Oaxacan Pipian with Zucchini and Onions

October 4th, 2009  |  Published in All, Around the World, Garlic, Nuanced Nuts, Onion, Succulent Spices, Summer Squash & Zucchini, Veritable Vegetables, Weekend Projects  |  7 Comments

Oaxacan Pipian with Zucchini and Onions

There is a serious lack of Mexican food here in Hannover, Germany.  Not just good Mexican food (like the lack of good sushi), but simply a lack of Mexican food in general.  After 10 months of being gone from the Bay Area (where Mexican food is plentiful and delicious), at this point I would settle for some average or ho-hum Mexican food.  Or even Tex-Mex.  I miss it that much.  Alas, the closest thing is Dolores Mission Style Burritos in Berlin, which though tasty, is a very far cry from authentic mexican food.

One of the cookbooks I lugged over here with me is Dianne Kennedy’s The Essential Cuisines of Mexico.  At 526 pages, it is immense.  I don’t make things out of it all that often, since the recipes usually have a long list of ingredients, many of which I can’t find here, and typically take a full afternoon of toasting, soaking, grinding, pureeing, frying etc.  But when I do decide to crack open this cookbook, I am never disappointed.  The recipes tend to have deep, complex flavors, and strike a balance between homey comfort food and gourmet cuisine.  This lazy weekend I decided on a version of her Legumbres en Pipian Oaxaqueño, Vegetables in Oaxacan Pumpkin Seed Sauce.  The original recipe calls for nopales and peas, which I am sure would be delicious, but I think that any combination of sturdy vegetables would work just fine.

This particular recipe isn’t actually all that time consuming or difficult, and the results are fantastic.  The pumpkin seeds lend a unique, nutty, earthy, and almost sweet flavor to the sauce, and the dried chiles plus the chili powder give it a bit of a kick.  It makes a large batch, and the sauce continues to develop in flavor as it sits.

Look for the dried chiles at your local hispanic market, or if that fails, try Whole Foods or your regular grocery store.  The hispanic market will probably be about 20-30% of the cost of Whole Foods, so I recommend checking there first.  I picked mine up on a recent trip to the USA (chiles like ancho, mulato, guajillo etc. are pretty much impossible to find here) — my friend Laurie drove with me all over downtown Washington DC looking for a good hispanic market where I could buy an assortment of dried chiles, chipotles in adobo, and a couple other “staples”.  I was a little worried that going through customs in Frankfurt that I might get stopped for the sheer quantity of dried chiles and chile products in my suitcase.  Ah, what one must do to cook in a foreign country… Did I mention I am coming back to San Francisco for good in 3 1/2 weeks?!

Oaxacan Pipian served over mixed grains

Oaxacan Pipian with Zucchini and Onions
Adapted from The Essential Cuisines of Mexico

8 oz. green pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 large ancho chile (dried), stem, seeds, and veins removed
2 guajillo chiles (dried), stem and seeds removed
4 c. cold water
4 garlic cloves
1/2 t. cumin seeds
3 T. vegetable oil
1-2 t. salt
a large pinch of oregano (mexican if possible)
1/2 – 1 t. chipotle chili powder, to taste (or substitute regular chili powder)

2 T. butter
3 medium zucchini, cut into large (1-2 inch) chunks
3 medium onions, cut into thick rings, then cut in half
1/2 – 3/4 lb. cooked turkey or chicken in bite size pieces (optional)

Toast the pumpkin seeds in a large dry skillet over medium high heat until they puff, about 5-7 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Cover the chiles with the 4 c. water in a saucepan, and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from heat, cover, and let stand for an additional 5-10 minutes.  Place chiles in a blender along with garlic and 1 c. of the chile soaking water.  Puree until you have a smooth paste.

In batches, grind the pumpkin seeds along with the cumin in a clean spice/coffee grinder until they are a fine powder, but with a little bit of texture remaining.  Place into a medium sized bowl, and add the remaining 3 c. of chile soaking liquid.  Mix until smooth.

Heat vegetable oil in a large chef’s pan or sauce pan over medium high heat, and add the chile puree.  Fry for about 3 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan often to prevent sticking and scorching.  Add the pumpkin seed/water mixture and stir until well blended.  Add salt, oregano, and chili powder.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for about 20 minutes until thickened.  Stir occasionally and scrape the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching.

Meanwhile, heat butter in a frying pan over medium high heat.  Place zucchini chunks in the butter with the largest cut side facing down.  Fry, undisturbed, for about 3-4 minutes until the zucchini has a golden crust.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Add onions to pan, and saute until just softened, about 3-4 minutes.

Once sauce has thickened, add zucchini, onions, and cooked turkey or chicken (if using), and stir until evenly distributed.  Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.  Serve over rice or with corn tortillas.  Enjoy!

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