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Maricza’s Birthday Chicken Pepian From Guatemala

Pepian Guatemala Maritza

This is the chicken pepian that Maricza Mancilla looks forward to every year for her birthday. Her mother taught her to make their family recipe when Maricza was growing up in Chimatelango. The food from this southern Guatemala area is known as cherepe, she says. What is cherepe comida? Maricza laughs: “Spicy.”

That makes mucho sense. Her homeland’s famed chile guaque is grown in her pueblo and lends earthy heat to many of Guatemala’s traditional dishes. Including this pepian with pollo—her favorite meal, ever.

Pepian ingredients Maritza recipe
This family-famous pepian recipe includes chayote squash, tomatillos, green beans and two types of Guatemalan chiles: guaque (you can substitute with pasilla, says Maricza) and pasa (which can be replaced with ancho).

Maricza now lives in the Boston area—and still makes her mother’s recipe for family birthdays. Serving a bowl of pepian with freshly steamed rice makes the day extra special, she says. For everyone.

Pepian—A Special Dish for Special Occasions

Pepián is a combo soup-stew made with comal-charred vegetables, chiles, spices and pepitoria, which are ground seeds from the guisquile squash, also called chayote. The dish’s roots go deep: the Kaqchikel Mayans of central Guatemala made a pre-Hispanic vegetarian version for religious and ceremonial occasions. Six centuries later, the very preparation of pepian is reason enough for Guatemalans to gather. This dish is so loved, pepian was named an “intangible cultural heritage” and national treasure by Guatemala’s Ministry of Culture and Sports in 2007.

This recipe calls for a whole chicken—though you can use pork, beef or turkey, says Maricza. “You can make it with different kinds of meat, but we like the chicken best.”

Does she remember the first time she ever ate pepian? “Ay, Dios mio,” Maricza sighs. “I was little. My mom made it for me starting when I was a very little girl.” Her mother was a really good cook, she says. She made this pepian a couple times a year on special occasions, like birthdays, Christmas Day (but not Christmas Eve: that’s for tamales), and big family gatherings. “When I got married, I asked my cousin to make our family recipe,” says Maricza. “Because my mom was no longer with us.”

Most families in Guatemala have their own way of making pepian, Maricza says. The difference is usually in the seasonings. For example, some recipes use toasted cloves and allspice berries. One of our favorite Guatemalan homecooks Luis Yanes sent us his family pepian recipe, to which he sometimes adds star of anise. ”I would say the differences are based on the sazón that people give the recado, because I have gone to a few restaurants and it is never the same,” says Maricza. That said, she adds, “Practically everybody from my pueblo back in Guatemala makes it the same way.”

Traditional pepian uses two types of chiles—both toasted and seeded. The first is Maricza’s hometown favorite: spicy chile guaque. The second is the smoky-sweet chile pasa, which can be substituted with chile ancho, a staple in Mexican cuisine.

Serve pepian with white rice and a side of warm tortillas. The chicken soup and vegetables can be served with a side of rice—or in it. “I like it all together in a large bowl,” says Maricza. “And a spoon.”

For more Guatemalan family-famous dishes, check out Leny González’s family-famous take on one of their country’s most popular bizcochos, the traditional Guatemalan borracho cake, as well as Guatemalan fruit ponche (often served with rum at her house). And for the December holidays, consider making Luis Yanes’ family-famous Guatemalan tamales—just as family-famous and saved for special occasions as Maricza’s birthday and Christmas Day chicken pepian.

Ready to Make Maricza’s Birthday Pepian with Chicken?

Maricza’s Birthday Chicken Pepian From Guatemala

5 from 3 votes
Recipe by Maricza Mancilla Cuisine: Guatemalan
Servings

6

servings
Prep time

30

minutes
Cooking time

45

minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 1 whole chicken

  • water to cover

  • 2 tsp 2 salt

  • 1 slice 1 white bread oFrench bread, about 5 inches long

  • 5 5 tomatoes

  • 3 to 4 3 to 4 tomatillos, peeled and washed

  • 1 large 1 onion, quartered

  • 1/2 bunch 1/2 cilantro

  • 4 cloves 4 garlic

  • 1/2 inch 1/2 cinnamon stick

  • 1 1 chile guaque or substitute with chile pasilla

  • 1 1 chile pasa or substitute with chile ancho

  • 2 Tbsp 2 chayote or pumpkin seeds, shelled

  • 2 Tbsp 2 sesame seeds

  • 1 1 potato, peeled and cubed

  • 1 1 carrot, peeled and sliced

  • 2 2 chayote squash, cubed

  • 4 oz 4 green beans, about 20, whole, ends trimmed

Directions

  • In a large pot, add the whole chicken. Cover with water. Add salt.
  • Turn the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Once the water start boiling, lower the heat to medium and cook for about 15 minutes. While you are waiting, toast your vegetables, chiles, seeds and spices.
  • Char the Vegetables, Chiles, Seeds and Spices
  • Heat a comal, cast-iron pan or griddle on the stovetop, set medium high heat.
  • Toast the bread on the griddle or in a toaster until it is golden brown. Place it in 1 cup of water so that is becomes soft.
  • Working in batches, toast the tomatoes, tomatillos and the onion. When they are charred and blistered in spots, set aside in a large bowl.
  • Next, toast the garlic, cilantro stems, and cinnamon stick. When they turn golden, add to your bowl.
  • Onto the pepitoria and sesame seeds. Keep a close eye when toasting them, says Maricza: seeds can easily burn. She offers these tips: “I put the pepitoria in foil when I toast it. You want them to be a light golden color, not dark, which is burnt. Make sure you cover them because they will jump! When done, add to your bowl.
  • Toast the chiles. Once they become soft, open them and remove the seeds. Add half the chiles to your bowl and the other half to the pot with the boiling chicken.
  • Blend and Make Your Recado
  • Place the pepitoria, sesame seeds, chiles, and cinnamon-stick piece into the blender. Pulse until dissolved together.
  • Add the rest of the toasted ingredients, including the softened bread, to the blender. Pulse until mixed thoroughly. This is your recado sauce. Set aside.
  • Finish the Pepian Soup and Serve
  • When your chicken has boiled for 15 minutes, add the potatoes and carrots. Cook 5 minutes.
  • Add the chayote squash and green beans. Cook 8 more minutes.
  • Add the blended recado sauce to the pot. Stir. Taste for salt. Add a little more salt or 1 chicken bouillon, as you wish.
  • Cook for 10 final minutes, so the flavors deepen and blend.
  • Serve the soup-stew chicken broth and vegetables in a bowl, ladled over rice. Accompany with warm tortillas, if you wish.

Notes

  • By habit, Maricza starts toasting the bigger vegetables, typically the tomatoes and onions, but says you can toast them in any order “since they will all end up in the blender, anyway.”

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