Written by Nik Jameson
What do I do with those piles of delicious smelling spices at the market? What is that wonderful brown stuff they set out before a meal at a Yucatecan restaurant? How do I use all these new ingredients I keep seeing at the supermarket?
Many have questions about local food and I have answers and help. Over my next few articles here on MID CityBeat, I’m going to teach you how to use axiote–that thick red paste you see everywhere. How to buy and use the wonderful local pumpkins, peppers and coconuts. I’ve even got ideas up my sleeve about how you can use all the dried chilies you had never seen before moving to the Yucatan.
My specialty is vegan food and the dishes of the Yucatan are especially adept to that diet as the ancient Mayans too ate little meat and mostly subsisted from the fruits, vegetables, and grains of their MILPAs. The first dish we will learn to tackle is one of the most coveted and surprisingly easy to achieve at home, Sikil Pak. For those who don’t know it by name, it’s the dip that looks like beans but isn’t when you go to a Yucatecan restaurant.
Sikil Pak is considered a salsa, but in my humble opinion it is a dip. Sikil means pumpkin in maya and Pak means tomato. This dish starts as a powder made from dried pumpkin seeds, salt and spices then is mixed with charred tomatoes, garlic, onion and if desired spicy pepper.
You can buy the pepita for sikil pak nearly everywhere in the Yucatan, including in the mini marcados and fruterias scattered throughout the city. Many of the grocery stores also have packaged blocks of it near the fruits and vegetables.
Sikil Pak is not only delicious, it is also highly nutritious because pumpkin seeds are high in protein and minerals. 100 g has 32 g of protein, an amount higher than any other bean or seed. It also has some calcium, iron, and a lot of magnesium.
Uses: Of course it is traditionally used as a dip for pita bread or tortilla chips. However, I love it as a dip to make raw veggies more appetizing or spread into a sandwich like you would hummus. It’s can also be dalloped over baked potatoes or a fresh salad.
Sikil Pak Recipe
½ (approximately) cup ground pepitas labeled for sikil pak
3-4 roma tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 chili xcatic or habanero (optional)
1. Heat a skillet or comal (flat griddle used to make tortillas).
2. Take the paper off the garlic without crushing it.
3. Cut the onion into manageable chunks.
4. Remove the stem from the hot pepper.
5. Place the tomatoes, garlic, onion and xcatic on the hot skillet and char the outside.
6. You will NOT want to move them very often, especially the tomatoes. You should need no oil unless you have a very bad skillet. If you move the tomatoes too much they will break and release juice causing them to stick. When one side is charred and the tomatoes and other ingredients start to soften flip to the other side and do the same.
7. The onion, garlic and hot pepper will need much less time (approx. 3-5 mins) than the tomatoes (approx. 5-10 mins)
8. Remove the charred ingredients from heat and add to a blender. (or a mortar and pestle if you are feeling adventurous)
9. In the blender pulse the onion, garlic and chili first a few times to start breaking them up while the tomatoes are finishing.
10. When the tomatoes have finished add them to the blender and pulse a few more times to create a chunky salsa.
11. It should still have a few chunks and shouldn’t be too smooth. But don’t worry if it does get smooth your first time, it will still be edible.
12. Pour your pulsed ingredients into a bowl and add the ground pepita (pumpkin seed) powder 1 spoonful at a time, stirring well.
13. When the dip starts to form a spreadable texture and looks brown instead of red, you have added enough pepita. Add chopped cilantro if desired and enjoy with pita bread or tortilla chips.
Note: most all pepita you buy already comes with salt, but if you don’t like the flavor of your sikil pak try adding a pinch of salt.
If you want a good pita bread recipe, I’ve got one here [http://nikofthyme.com/kitchen/] along with lots of other vegan food ideas. Happy cooking!
Photos by Nik Jameson