In the book Born to Run, Christopher McDougall talks about the legendary Tarahumara tribe in Mexico who regularly run 50 miles or more per day. How can they accomplish such a feat? Their diet certainly plays an important role, and a secret magical food called “pinole” is one of their staples. Pinole is so simple: it’s basically toasted cornmeal mixed with natural sugar, spices, and water. It can be eaten as a porridge, or baked into a cake so that you can take it with you while running.
Now… I don’t run 50 miles a day (ha!) but once I started experimenting with this pinole nonsense, I realized why the Tarahumara rely on it so much: it’s the perfect source of energy. When I eat a pinole energy bar before running, I have more endurance, my blood sugar seems to stay more stable, and I recover quicker. These cakes are the most natural and easily digestible source of energy that I’ve ever eaten while working out.
The problem is… there are virtually no good recipes for pinole. The ones online aren’t very tasty or just don’t work well. I have spent a long time coming up with the right ingredients and the right quantities. The recipe I’m about to share with you is so delicious and it holds together well enough to throw in your pocket for the second half of those 50 mile runs. I’m confident it’s one of the best pinole recipes you’ll find.
But what about taste? Amazing. But almost impossible to describe. It’s not quite cornbread… not quite a cookie… not quite an energy bar… but a delicious combination of all three. Super magical powers aside, these energy bars have become one of my all-time favorite foods and I eat them almost every day.
Makes 3 energy “cakes”
- 1 cup masa harina (cornmeal treated with lime
- 1/4 cup chopped dates
- 2/3 cup water
- 3 tablespoons brown rice syrup
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- dash cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Then, start toasting the cornmeal and chia seeds. Add both ingredients to a skillet and toast over medium-high heat for 5-8 minutes. This step is essential, but can be tricky: If the heat is too low, the cornmeal won’t toast. If the heat is too high, it will burn. Keep a constant eye on it and stir regularly.
Note: Masa harina is cornmeal treated with lime (the mineral lime, not the fruit). If you cannot find masa harina, feel free to use regular cornmeal – it won’t make a huge difference.
Add all the ingredients to a food processor and pulse until there are no large chunks of dates remaining. If the mixture is too crumbly, add a little more water until you’re left with a thick paste.
You CAN use other sweeteners. I’m sure agave is more “traditional” to the Mexican region, but I’ve tried them all in this recipe and brown rice syrup has no substitute in my opinion. It really helps hold the cakes together and adds just the right amount of sweetness.
Form the mixture into 3 rounds, about 3/8 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Bake on a nonstick tray for about 10-12 minutes until the outside forms a solid crust and begins to show small cracks. Remove from the oven and let cool. They can be eaten immediately or saved in the refrigerator for several days.
I like to cut these into half moons and eat half before I go running and the other when I get back. Or, if it’s a long workout, I’ll take the other half (in plastic wrap) with me and eat it along the way. When eating them at home, I highly recommend topping with peanut butter for some extra awesomeness.