It’s that time of year again when we Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo, the anniversary of the 1862 Battle of Puebla where the Mexican army defeated a better-equipped and much larger French force led by Napoleon III. What it’s not, is Mexican Independence Day—that’s in September when Mexico celebrates its liberation from Spain secured in 1810. Now ya know!
Cinco de Mayo reportedly is little celebrated in Mexico. It started in the Southwest US during the post-civil rights era when students of Mexican origin sought and found a source of pride in their heritage. Regardless, it gives the US another food holiday. From tacos to tortas, guacamole to gorditos, margaritas to molé, we partake either by frequenting our favorite Mexican restaurant or whipping up a feast in our own kitchens.
Not one to let a food holiday pass me by, I was ready to stock up on avocados and jalapenos, with big batches of guacamole in mind. That is, until I stumbled upon a recipe for Sikil Pak, Mayan pumpkin seed dip—a dish I had never heard of. Delicious, with a mix of both toasted and raw pumpkin seeds, roasted vegetables, habanero heat, and a squirt of citrus. And it’s addicting. Served with tortilla chips (from the bag or make your own with corn tortillas), you’ll probably make a meal if it—it’s that hard to stop once you start. Me thinks it would also make a great sandwich spread or a tasty topping for an omelet or frittata.
The authentic way to prepare Sikil Pak is in a molcajete, the Mexican equivalent of a big mortar and pestle. And I happened to have one—it’s what I use for making the aforementioned big batches of guacamole. If you don’t have one or don’t feel like breaking a sweat, a food processor will do just fine. In fact, I think that’s what I’ll use next time, at least to pulse the veggies after they’re roasted. Kind of a combo of this recipe and that recipe, many other versions can be found with a simple Google search. Enjoy! And happy Cinco de Mayo!!
Sikil Pak, Mayan Pumpkin Seed Dip
2 cups raw, hulled pumpkin seeds, divided
1 onion, sliced ½ inch thick
3 plum tomatoes, quartered
4 large (6 medium) tomatillos, husk removed and quartered
2 cloves garlic, kept in skin
1 fresh habanero chile pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
A couple pinches of sea salt
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed orange juice
A little water
Chopped cilantro, for garnish (or Italian parsley if you’re cilantro-averse)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place one cup of the pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet and toast on a low oven rack for about 10 minutes. Watch closely so they don’t burn. Remove and let cool. Reserve a couple tablespoons of seeds for garnish.
Mix sliced onion, tomatoes, tomatillos, garlic, and the habanero in a large bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and stir until the veggies are coated. Place on a baking sheet and roast in the upper third of oven for 20-30 minutes, turning once or twice, until soft and dark in spots. Remove from oven and let cool. When cool, remove garlic cloves from the skin. Using food service gloves or a plastic bag over your hand, remove the seeds from the habanero (it will still pack a punch ‘o heat).
Either place both toasted and raw pumpkin seeds in the bowl of a food processor and process until ground, or put seeds (in batches) in a large mortar and pestle, and smash and grind until ground. If using food processor, remove seeds to a medium bowl once they’re ground.
Put cooled veggies in bowl of a food processor and pulse until mixed, but still a little chunky. Add to bowl with ground pumpkin seeds and mix. Stir in lime and orange juice, adding a little water, a tablespoon at a time, if too thick. Taste and add more salt, if necessary. Serve with tortilla chips and garnished with chopped cilantro and reserved toasted pumpkin seeds. Makes about 8 appetizer servings.
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