Some say it’s the new guacamole because it’s become available in Mexican restaurants across the United States. Sikil P’ak is actually a Mayan dish that is still made today by the Yucateco people who have a proud culinary heritage. Sikil is the word for tomato and p’ak means pumpkin seeds. it only takes three more ingredients to complete this complex salsa that combines the light vegetable tones of tomato, cilantro and chives with the deeper notes of toasted pumpkin seeds. The methods used in this recipe are not authentic, I’m sure, because I just don’t see a food processor taking over for the age-old metate in the Yucatan. If you happen to have a large, flat grinding stone, you will notice a difference in the taste, because the oils from the seeds are released differently when ground by hand.
It may take a moment for the flavor of this salsa to grow on you, and the brownish color is certainly nothing to get excited over. Taste it, and if you think it needs a little more oomph, don’t be afraid to add some more heat, salt or pungency. A clove of garlic or two roasted with the tomatoes and chiles would be a wise addition if you like that boldness. I wanted more fire, so next time I make it, I will throw in another chile. Some restaurants add orange essence and other flavors. That’s a wonderful idea, too, but first, taste the basic recipe to discover what your taste buds tell you.
1 cup natural raw unhulled pumpkin seeds
2 Roma tomatoes, cores removed (vine-ripe tomatoes work if you don’t have Romas)
1 habanero chile, stemmed (or other hot chile such as 2 serranos will do -as I used because my habaneros are still green on the vine)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons chives, chopped finely
Sea salt, to taste
1. In a 8″ to 10″ skillet or comal over medium-high heat, pour the pumpkin seeds and stir them continuously until they brown but not burn. As they heat, they will pop almost like popcorn, though their shape will not change greatly. Don’t let the popping startle you.
2. Transfer the toasted seeds to a food processor and process until a smooth consistency is reached (less than a minute.) Set the seeds aside.
3. In the same skillet over medium-high heat, add the tomatoes and chile(s.) Turn them over until each side is charred. It will take longer for the tomatoes to char.
4. Add the tomatoes, chiles, chopped cilantro, chopped chives, ground seeds and salt to the food processor. Pulse the processor until the ingredients reach a smooth consistency. The color will be a muted dark mustard color.
5. Transfer to a bowl. Serve at room temperature with chips, warm tortillas or as a dip for chopped vegetables just as you would use hummus.
6. Enjoy this ancient recipe which is thriving in the modern world.