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UPAVIM Travel Series: Pepián, a Culinary Cultural Heritage

Guatemala, a country rich in cultural diversity, boasts a culinary heritage that reflects the fusion of Spanish and Mayan traditions. Among the oldest and most cherished dishes is Pepián, a flavorful stew deeply rooted in the nation's history.

Originally crafted by the Maya-Kaqchikel ethnic group, Pepián stands as one of Guatemala's oldest culinary treasures, still celebrated today as a testament to the enduring connection between past and present. Its origins can be traced back to the 16th century, where it served as a traditional ceremonial dish in early Mayan culture.

The dish's evolution mirrors Guatemala's historical timeline. Initially, Pepián was fashioned with indigenous ingredients like chilies, tomatoes, and sesame seeds. As Spanish colonizers arrived, the culinary landscape transformed, introducing additions such as garlic, onions, and meat.

Pepián's cultural significance is profound, becoming an integral part of various Guatemalan ceremonies. In 2007, the government officially recognized its importance, designating Pepián as a national heritage and the country's national dish.

Cities like Antigua, Guatemala City, and Quetzaltenango are renowned for their Pepián offerings, showcasing the culinary prowess passed down through generations. These restaurants serve as culinary landmarks, where locals and tourists alike can savor the rich flavors and cultural history embodied in each hearty bowl.

The preparation of Pepián is a meticulous process that honors tradition. Ingredients are ground into a paste using a mortar and pestle or a food processor before being boiled to create the savory stew. Typically served with rice and tortillas, Pepián offers a wholesome and satisfying dining experience.

As you delve into the vibrant streets of Guatemala, Pepián stands as a flavorful time capsule, encapsulating centuries of cultural exchange and culinary mastery. This iconic dish continues to bring people together, connecting them with the roots of Guatemalan heritage in every delicious bite.

Please enjoy the following Pepián recipe, straight from Angela Bailon at UPAVIM HQ. Note: This recipe has been slightly adjusted for ingredients and cooking methods that are available in the US.  

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole chicken or package of bone-in thighs and legs
  • 3 medium russet potatoes, chopped
  • ½ lb green beans, trimmed
  • 1 cup raw pepitas or raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds
  • 2 oz sesame seeds (about 6 tablespoons)
  • 1 ½ lbs tomatoes
  • 1 large white onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 large red pepper, halved
  • 1 large dried Chile Guaque or Chile Guajillo, seeds and stem removed
  • 1 large dried Chile Pasa or Chile Ancho or Chile Pasilla, seeds and stem removed
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 bunch cilantro, divided
  • 1 Tbsp corn starch
  • Salt and pepper to taste

 

 

Instructions:

  1. Prepare Chicken and Vegetables:
    • Cut the whole chicken into pieces or if using thighs and legs, skip this step. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Place chicken in a pot or Dutch Oven along with chopped potatoes and trimmed green beans.
    • Cook without oil until it's halfway cooked, approximately 10-12 minutes over medium heat. Remove from heat.
  2. Toast Sesame Seeds and Pepitas:
    • In a skillet add sesame seeds and pepitas, toast until browned but not burned.  The pumpkin seeds will pop when they’re fully toasted. Add seeds to a blender or food processor. 
  3. Roast Vegetables:
    • In the same skillet, place whole tomatoes, onion, red pepper halves, and chiles. Roast until the skins are charred. 
  4. Blend Ingredients:
    • Add charred vegetables into the blender with the toasted seeds, garlic, ½ bunch cilantro and corn starch. 
    • Blend until you achieve a smooth and well-combined sauce.
  5. Finish Cooking:
    • Pour the blended sauce over the partially cooked chicken, potatoes, and green beans in their pot.
    • Continue cooking the mixture until the chicken is fully cooked and the vegetables are tender. Add water if you prefer a thinner consistency.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Serve:
    • Serve the Pepián Chicken Stew hot, garnished with fresh cilantro or a sprinkle of sesame seeds if desired over rice.
  

 Sources/Further Reading:

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/feb/24/real-street-food-pepian-from-guatemala

https://juanjosegutierrezmayorga.com/comer-pepian/

https://blog.amigofoods.com/index.php/guatemala-foods/pepian/

https://www.latinpost.com/articles/161718/20231216/guatemala-national-dish-pepian.htm

https://foodnerdy.com/blog/what-is-pepian-and-why-is-it-significant-in-guatemalan-cuisine/

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