Before I begin, I would like on this holiday to express gratitude and thanks to all of our military veterans, both present and long past, for their service. Whether a war/conflict is justified or not, it is the troops who bear the brunt of a many-faceted sacrifice that most of us will never begin to comprehend. Vaya con Dios to you all.
With that said, I will return to the quotidian topic of food. Because, after all, not only is food a commonality that each and every one of us shares across the globe, but it also is a wonderful and life-affirming pleasure that should be truly appreciated as well as enjoyed. And, let me tell you, I appreciate and enjoy this recipe. It seems straightforward, using only a handful of ingredients. It doesn’t look particularly appealing, as you can see in the photo. But this salsa is so rich and luscious that these two superlatives don’t begin to do it justice.
Whatever you do, don’t skip the roasting of the tomatoes, garlic, chile, and pepitas. Simply throwing them into the processor raw might seem like a quick and easy alteration to the recipe. Don’t give in to the temptation!! The wonderfully complex roastiness of the salsa is its defining characteristic. Without that complexity, the salsa isn’t worth making. Please use a habanero if at all possible. It is understandable to be intimidated by its purported heat, but habaneros have a lovely fruity flavor that complements the pepitas and the smoky roastiness perfectly. And, by removing the seeds, you will be reducing the heat of the chile significantly. If you just cannot find a habanero no matter where you look, then you can substitute in another hot chile, though the salsa won’t be quite the same.
This salsa is wonderful as is, to scoop with chips or to spread on tortillas or even sandwiches. But it is also excellent when used as a simmering sauce. At the bottom of the recipe I’ve included instructions for that additional use. A big, bubbling pan of sikil p’ak and meat should make even the most cynical person at least a little bit appreciative.
3 Roma/plum tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 habanero chile
1 cup raw pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
3 T cilantro
juice of 1 lime
Heat a heavy, dry pan on the stove until the cooking surface is quite hot. To roast the tomatoes, garlic, and habanero, place them in the pan, leaving plenty of room in between. Roast them, turning as each side blackens. The different items will take different amounts of time to roast. The garlic will be ready first, then the habanero, and then the tomatoes. Remove each from the pan as it is done.
To the empty pan, add the pepitas and stir frequently until they are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Take care not to burn them. (This could happen fairly easily if the pan is by now very hot and you don’t keep stirring.) Transfer them to a food processor.
Cut the habanero in half and remove the seeds. (Or, use the seeds if you want a very spicy salsa.) Place the seeded habanero, along with the tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, and lime juice, into the processor with the pepitas. Add 3/4 tsp salt. Puree the mixture, adding a few tablespoons of water, if necessary. The final consistency should be like that of yogurt. Add more salt, if needed. Serve at room temperature with chips, or as a sandwich spread, or however else you would like.
Another use: Add the finished sikil p’ak to a saute pan along with 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Add sliced boneless chicken breast or thigh, or pork sirloin or loin. Simmer gently, uncovered, until the poultry/meat is just cooked through, adding more water if necessary to create a desired consistency. Serve with warm corn tortillas, or over rice. Yum!