Cook This: Pepián de Pollo (Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Soy-free)

seeds dr samantha pepianMy son was adopted from Guatemala as an infant. We try hard to get him exposure to various things Central and South American, food included. Actually, given how much we love to eat, food especially.

Today I made Pepián, a dish we first had about five years ago when we were holed up in Antigua, Guatemala waiting for the final word that we could bring our son home.

I remember vividly sitting with him strapped tightly to my chest. He slept as we ate a leisurely lunch surrounded by locals, always a sure sign you’ve chosen the right restaurant. The pepián was a thick stew with notes of chile and pumpkin seed. I’ve tried a few versions previously and haven’t been able to replicate it. I think I came close today.

Pepián is typically made with turkey (pavo). I’ve seen recipes that call for beef, and most will say that you can use any kind of bird. Our local meat source didn’t have any turkey today so I used chicken (pollo). It worked great. This isn’t a particularly difficult recipe but it does take a little time. Well worth it, I’d say.
Serves 4 for a main dish or 6 for a side dish. 

dr samantha brodyIngredients

  • ¼ cup annatto seeds- you use these in step 1 to make achiote oil
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 8 cups chicken stock. I used homemade from our freezer. My second choice would be Simply Stock by Pacific Foods.
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 large chicken breast and 2 chicken thighs (1 lb total)
  • 1 small or ½ large white onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp achiote oil
  • 4 ripe plum tomatoes
  • 3 tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and chopped
  • 2 dried ancho chiles
  • 2 dried guajillo chiles
  • 1/8 cup whole plus 1/3 cup finely ground (in spice or coffee grinder) roasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 ½ tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¾ tsp allspice
  • ½ chopped cinnamon stick
  • 2 cups long beans or green beans cut into 1 inch pieces
  • ½ lime, juiced


1. Before you make this dish it’s necessary to prepare achiote oil. This requires ¼ cup of annatto seeds and ½ cup of oil. The recipes usually call for vegetable oil but I always use olive oil. Put seeds and oil in a small saucepan. Put on stove over low heat until the oil starts to simmer gently. Take off heat, put aside and let sit 2-5 hours. This oil will keep in the fridge for a few months. I’ll try to find some other recipes we can use it in.achiote dr samantha

2. In a medium to large stockpot add chicken stock, chicken meat, onion, garlic, bay leaves and salt. Bring this to a boil then turn down heat until the liquid is just simmering and cook for about an hour.

3. While the chicken is cooking put dried chiles in a heatproof bowl and just cover with boiling water. This will soften the chiles for cooking.

4. In a cast iron or other skillet lightly toast the 1/8 cup pumpkin seeds (if they are not pre-roasted), coriander seeds, cumin seeds, crushed red pepper flakes, allspice and cinnamon. You should see them just turning brown and they will start to smell delicious. Pour them onto a plate to cool. If the pumpkin seeds were pre-roasted, you can mix them in now.

5. When the spices are cool, grind in a spice grinder (we have one coffee grinder for coffee and another for spices.)

6. When your hour of stock cooking is done pull out the meat and put it aside.

7. Chop the soft chiles and add them to the soup pot with the tomatoes and tomatillos.

8. Stir in the spice mixture. Bring the stock to a gentle simmer for 20 more minutes. While the soup is simmering, shred the chicken with a fork (or your hands if it’s cool enough) and put it aside again.

9. After your 20 minutes is up, grab your hand blender and blend the soup to a uniform consistency. Bring it back up to a simmer. Slowly add the final 1/3 of a cup of ground pumpkin seeds, stirring constantly to thicken the soup.

10. Add the chicken meat back in, and the cut long beans or green beans. Simmer until the beans are to your preferred consistency.

11. Finally, add the lime juice to taste. This final step is the crazy magic that brings the flavors together.

pepian gluten-freeServe hot (or stick it in the fridge to heat up for tomorrow.)

We’re pairing it with Cocoa-Toasted Califlower from Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People who Love to Eat (it also looks like the book for kindle is free on Amazon for Prime members.) And lo and behold they’ve got the recipe here on their website. Fabulous!



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