I first discovered pipián verde or green pumpkin seed sauce back in my Chicago days, initially at a restaurant called Ixcapuzalco (now unfortunately closed; they had some incredible mole sauce). They served their pumpkin sauce over salmon. With toasted and ground pumpkin seeds as its base, this sauce has layers of flavor — nutty, spicy, and herbaceous and velvety smooth in texture. Later on I discovered papadzules — a Mayan dish of tortillas stuffed with hard-boiled eggs covered in green pumpkin seed sauce and topped with a tomato-chile sauce — at another Chicago restaurant, Xni Pec (SHNEE-pek or the dog’s nose; they serve a fiery and addictive habanero salsa that makes your nose run). If you are ever in Chicago, there are no shortage of great Mexican restaurants — family-run Mom and Pop places and upscale destinations alike.
Over the years I’ve tried several recipes in attempt to recreate the flavors I so fondly enjoyed once upon a time. All pretty good, but not quite what I remembered. Then, one day, I came across this recipe [by Chef Roberto Santibañez] and it was spot on. Don’t let its complex flavor profile fool you into thinking this an arduous sauce to prepare; on the contrary, it’s quite easy to make. A spice grinder and blender are essential to achieving that smooth, velvety texture. Chef Santibañez says that the sauce tastes better the day of, but I’ve made it a day in advance, and it tasted just as good.
This is my version of papadzules. While not traditional, I added some roasted poblano chiles [mild] in with the egg, the former which lend texture and just a hint of heat. Also made my own corn tortillas — masa harina and water, that’s it — but you can easily use store bought, just heat them up before using. I made the red tomato sauce as well, but again, you can easily use store bought and doctor it up with a roasted chile to give it a little oomph (I like habanero for its fruitiness, but jalapeno or serrano would suffice). If you decide to make your own red sauce, look for “second” tomatoes at your farmers’ market. They may not be pretty, but they still make a flavorful sauce, usually at half the cost.
for 2 servings (3 tortillas/serving)
6 corn tortillas
4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
3 small or two large poblano peppers
Green pumpkin seed sauce (recipe to follow)
Spicy red tomato Sauce (recipe to follow)
Chopped cilantro for garnish
Toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish
Roast the poblano peppers on an open gas flame, turning with metal tongs until charred on all sides (alternatively, place the peppers under the broiler or roast on the grill, turning every few minutes). Place in a paper bag for about 10 minutes. Remove from the bag, and, with the side of a chef’s knife, scrape away the charred skin. Cut open and seed the peppers. Roughly chop. Mix with the chopped egg.
If making the pumkin seed sauce in advance, reheat the sauce in a pot. Using a pair of tongs, dip the warm tortillas into the pot with the hot pumpkin seed sauce. Place 2-3 tablespoons of the chopped egg-poblano mixture down the middle of the tortilla. Roll up and place seam side down in a serving dish/bowl filled with a layer of pumpkin seed sauce. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. Drizzle a little more pumpkin seed sauce on top. Spoon some of the spicy red tomato sauce on top. Garnish with the chopped egg-poblano mixture, chopped cilantro, and toasted pumpkin seeds. Serve immediately.
Pipián Verde (Green Pumpkin Seed Sauce)
Adapted slightly from Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibañez
makes 4 cups
5 ounces hulled raw (green) pumpkin seeds (1 cup)
1/3 cup chopped white onion
2 fresh serrano or jalapeño chiles, coarsely chopped, including seeds
1 small garlic clove, peeled
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1/4 teaspoon dried epazote (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 to 5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1/2 cup loosely packed, chopped cilantro
Heat a skillet over medium heat and toast the pumpkin seeds, stirring and tossing constantly until they’re puffed and just slightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Grind the toasted pumpkin seeds in a spice grinder to form a powder.
Put the pumpkin seed powder in the blender jar along with the onion, chiles, garlic, oregano, epazote, cumin, salt, and 2 cups of the stock, and blend until the mixture is smooth.
Heat the oil in a medium heavy pot over medium heat until it simmers. Pour in the blended mixture. Cook, stirring until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add just enough stock to thin the sauce to a velvety consistency that thickly coats a wooden spoon. Simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding more (~2 to 2 1/2 cups) stock as necessary to maintain the velvety consistency.
Return the sauce to the blender, add the cilantro, and blend until smooth. Be careful when blending a hot mixture. Start on low speed and gradually increase to high (to prevent splattering). Return the sauce to the pot and simmer, uncovered, 5 more minutes. Add a little more stock if needed (the sauce should have a smooth, velvety consistency). Season to taste with additional salt.
Note: This sauce is also great served with shrimp, fish, poultry, and pork. While not in the original recipe, I added just a bit of dried epazote,which contributes a grassy, herbal quality (completely optional).
Spicy Red Tomato Sauce
2 pounds tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
1/2 to 1 habanero chile (or Serrano or Jalapeno)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Preheat the oven to to 350 degrees. Halve the small tomatoes; quarter the large tomatoes. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Drizzle the tomatoes, garlic, and habanero with olive oil, and season with salt, pepper, thyme, and oregano. Roast for about an hour. When cool enough to handle, peel the garlic. Place all the ingredients in a food processor or blender. Blend or process to as smooth or chunky a consistency as desired.
This sauce can be made several days in advance. Just reheat before serving.
I had some leftover pumpkin seed sauce, so I made a few extra tacos, topped with grilled wild salmon, a nice drizzle of pumpkin seed sauce, chopped cilantro, chives, and a few toasted pumpkin seeds.