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Luis’ Pepian with Pollo from Guatemala

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This smoky, chile-spiced pepian with chicken, chayote and toasted pumpkin and sesame seeds is the dish that instantly transports Luis Yanes, one of our favorite homecooks, back to Guatemala. Luis now lives in the New York City area with his family—he and his wife run a NYC tours and travel-guide company—but his native country is never far from his heart.

Or his food memories! Luis loves to cook, taught well by his mother and grandmother to make traditional recipes like Guatemalan pork tamales wrapped in banana leaves. And, of course, this chicken pepian, considered his country’s national dish—its origins going all the way back to the its Maya-Kaqchikel roots.

All of us at Familia Kitchen were deeply honored when Luis sent us his family’s own recipe for this soup/stew, made with shredded and bone-in pollo with recado, Guatemala’s traditional roasted chile-tomato sauce. A similar cooking base called recaudo—with a ”u”—is essential to making the food of its neighbor to the north, Mexico. (While we’re on the topic of spelling, the Mexican version of this dish is called pipian—with an ”i.” And you are absolutely right: both pepián and pipián should have an accent on the á, but when we spell them correctly, our recipe search tool doesn’t recognize the words, so we have to go accent-less. The same with our recipe for Mexican caldo de albondigas, which—sigh—should be albóndigas. Lo sentimos mucho, proper spellers. We share your pain.)

”Pepian reminds me of home and spending time with family,” says Luis. ”That to me is the most important part. It’s a dish that is always special and traditional, one you can share with your family and friends and feel the warmth and effort that goes into the dish.”

The Mayans made a pre-Hispanic vegetarian version of this dish for religious and ceremonial occasions. Pepian is traditionally made with native chiles and pepitoria—roasted and ground seeds from the guisquil squash, also known as chayote. The hearty dish is sold by street vendors across the country, and the very making of pepian—usually with chicken, though beef and pork are used too—is reason enough to gather. In this way, pepian is much like Mexican pozole and Mexican mole. All three are ancient dishes still made and served today at celebratory meals, typically for a large group of family and friends. No wonder pepian was named an “intangible cultural heritage” national treasure by Guatemala’s Ministry of Culture and Sports in 2007.

”We all have that dish that takes you back and brings forth some great memories from your childhood,” says Luis. “For me, it is this dish (and maybe like 18 others, but let’s concentrate on this one!). Even in my adult years, I still get the feeling I am sitting back with family, enjoying a meal at the kids table.“

How to Make and Serve Pepian

Traditionally served with white rice and warm tortillas, ”this pepian has great bold flavors and heat from the chiles, but immediately refreshes you with the fresh crunch of the string beans and freshness of cilantro,” says Luis. ”I make about 2 cups of rice and the stew allows for about 6 to 7 large servings. Or just 2 to 3 servings if you are a champ and go for seconds—which you likely will do.”

”I learned it properly from my mom when I was a little older since I always liked it, but I never knew the entire process. I usually make a ton of it, since it’s so laborious. Then I’ll freeze half of it, or sometimes, if I have friends over, we’ll have it so that they learn a little of my country’s traditional dish!”

Everyone, of course, loves it, Luis reports.

Recently, Luis has been experimenting with adding star of anise to this recipe. He first dry roasts the spice. ”I got the inspiration from making pho and ramen broths, and seeing that I like those warm-fruity-toasty flavors in those soups,” he says

”I think what makes pepian so unique is that if you were to ask 10 other people about their recipes, everyone has their own little nuances that they add to make it special,” adds Luis. ”So it might taste similar, but a little different at the same time!” As all national dishes should, its ingredients vary from familia to familia. Other versions of this traditional recipe often include cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice berries, peppercorns and coriander. Feel free to experiment when you make your own pepian, says Luis.

And if you like this recipe, try Maritza’s chicken pepian, so special she requests it for her birthday every year. And if you want to go deeper into comida Guatemalteca, we predict you’ll love Luis’ tamales with pork and red sauce, one of the most popular recipes at Familia Kitchen—ever.

Hungry for Pepian con Pollo, Guatelama’s National Dish?

Luis’ Pepian with Pollo from Guatemala

5 from 2 votes
Recipe by Luis Yanes Cuisine: Guatemalan
Servings

6

servings
Prep time

25

minutes
Cooking time

1

hour 

15

minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 1 whole chicken

  • water, to cover the chicken

  • 1 Tbsp 1 salt

  • 2/3 cup 2/3 raw pumpkin seeds, shelled

  • 2/3 cup 2/3 sesame seeds

  • 1 lb 1 string beans, fresh, trimmed

  • 1 1 potato, large, peeled, cubed

  • 2 2 guisquiles squash or chayotes, peeled, cubed

  • 1/2 cup 1/2 cilantro, packed, roughly chopped

  • Recado Sauce
  • 2 2 guajillo chiles

  • 2 2 ancho chiles

  • 6 6 Roma tomatoes

  • 1/2 1/2 onion, large

  • 5 to 6 cloves 5 to 6 garlic

  • 2 2 anise stars, optional

Directions

  • Boil and Shred the Chicken
  • Place the whole chicken in a large pot and fill it with water to cover. Add the salt.
  • Turn the burner to high, bring the water to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and let the chicken cook for about 45 minutes.
  • When done, set the pot with the chicken and its broth aside to cool.
  • When cool to the touch, shred or cut the chicken into bite-size pieces and return to the pot with the chicken broth. “Traditionally, we only shred the chicken breast, and keep the thighs and legs of the chicken whole (bone-in),” says Luis.
  • Prep the Vegetables
  • Wash and trim the ends of the fresh string beans, leaving them whole.
  • Peel and cut the guisquiles or chayote squash and the potato into small cubes. Set both vegetables aside.
  • Make the Recado Base Sauce
  • On a hot cast-iron pan, griddle or comal set to medium high, dry roast the ancho and guajillo chiles for 1 or 2 minutes. Set them aside in a bowl.
  • Dry roast the tomatoes, onions, garlic and anise. The garlic and anise will deepen in color, give off an aroma and be ready before the rest of the ingredients. Take them out and add them to the chiles in the bowl.
  • When the tomatoes and onion start to blister, blacken and get fragrant, add them to the bowl.
  • Place the dry-roasted chiles, tomatoes, onion, garlic and optional anise in a saucepan. Set the heat to medium high. Add water to cover and bring to a boil. When it boils, turn off the heat and set the saucepan aside to cool.
  • Adjust the heat of the cast-iron pan, griddle or comal to low. Dry roast the pumpkin seeds about 5 minutes. When they start to give off a smoky aroma, they are ready. Set them aside in your bowl.
  • Dry roast the sesame seeds for 3 to 5 minutes, until they turn pale gold. Keep an eye on them: they can go from toasted to burnt quickly. Add them to your bowl.
  • Scoop out the chiles, tomatoes, onion, garlic and optional anise from the saucepan—and place them in a blender. Pour about 1/2 cup of their liquid into the blender.
  • Add the toasted pumpkin and sesame seeds.
  • Blend—until the mixture completely disintegrates. You will have an orange-reddish, nutty and full-flavored recado sauce.
  • Strain the recado sauce in batches through a colander. Throw away the small scraps of vegetables, seeds and spices left behind in your colander—or eat or compost them, says Luis. ”You for sure don’t want those little bits in the soup, though!”
  • Putting It All Together
  • Stir the recado into the pot with the chicken and broth, mixing them well. Set the heat to medium high. When the stew comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low.
  • Let the stew simmer and reduce for 10 to 15 minutes, uncovered.
  • Add the string beans, guisquiles or chayote, and potato to the pot. Gently boil about 15 minutes more, until the vegetables become tender.
  • Chop the cilantro and add to the pot. Serve with white rice and hot tortillas. “Enjoy, and don’t forget to share with friends and family!” says Luis.

Notes

  • Experiment with adding toasted spices like cinnamon, cloves, allspice berries, peppercorns and/or coriander to explore the rich range of pepian’s traditional flavor patterns.
  • The consistency of pepian is like a soup: liquidy, says Luis. If your recado is too thick when it comes out of the blender, thin it out by adding a little of the chicken broth. Then pass it through a strainer in batches so that only the liquid goes into the pot with the cooked chicken.
pepian guatemala
To make your recado, dry roast the ancho and guajillo chiles, tomatoes, onion and garlic.
pepian guatemala
Blend the recado’s roasted tomatoes, chiles, onions and garlic with toasted sesame seeds and raw pumpkin seeds.
pepian guatemala
One of Luis’ favorite flavors in this homey and filling pepian is the bright snap of fresh green beans.
pepian guatemala
Making pepian at his home near New York City makes Luis feel like he’s back at the kids table in Guatemala, he says.
Luis and his mom making tamales.
Luis learned to make pepian from his mother, shown here making tamales with him back home in Guatemala.

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