Last week, I tagged along with Rachael and the gang to Austin, Texas to enjoy the events during South By Southwest, (see Rach’s page about her party) a yearly festival of music, film, and emerging technology. After spending my first evening teaching a cooking class at Austin’s flagship Whole Foods, my goal was simply to immerse myself in great live music, listen to the exciting ideas being discussed at the daytime panels, and enjoy Tequila in a place where it seems meant to be consumed. I was caught off guard, though, by what an amazing, diverse and progressive food scene Austin boasts, and my week-long eating extravaganza left me five pounds heavier and a whole lot happier than before I left New York.
According to local lore, there are “three pillars” of cuisine in Austin: Texas barbecue, Southern comfort food, and Tex-Mex. My personal favorite was the latter: I enjoyed black beans, guacamole, jalapeño and habañero peppers, and tortillas at virtually every meal - even at an airport restaurant on our way home when our plane was delayed! Not only did the food taste good, but because Austin genuinely values its small farmers, establishments from small coffee shops to high-end restaurants to catering companies proudly state that the products they use are grown locally, including grass-fed beef, free-range eggs, and even olive oil.
For my first meal in town, I was lucky enough to be brought to one of the city’s most popular food haunts, a 24-hour Tex-Mex diner called The Magnolia Café . Magnolia is patronized by students from the nearby University of Texas, adventurous locals, and tourists alike because the food is tasty, reasonably cheap, and the menu even has healthy options. After two dinners there, we somehow found ourselves back again for breakfast on the last day of our trip with a friend who lives in Austin. When we confessed we’d never ordered their famous ginger pancakes, she looked at us like we were missing a few brain cells (at that point in the trip, we probably were…). She ordered the pancakes and they were a revelation - why hadn’t I ever thought to flavor my pancakes with ginger? Yum!
I created my own version of the pancakes as soon as we got back home. Although it’s not strictly necessary, I chose to add cornmeal to the recipe, simply because there had been cornmeal in so many of the wonderful Tex-Mex dishes I tasted, from flat corn cakes studded with jalapeños, to mellow and sweet corn masa in tamales, to corn tortillas. I also think the corn is a nice compliment to the ginger, but if you don’t have cornmeal on hand, simply substitute more flour.
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I hope you enjoy these mildly sweet and spicy pancakes. And thanks to all of the friendly people in Austin who spent time with us and provided such great food recommendations.
Makes 10 pancakes
- 2 Tablespoons dried ground ginger, tightly packed
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup flour
- ½ cup cornmeal
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- ¼ cup honey
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoons oil or melted butter, plus extra for cooking
- Maple syrup for serving
In a large bowl, whisk together the ginger, baking soda, flour, cornmeal, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, honey, egg, and butter. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry until the batter comes together.
Heat a sautée pan over medium heat. Add a small amount of butter or oil, followed by a scant ¼ cup of pancake batter. Allow the pancake to cook for just over a minute. Flip and cook the second side until golden, about a minute. Serve hot with maple syrup.
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