I made it at home with the kids, I let the kids grind a bit of it with a mortar and pestle for fun - but I used a coffee grinder for most of it. The older kid (age 10) loved the mortar and pestle. The little one (age 6) found it boring. A Vita-Mix or a grain mill would likely work too. Grind it so it's the consistency of coarse flour.

When I made pinole at home with the kids, I ground some flax seeds and added them to the ground, toasted wheat. I didn't heat or cook the flax seeds first - I just ground them up raw.

Once the wheat - or whatever you're using - is ground, you're done! Now you've got 2 options:

1. Mix it with honey and roll it into a ball.
2. Add milk and sugar or honey.

Then eat it!

I've only had it with milk and a bit of honey, because I fear that a ball of honey and toasted wheat would be too sweet. With milk and honey or sugar, it tastes an awful lot like Frosted Mini Wheats. The kids loved it. I didn't spoil their fun by telling them that it's healthy. Neither of them like eating whole wheat bread, and here they were, gobbling up toasted whole wheat. My picky eater ate 2 bowlfuls!

For next week's class, we're planning to shoot a rabbit with a bow and arrow, skin it, and fry it with an elderberry sauce. I'm feeling very queasy about this activity and I kind of hope that our appointed bunny-killer is a bad shot (although I fear he isn't). Stay tuned for the blog post...

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