Adapting a great Mexican pumpkin-seed sauce

Rick Bayless has a great recipe for a Green Pumpkin Seed Sauce using lots of fresh ingredients that are generally in season in spring. Its complex flavor is fantastic with meats or vegetables, and is well worth trying; it’s quite easy to make vegetarian if desired. The link above is to a rather poorly formatted Readers Digest version but will give you the idea. However, like many recipes, we often adapt it to meet the ingredients we have on-farm, since we don’t grocery shop on a regular basis and prefer creativity to targeted purchases. The original produces a thick green sauce that looks & tastes quite nice. The version we present below results in a equally good, but far more hideous-looking, brown sauce that doesn’t photograph well. The major difference involves replacing green pumpkin seeds, which we don’t normally have around, with organic Missouri pecans, which we order in bulk as our basic house nut (other than me). Below we’ll present the original and our latest adaptation of it, to illustrate how you can be creative with interesting recipes and items on hand.Here’s the recipe roughly as it appears in the cookbook, with our on-farm version noted (in parentheses, on-farm ingredients in italics) based on CSA produce available recently. The original appears complicated, and integrates making a whole-chicken broth with cooking the chicken with making the sauce then recombining them all. Below we just assume you have broth on hand, homemade or otherwise (we used our own mushroom broth this time), and write this up solely for making the sauce, however you want to use it afterwards.

As in most recipes, the key here is being willing to improvise with replacement ingredients. Don’t have pumpkin seeds? Use nuts as a reasonable stand-in. Don’t have radish greens? Try turnip greens, kale, or mustard. It’s less important to get the original recipe exactly right than to produce something interesting and tasty, and it’s much harder to go wrong when you’re using mostly fresh, high-quality ingredients that can speak for themselves.

Bayless original                           (our version)
1 cup hulled pumpkin seeds         (1 cup Missouri pecans)
1 large white onion                        (small bundle scallions)
4 garlic cloves                               (2-4 garlic scapes, or up to 1/4 cup scape pesto)
1 large carrot                                 (several small carrots)
12 large sprigs cilantro                  (good-sized bundle cilantro)
3 small romaine leaves                 (big fistful lettuce leaves)
2 large radish leaves                     (leaves from one radish bundle)
Hot green chiles to taste               (one dried Thai hot chile)
1 quart chicken broth                    (1 quart homemade mushroom broth)
1 T Cooking oil                               (2 T home-rendered lard)

Toast the pumpkin seeds or pecans in a medium-hot cast-iron skillet, stirring or shaking often. The seeds will “pop” audibly, swelling to a plump roundness. The pecans will darken and become very aromatic. Once done (keep that skillet hot), combine all ingredients except broth in a food processor. Add 1.5 cups broth and puree. Heat the oil/lard in the skillet and add the puree, stirring regularly for 10 minutes as it darkens and thickens. When you’ve got a thick, rich-looking result, add the rest of the broth (2-2.5 cups) and simmer for another 20-30, reducing to your desired thickness. Season with salt to taste.

That’s it. A very quick preparation followed by 45 minutes of simmering produces enough sauce to last multiple meals; I’m sure some could be frozen as well though it never lasts long enough around here to try. Above right is our most recent meal using it (on-farm ingredients in italics):

Sauteed garlic scapes, kale, and the first-of-the-year summer squash tossed with organic brown rice, cubed pork loin, and the sauce.

Give it a try, and let us know how your improvised version worked.

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