This is the last week in Mexico on our virtual world food tour so I had the kids in our "food appreciation" classes grinding again in the molcajete to make one of our favorite foods, this spicy Mayan pumpkin seed dip.
Well, I'm not sure the Mayans actually made this dip. But they may well have. It doesn't look like much, but almost everyone who tastes it asks for the recipe. It's a strange mash of toasted habanero pepper, toasted pumpkin seeds and cooked tomatoes. Season with a little salt and some cilantro leaves, then scoop it up with cool, crisp slices of jicama.
Admittedly, this is one of those dishes that kids are rarely ambivalent about. They either love it or they just walk away from it. Many of the kids in our classes took a bite or two and pushed their plates aside. If heat is the issue, you may want to cut back on the habanero, which is an exceptionally hot pepper widely used in the Caribbean. It imparts a fruity flavor along with the heat.
Or, have the kids do all the grinding and serve the dip to the adults. Making it is 90 percent of the fun.
For the jicama:
Jicama is the tuberous root of a vine. It looks a bit like an oversized baking potato with tan skin and a flattened globe shape. The flesh is moist and crisp like an apple, but the flavor is almost completely neutral, with just the fainest hint of sweetness. It is typically eaten raw, as in a fruit salad. Look for it in the produce section, or at your local Latin market.
For this recipe, peel one medium-sized jicama and slice into large matchsticks. Cover and place in the refrigerator to cool while you prepare the dip.
For the pumpkin seed dip:
1 ripe habanero pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raw hulled pumpkin seeds (look for them in the bulk section of your health food store)
2 plum tomatoes, cooked in plain water until very tender then peeled
small fistful cilantro leaves
Toast the habanero pepper at the bottom of a heavy skillet (or traditional Mexican comal, if you have one) over moderately high heat. Turn the pepper occasionally until it is charred on all sides and begins to soften. Set aside to cool.
In the same skillet over moderate heat toast the pumpkin seeds, tossing often so they do not burn. They will turn a drab tan color and begin to shed some papery skin. Pour the toasted seeds onto a plate to cool.
Wearing rubber gloves, prepare the toasted habenero by first removing the stem. Slice the pepper in half lengthwise and scrape away the seeds. Place the pepper in the molcajete with the salt. (If you want less heat in the finished dip, use only half the pepper.) Grind the pepper and salt together until the pepper just coats the bottom of the molcajete.
Add the toasted pumpkin seeds to the molcajete and grind vigorously until the seeds have been turned into a rough powder. This may take several minutes. Don't be afraid to press the pestle or tejolote hard into the molcajete. Now add the tomatoes and grind them into the pumpkin seeds until they are thoroughly incorporated. Toss in most of the cilantro leaves and mix with a fork.
Serve the dip in the molcajete using the remaining cilantro leaves for garnish.
Note: If you do not possess a molcajete or a large mortar and pestle, try making this in a food processor instead.