Calabaza bellota/Acorn Squash/ Cucurbita Pepo

Acorn squash are indigenous to the western hemisphere, so they were not known to Europeans until after the voyages of Columbus.  The seeds have been found in ancient Mexican archeological digs dating back to somewhere between 9,000 and 4,000 B.C. Squash is a nutritious food and it (winter squash) forms an important part of the Native American diet. Squash belongs to Cucurbitaceae family and the botanical name of acorn squash is Cucurbita Pepo. The squash was initially considered a melon by the Europeans settlers in America. Though considered a vegetable in cooking, botanically speaking, squash is a fruit (being the receptacle for the plant’s seeds), and not a vegetable. Like all varieties of winter squash, the popular acorn squash is rich in vitamins A and C, potassium, B vitamins, and numerous minerals. And acorn squash is particularly high in fiber, which plays an important role in intestinal health.

Cucurbita Pepo is an annual plant, hispid and scabrous, with a procumbent stem and branching tendrils. Its leaves are large, cordate, palmately 5-lobed, or angled and denticulate. The flowers are yellow large, axillary, and the males long-pedunculate. Corolla campanulate; the petals united and coherent with the calyx. The calyx of the male flowers is 5-toothed; of the female the same, the upper part being deciduous after flowering; the stigmas are 3, thick, and 2-lobed; the pepo, or fruit, subligneous, very large, roundish, or oblong, smooth, yellow when ripe, furrowed and torulose, containing yellowish seeds, somewhat resembling those of the watermelon in form.

The seeds are “about 2 Cm. (4/5 inch) long, broadly-ovate, flat, white or whitish, nearly smooth, with a shallow groove parallel to the edge; containing a short, conical radicle, and 2 flat cotyledons; inodorous; taste bland and oily. The pumpkin flowers in July, and matures its fruit in September and October. It is extensively cultivated as a kitchen vegetable, and for cattle. The seeds of this plant are used in medicine, and have long been popular with the Mayans as a remedy for worms.

Maya holistic therapist, Maria Hux, learned this ancient Mayan recipe from her ancestors; based on roasted baby acorn squash seeds, Sikil Pac was a Royal treat among the Mayan. Hard working people find this appetizer to be a great way to boost the immune system. Sikil Pac helps fight the cell damage caused by extreme stress and emotional pressure.  This Mayan recipe truly works great as a gourmet appetizer and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Gingered Pumpkin Custard

¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 can( 15 ounces) solid- pack pumpkin
1 ¼ cups half-half
2-3 teaspoons ground ginger
sweetened whipped cream for decorating (optional)
sprinkles for decorating (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 F grease 1 ½ quart casserole or 8-inch glass baking dish. Variation: for individual servings, pour custard mixture into 6 or 8 ramekins or custard cups. Place on a baking sheet. bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Combine sugar, eggs, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg in medium bowl; mix well. Add pumpkin and half-and-half, mix until well blended. Pour into prepared dish. Sprinkle ginger evenly over top of pumpkin mixture.

Bake 45 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. cool in wire rack at least 20 minutes before serving. serve warm or at room temperature. garnish with whipped cream and sprinkles.

Sikil Pac
*Maria Hux*

1/4 lb. of peeled organic, Roasted Acorn Squash Seeds
(you may substitute for any other squash seeds, if fresh, wash and roast 5 minutes, peel).
Three ripe organic limes (juice)
One petit red onion, peeled and chopped
Two large vine-ripened red tomatoes
1/4 cup of chopped organic cilantro leaves
Half small ripe Habanero chile (optional, cut amount for mild salsa)
Pinch of crushed sea salt.

Crush the roasted seeds into a fine paste.  Mince tomato, chile (your choice), and red onion. Finely chop the cilantro leaves. Thoroughly mix all of the ingredients above with the lime juice in a clay bowl (glass will do) until it forms a smooth creamy paste.  Add sea salt to taste.  Let stand for 15 minutes to blend flavors; serve at room temperature as a healthy zesty topping to handmade corn tortillas, fried tortilla chips, or fresh celery sticks. If you not find Habanero chile in your area, use fresh serrano or jalapeño chile as a substitute.  

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Maiz/Corn/ Zea Mays L

Maize, Zea Mays L, pronounced (meiz); which is known in many English speaking countries as corn is a grass domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. The Aztecs and Mayans cultivated it in numerous varieties throughout Central and Southern Mexico, to cook or grind in a process called Niztamalization. Experts have established that modern maize evolved from teosinte (God’s corn), or Zea mays ssp. Mexicana, although some botanists continue to argue that it evolved from an early MesoAmerican maize variety called Chapalote. Even the timing of maize origins has been questioned. The earliest known ears of corn were tiny – only a few inches long. The origins of maize begin on the Pacific slope of the modern Mexican states of Oaxaca, Tehuacán, and the Valley of Mexico. The earliest primitive corncobs discovered in Mesoamerica were obtained from specimens recovered within a cave near Oaxaca.

The Columbian Exchange was a dramatically widespread exchange of animal, plants, culture (including slaves, communicable diseases, and ideas between the Eastern and Western hemispheres. This exchange of plants and animals transformed European, American, African, and Asian ways of life. New foods became staples of human diets, and new growing regions opened up for crops. Due to its worldwide distribution and relative lower price to other cereals, the maize has an ample uses than any other cereals. In many developing countries the maize is a major staple food and the consumption percapita is very high. Ground, yellow cornmeal can be used to make tamales and Atoles (thin porridge) or baked items. It is fortified with iron, calcium, vitamin A and B vitamins. There are reportedly hundreds of varieties of tamales throughout Mexico, Central and South America. They key variations are what is in the masa or dough (corn, potatoes, rice), what’s in the filling (meat, fruits, nuts). Masa simply means dough in Spanish.  Once formed into masa, the dough is patted by hand into the familiar tortilla shape or used as dough to be shaped around tamales or other foods. In order to produce any one or more of the aforementioned maize-based foods or beverages, maize must be reduced to a paste or flour. The resulting by-product was known to the Mexica-Aztecs as nixtamal, and the process for rendering the maize kernels into a paste has since come to be known as nixtamalizacion. Mexican tamales are packets of corn dough with a savory or sweet filling and typically wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves.  The packets are steamed and eaten traditionally served with Atole (masa drink).

Tamales colorados (“red tamales”) owe their name to the tomato that give them their color, developed with corn or rice masa and are stuffed with tomato recado, raisins, chili, chicken, beef or pork. Tamales negros (“black tamales”) are darker and sweeter than their red counterparts due to the chocolate which is added to them. Other black tamales are not sweet but are simply made out of blue/black corn. Tamales dulces (“sweet tamales”) are tamales that are explicitly sweet and contain fruits and nuts (such as raisins and almonds) and may not contain meat. Tamales de elote (“sweet corn tamales”) do not use the typical masa but instead are made out of sweet corn. These usually contain whole kernels of corn in the masa and do not generally contain meat.

Traditionally the fat of choice was fresh lard.  This will vary with the recipe but some will use lard, some butter or vegetable shortening, or a combination of two or more of these. If you use lard, use only fresh lard and if possible, get freshly rend pork lard from your butcher.  Some of the dough recipes will use baking powder for lighter tamal corn dough. The ground corn is most commonly mixed with water, chicken broth and even sometimes milk.  The individual recipe will dictate the proper liquid. Salt is almost always added to the dough to enhance the flavor of the corn.

Humitas Ecuatorianas
6 to 8 ears corn (4 cups of kernels)
1/4 cup chopped scallions, white part only
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup cornmeal, or more if needed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
6 ounces Chihuahua, mozzarella, or Muenster cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon brandy
Kitchen twine, cut into 15-inch lengths
2 cups water

Bring a large part of water to a boil. Cut through the corncob at the stem end where the kernels start and carefully remove the husks. Set aside the largest for wrapping and blanch them in boiling water for a couple of minutes to make them more pliable. Remove from the water and drain on paper towels. Cut the rest of the husks into strips for tying or to cover the humitas before steaming.

Remove the silk from the corn and rinse. Cut the kernels from the cobs, adding the milk scraped from the cobs. Reserve the cobs for later use. Place the corn and scallions in food processor or blender and pulse until finely ground. Add the butter, egg yolks, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, sugar, cheese, and brandy. Pulse until well incorporated and smooth and transfer to a bowl. The mixture should be thick but not runny. Add more cornmeal, as needed. In a seperate bowl or using a stand mixer, whip the egg whites to form soft peaks. Carefully fold the whites into the corn mixture.

To assemble the humitas, place two husks on the worktable, slightly overlapped. Place a few spoonfuls of corn batter in the center of the husks. Fold bottom edge over the mixture, fold down the top half, then fold in the sides to form a packet. Tie with string or corn husk strips. Repeat with remaining batter.

Place the cobs in the bottom of a large saucepan. Add the water until cobs are almost covered. Cover the cobs with the remaining husks. Place humitas open side up over steamer. Cover with remaining husks. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Steam until the humitas feel firm to the touch, about 30 minutes for small and 45 minutes for large. Add more boiling water if needed. Remove from heat and serve with ají criollo. Leftovers are great for breakfast and can be reheated or pan fried. Makes 12-16 humitas.

Pan de maiz con poblanos/Corn bread with poblanos

2 ½ cups of corn sliced
3 eggs
Cream cheese ½ stick
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
4 Chile poblanos, sliced
¼ onion, finely chopped
Pinch of Salt

In a processor grind the corn kernels along with the eggs, cream cheese, baking powder and sugar. Butter a medium pan, then sprinkle with flour and remove excess. Add to corn mixture slits poblano, onions and season with salt. Pour into pan and bake at 180 ° C for 35 to 40 minutes depending on the mold. Serve with tomato sauce.

Tamales dulces/Sweet Corn tamales

2 bunches dried corn husks
1 1/2 cups butter
1 1/2 cups rice flour
2 1/4 pounds fresh masa or masa prepared with masa harina
1 cup rice flour
1 1/2 cups water
red food coloring
1 teasoon cinnamon
1 cup sugar
1 cup raisins
1 cup finely chopped almonds
1/2 cup sweet cream

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix the rice flour with the masa, adding water until the dough is well mixed. Add the beaten butter-sugar mixture to the dough, beating after each addition until the dough is light and fluffy. Add red food coloring if desired. For the filling, mix the cinnamon, sugar, raisins, almonds and sweet cream. Fill, wrap and steam following the directions for basic tamales.
Makes 24

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Achiote/ Lipstick tree/ Bixa Orellana

The Bixa orellana fruits have been found in old civilizations in Peru – such as the ancient cities of Caral and Casma – dating as far back as 5000 years ago. It is believed to come from Brazil but was carried throughout Central and South America by the Indians, who used the coloring as body paint, and by women, who used it as lipstick. The dye contains Vitamin C. The names derives from the Nahuatl word for the shrub, Achiotl. It is known as Aploppas, and its original name Urucu. Many Latin American cuisines traditionally use Achiote in recipes of Spanish origin that originally call for Saffron; for example, in Arroz con Pollo, to give the rice a yellow color. Achiote is a small tree with a round head, generally grown as an ornamental because of its lovely flowers of various colors. The seeds of the flower have a reddish powder which is used as a vegetable tint for soaps, rice, margarine, cheese and many other products.

The scientific species name orellana is derived from the name of Francisco de Orellana, a Spanish explorer of the century. Together with Francisco Pizarro, Orellana had been involved in the destruction of the Inca Empire; in 1540, he participated in another expedition led by Gonzalo Pizarro. Following false rumours about gold and cinnamon trees, about 2000 Spaniards entered the Peruvian and Brazilian jungles, where most of them perished. Orellana abandoned the party and made his way eastward, where he (more or less by chance) discovered the Amazon River and earned scientific fame quite undeservedly. Other names of this plant all stem from Indio tongues in Central and South America: urucul from Tupi-Guarani in the Amazon region, (thence French rocou), annatto from the Cariband achiote from Náhuatl in México. The scientific genus name, Bixa, comes from another Carib plant name usually transcribed as bija or biché.

In South México, meat is often marinated with a spice mixture called “recado” that derives its vibrantly red-yellow color from liberal addition of Achiote. The seeds may be used ground (often after soaking in hot water to soften them) or in form of Achiote oil. Recado‑mari­nated meats are wrapped in banana leaves and baked in a hot stone pit. Baking in a hot oven, pan-frying or grilling is also possible. The technique can be applied to poultry and fish, but is most popular for pork, especially suckling pig. Food prepared this way is generally referred to as Pibil. However, today’s unique dishes of the Yucatan are a combination of ancient Mayan cooking techniques, such as charring and grinding chiles to release their flavors, and the spices that were introduced to the Mayans by the Spanish in the 1500s.

So here’s a Pibil fish recipe for you to enjoy. The fish is cooked in a combination of smoke and steam which makes the resultant dish succulent and flavorsome. Here’s what you’ll need:

Tikin Xic Grilled Fish

2 whole red snappers, scaled and split lengthwise
6 bay leaves
2 medium red onions, Julianne cut
4 tomatoes, sliced
2/4 Recado Colorado (Achiote seed seasoning)
2 tbs. Vegetable oil
1 cup bitter (seville) orange juice.
2 green bell pepper, sliced
4 fresh or dried epazote leaves
1 smoke banana leave (cut in two wrapping size squares)


In a mixing bowl, dissolve Recado Colorado in vegetable oil, then stir in orange juice. Place each fish in large glass or ceramic dish and rub the flesh generously with seasoning mixture. Scatter the bay leaves over the fish and marinate, refrigerated, for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Place each marinated fish in its own banana leaf square; top each fillet with a slice of tomato, green bell pepper, onion and an epazote leaf; then wrap and tied with a thin banana fiber (from center of leaf).  Heat your grill well then place each wrapped fillet carefully to avoid direct fire; best if cooked with a lid in light medium heat for about 5 minutes. Garnish with red cebollas, bay leaves and lime wedges, and serve immediately.

Tikin Xic Recado

1 white onion
2 small garlic heads, unpeeled and roasted
3 tablespoon of Achiote seed
1 cinnamon stick, crushed
8 whole cloves
6 allspice berries
½ tbs. cumin seed
1 ½ tbs. dried oregano


Peel roasted onion and garlic. Quarter the onion. Place onion and garlic cloves in food processor or blender, and puree. Using electric spice mill or mortar and pestle, grind Achiote seeds, cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, cumin, and oregano to a powder.

Add spice mixture to the onion and garlic, and blend to form a paste. Store the recado in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It should be good for several weeks.

Note: *The Mayan word “Pibilmeans buried
*Tikin Xic, pronounced “teekeen sheek” in Yucatan Mayan and meaning “dry fish”, is a fish dish prepared in the Meso -American style.

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Pacayas/ PalmTree/Chamaedorea Tepejilote

Have you had any palm lately?

The Pacaya Palm or The palm tree grows in tropical and subtropical regions, in moist forests and in mountainous areas. It is found in southern Mexico, Central America and Colombia. The Pacaya, the edible part of the Palm tree, is in fact the flowers of the plant. The texture is awfully squid-like, and it has a slight bitter taste. You can find the tentacle vegetable in a jar pickled in a briny liquid, or fresh at most supermarkets. Pacayas con huevo (fried) bathed in a tomato sauce yummy, but you can eat them steamed, charbroiled, baked or boiled. If you prefer it fresh you have to blanch the flowers in boiling water for a few minutes which is said to reduce their bitterness and kill any bugs lurking amongst the stamens.

Usually solitary trunked but a rarer clumping variety is also found. C. tepejilote has one of the fattest and tallest trunks of all the Chamaedoreas at about 3 inches/8 cm in diameter reaching heights of 20 feet/6 m or more. Green ringed trunk with white leaf base scars have visual affinities to bamboo culms, especially when planted en masse. The long, wide, tapering “S” shaped (aka falcate) leaflets fall from the rachis (or droop a bit) in a relaxed manner that just screams tropical rain forest palm. The leaflets of this species are thinner than most,with prominent striations. Though many ‘bamboo-like’ Chamaedoreas have a pale line along the ventral surface of the petiole, it is the most pronounced in this species, and is a characteristic that can help identify it. The flower is protected by a shell covered with hair-like spines. The skin can be cut with a knife, then peeled by hand. The white flower inside is all edible raw.

While France is still the largest importer, hearts of palm are becoming popular in the US for salads and appetizers. Most imported into the US are from Peach Palms grown in Costa Rica. Pacaya is an excellent crop for small farmers who would benefit from its development through an increase in export markets. This is a traditional dish from my hometown. My mother used to call it the “veggie calamari” because they look like a baby calamari with little tentacles that are going to reach out and grab you (that’s what I thought when I was a kid). Indeed, it can be another good source of food for the veggie-minded diners, though. Looking for something that will cook quickly, taste great and inexpensive as well, pacayas are just the thing. For this recipe, you will need the following ingredients.

Pacayas forradas con huevo / Palm tree flower draped with eggs

6 pacayas
5 eggs
Salt and pepper (optional)
1/4 cup of maize flour (optional)

If you bought them fresh, cook the flowers in boiling salted water for a few minutes to a nice ‘al dente’ bite.Then, beat egg whites until stiff; add maize flour along with pepper until you create a luscious batter. The palm flowers are then draped in the batter and shallow fried until crisp and golden. You can serve it with your favorite rice or spring salad, making a simple, but very satisfying meal.

For sauce

6 large plum tomatoes
1/2 seville orange
2 fresh stems of peppermint
1 medium white onion, peeled and sliced in half
3 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded, deveined and minced
1 cup chopped cilantro (Chinese parsley)

Place tomatoes, onion and garlic cloves in a dry cast-iron skillet or griddle pan over medium-high heat. Roast until all sides are well done, turning occasionally for 7 to 9 minutes. Remove tomatoes and onion; place in food processor. Peel garlic cloves; add to tomato mixture. Pulse until roughly chopped. Transfer to a bowl; add diced jalapeno peppers, cilantro, seville orange, salt and pepper. Refrigerate, covered, up to 2 weeks. Makes 3 cups, enough for 6 portions. Do you think you would like it?  Just get over there and try them for yourself. It’s really, really good. Buen apetito a todos!