Oh, boy. Here I go putting fried eggs on things again.
I continue to operate in breakfast-for-dinner mode these days, enjoying egg & tater tacos and mushroom fajita omelettes like they’re going out of style. I’m terrible about eating traditional American breakfast at the appropriate time of day (I’m more of a salad or juice breakfast person), so this is normal behavior for me anyway. It’s just that lately, my BFD cravings seem to be in the pancake category. All I want are stacks and stacks of fluffy pancakes to accompany my egg creations. Sweet or savory, drizzled with syrup or just topped with fresh fruit, I can’t stop thinking about them.
Or just breakfast in general…
As easy as it would be to walk to the IHOP I recently discovered in my neighborhood, common sense won over convenience and I finally hauled my arse to the kitchen to make some pancakes. It’s not that hard to do, they don’t cost that much to make, and it making them at home saves me the extra costs of beverages and tips at IHOP.
But as usual, the minute I stuck my head into the fridge to hunt for eggs and milk, I got distracted by some leftover sweet red bell peppers. Can’t let those go to waste, I thought, so I decided to throw them into the scrambled eggs I planned to serve alongside my pancakes. Then I remembered the gorgeous little cherry tomatoes I had yet to use in anything. We’ll throw those in with the peppers, too, I told myself.
Little by little, a new plan began to form and the next thing I knew, I was whipping out corn kernels and masa harina to make corn pancakes. This decision was definitely fueled by the food math always swirling in my head. The more I thought about it, the more traditional pancakes seemed like the wrong way to go. This wasn’t going to be just any old pancakes & eggs dish; this was going to be a serious dinner.
I toyed with the idea of using one of the random boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix I had in my cupboards. I was hungry and Jiffy is well… quick. ; ) But I’m slowly in the process of trying to eliminate a lot of wheat from my diet, in the hopes that it will help reduce some of the symptoms of my PHN. (This has been suggested to me by several people but I’ve hesitated to really dive into it, especially here, without knowing exactly what I’m doing. I’m easing into it for now and will write more about my experiences in the coming weeks.)
At first I was worried that my master plan was foiled, but I found about half a bag of masa harina that I thought might make a worthy substitute. After some quick consulting with Mom on the phone (poor thing gets the most random calls from me sometimes) and some recipe tweaking, I ended up with a thick batter that made some incredible little pancakes.
Masa harina, for those who aren’t familiar with it, is a type of flour used in a variety of Mexican favorites like tamales and tortillas. It literally means “dough flour” as it’s made from a special kind of corn dough (masa) that is dried, then ground into a special flour (harina). It’s not the same as corn meal or regular corn flour, so it wouldn’t be the right substitute for those but it has a delicious, almost nutty taste to its natural corn flavor, and is extremely versatile. Masa harina is easily found in most grocery stores and Latin food stores, and will run anywhere from $4 to $6 per 4lb or 5lb bag. Many specialty brands like Bob’s Red Mill carry their own versions of masa harina, but those prices will be slightly higher.
I would be remiss if I didn’t share this one tidbit for you Sacramento locals. Our fabulous Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op sells white corn masa harina in their bulk section for just… *drum roll, please* $0.69/lb! Even I was shocked at the super low price and random find.
Getting back to the corn pancakes – because of the masa harina, they’re slightly more dense than traditional pancakes. I’d seen some other recipes that were just masa harina and milk but wasn’t all that impressed with the result. I added an egg to fluff things up just a bit and was pretty pleased with the results. I also added some sweet corn kernels for fun texture and visual appeal.
I’m pretty sure I was trying in vain to recreate those amazing arepas de choclo I used to enjoy as a youth when we’d visit Colombia every summer. They’re definitely not the same (I will make those for you guys sometime, once I figure out the recipe) but they turned out to be fantastic. Topped with sauteed peppers and tomatoes with a perfect fried egg on top, and at just about $1.25 per serving (not to mention all those leftover pancakes!), I’m positive I made the right decision by staying home and cooking rather than going out.
Masa Harina Corn Pancakes with Tomatoes, Peppers and Eggs (makes approximately 4-6 servings; average cost per serving: $1.25)
You can play around with the sweetness of the pancakes to suit your personal tastes. For a dish like this one, I prefer to go a little sweeter, just to have the flavors play off each other for a fun sweet & savory result. Add a little less sugar if you’re looking to drizzle these with a lot of honey or syrup.
For the pancakes:
1 1/2 c masa harina
2 c milk
2 T melted butter
1-2 t sugar
1/2 t salt
1 c sweet corn kernels (optional)
1-2 T butter (for frying)
For the veggies & eggs:
1 T olive oil
1/2 c chopped yellow onion
2 c red bell pepper strips
1 c cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Salt & pepper
2-4 large eggs (depending on how many you’ll be serving)
1. In a large bowl, mix together the masa harina, sugar and salt. Add the milk and egg and mix until (relatively) smooth, followed by the melted butter and the corn kernels. Mix well. You should end up with a very thick batter that’s almost dough, but not quite.
2. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Working in small batches, scoop about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of batter onto the skillet and fry until golden brown on one side, about 2-3 minutes. Flip carefully and cook until golden and crispy on the other side. Repeat with the remaining batter, place the pancakes on a plate or baking sheet and set aside.
3. In a separate skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Next, add the bell pepper strips and cook until they just start to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, salt & pepper, and reduce heat to medium low. Allow the veggies to cook down slightly until the tomatoes have released their juices and a light sauce is form.
4. Last but not least, go fry an egg or two (I mean that lovingly, I swear!) and start plating. Place 1-2 pancakes on a dish, spoon a generous amount of sauteed peppers & tomatoes on top, then slide the fried eggs on top of that. Garnish with some cilantro and freshly ground pepper, and enjoy!