Sikil pak (creamy Mexican pumpkin-seed dip)

I’ve made sikil pak three times in the past month, and each time I'd stare at the pile of pumpkin seeds in the bowl and think, "There's no way I'm going to eat all this." But then I would. Twice I split a batch with Crayton, and the other time I ate the whole thing myself with some tortillas I'd heated up on the stove. Sikil pak has the comfort of an herbed cream cheese you'd spread on a cracker, and the meatiness of a mushroom or eggplant chutney. It doesn't contain any dairy or even any major vegetables -- just a few scoops of pumpkin seeds ground to dust, mixed with garlic, onion, water and some tomate verde. It's great on tortilla chips, warm tortillas, cucumber slices, and (I'm imagining for next time) crusty slices of baguette. I first came across sikil pak about a year ago while thumbing through Diana Kennedy cookbook, searching for things to serve at my tamalada. I hadn't seen this dish anywhere in Mexico City, so I was intrigued. Kennedy's directions sounded easy -- toast the pumpkin seeds, grind them in a spice or coffee grinder, and add boiled tomatoes and spices. Unfortunately I added too many salted, unshelled pumpkin seeds and the dip came out too sharp and almost woodsy-tasting. Strangely, it tasted like it had meat in it. A few months ago, I saw another sikil pak recipe in one of my Cocina Estado Por Estado magazines devoted to Campeche. Turns out Sikil Pak is typical to Campeche and the Yucatán, which explains why I hadn't seen it locally. This recipe called for using raw, shelled pumpkin seeds and roasted tomate verde, onion and garlic. I decided to make the dish in the molcajete, because my cooking instructors have drilled into me that it's better. The result was totally unlike the weird chunky red thing I'd made before. It was thick like hummus and glossy like mayonnaise. Grinding it by hand, I had much more control over the texture -- were the seeds too dry and powdery? Did they need water? Pues ándale. I'll add a few spoonfuls. I got to see how the dip changed with each step, and what gave it that creamy white color. (Water and the juices of the tomatoes.) The next time I made sikil pak, I used the food processor because I was hungry and tired and didn't want to spend 30 minutes grinding. The dip wasn't the same. I was too scared the seeds would turn into peanut butter in the food processor, so I didn't pulse them finely enough. Instead of hummus/mayonnaise, I had a chunky spread. Not bad, but not as good. Plus... I don't know. I missed being closer to the ingredients. To grind everything with my own hands, twisting the tejolete, ignoring the dull ache in my wrist -- I was actively involved in preparing the food, and that meant something to me, because food was nourishment and our bodies depended on it. So yesterday, with the Bears game on TV and both Crayton and I yearning for game-day snacks (well, more me than him), I took out the molcajete and put it on the coffee table. I ground the dip during the first quarter and we enjoyed it with tortilla chips I'd baked in the oven. I didn't enjoy every single minute -- several times I looked down at the bowl crusted with chunks of half-ground pumpkin seeds and thought, "I just don't have the wrist strength for this. This dip will never be done." But in the end, I had my creamy wonder, and I was happy I stuck it out. Recipe below. Sikil Pak (creamy pumpkin seed dip) Adapted from Cocina Estado Por Estado: Campeche Tabasco (It's a series of cooking magazines published by Mexico City newspaper El Universal) Serves 2 as an appetizer Note: I've made this with toasted pumpkin seeds and plain seeds, and I think I like the seeds better raw. Just make sure they're unsalted, or else the dip might be too salty in the end. Diana Kennedy's recipe calls for mixing some unhulled seeds in the mix, but I didn't care much for the taste -- feel free to try it yourself if you like. This dip traditionally contains cilantro, but I've made it without the cilantro and it's still great. Likewise, I know not everyone has time to grind this thing in the molcajete, so if you've got a food processor, by all means. Just make sure the pulse the seeds finely. Ingredients 3/4 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds, hulled 3 medium-sized tomate verde (tomatillos), peeled and washed 1 garlic clove, unpeeled 1/4 piece of an onion, left whole pince of sea salt cilantro (optional) Directions Toast your tomate verde, garlic clove and piece of onion on the comal until they're soft and blackened in spots. Remove from the comal and let cool. Then peel the garlic clove. In a molcajete, grind the sea salt, garlic and onion until creamy. Then add the pumpkin seeds a little at a time, grinding each until you no longer see thick pieces of seed. Add a few spoonfuls of water if the nuts look too dry. After you've created your pumpkin-seed paste, add the tomate verde, one by one, grinding until the skins have dissolved. Taste for more salt and stir in cilantro, if using. Serve at room temperature.
12 Responses to “Sikil pak (creamy Mexican pumpkin-seed dip)”
  1. Paola January 3, 2011
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