Back in May I had the chance to attend a culinary event at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington D.C. It’s one of those events that I kind of stumbled across online and immediately signed up for the next demonstration because it looked so interesting. All of the events in the Mexican Table series are led by their chef, Pati Jinich, who is absolutely delightful and has her first book coming out in 2012. That night the theme was Festive Mexico with dishes for special occasions, and the special guest was Fany Gerson, the very talented pastry chef whose books on Mexican desserts (My Sweet Mexico, Paletas) are a worthy addition to any collection, including mine.
The demonstration table was set up in an open, airy space with gorgeous tiled walls, which renewed my wish to put in a Mexican tile backsplash in our kitchen, and maybe get a table with Mexican tile top. I can dream big, can’t I?
And Pati and Fany were wonderful. They are so warm and inviting it’s easy to be swept up in their excitement. The round guest tables seated six each, and everyone at our table to seemed to feel the excitement and enjoyed the food and meeting one another.
The food was so delicious. Pati and Fany started us off with a refreshing agua de limón con chía (limeade with chia seeds), both sweet and a little filling. L.A. Cetto provided the wines for the evening, which were paired with gorditas de frijol refrito (corn dough patties, reminded me of arepas), pipián verde (a tomatillo and pumpkin seed sauce, with chicken), pipián rojo con camarones (a tomato, chile, and pumpkin seed sauce with shrimp), arroz verde (green rice made with poblano chiles), ensalada tricolor con queso fresco (red, white, and green salad), Opereta Mexicana (Mexican Opera cake), paletas (Mexican popsicles) and pistachio marzipan. I went home that night and couldn’t go to sleep until I had told Michael all about it. In fact my eyes kind of rolled back in my head as I just typed all of that.
So if it was all so fantastic, why didn’t I write about the experience earlier? Because I’ve been waiting, not always patiently, but waiting nonetheless for our tomatillo plants to bear fruit so that I could make that wonderful pipián verde. And my patience has been rewarded.
I can’t describe how much I adore those little lantern-like shapes that hang from our tomatillo plants. As always, we have both green and purple tomatillos in the garden, and like every year, the plants take all summer to grow, then they finally start bearing fruit around the end of August. It’s so hard to wait, but so worth it in the end.
The sauce is fantastic. Michael raved about it and the boys all went back for seconds. I served it with a garlic sautéed shrimp and the arroz verde. When you purchase your pumpkin seeds, you may find them raw or roasted still in the shell, raw shelled, or shelled and toasted. I happened to find them raw shelled at Wegman’s in their bulk foods section, which was easy, and I used two full cups of them. To toast the seeds, you can dry toast them in a skillet on the stove or toast them in the oven, your choice. The chiles are meant to add just a little heat, mostly flavor, but if you want a spicier version, just leave some of the seeds in the sauce.
And for goodness sake, if you live in the DC area, treat yourself to one of these culinary events at the Mexican Cultural Institute. You won’t regret it.
TOMATILLO AND PUMPKIN SEED SAUCE WITH SHRIMP (PIPIAN VERDE CON CAMARONES)
Adapted from Patricia Jinich.
Makes about 2 quarts.
large skillet or baking sheet
4-quart saucepan with a lid
food processor or blender
2 cups (5 ounces/142 g) raw pumpkin seeds (the meaty part, minus the shells)
1-1/2 pounds (681 g) green tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed
4 cloves garlic
1-2 serrano or jalapeño chiles, stems and seeds removed
1/3 cup chopped white onion (about 1/2 a medium onion)
2 cups cilantro leaves, loosely packed
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 quart (1 l) chicken broth, homemade or purchased low-sodium
2 pounds (908 g) raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 41-50 per pound)
3 tablespoons canola oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
1. SAUCE: Toast the pumpkin seeds in the large skillet over medium heat (or in the oven on the baking sheet at 350° F/175° C), stirring and tossing, until they being to smell fragrant. Remove from heat and cool.
2. In the 4-quart saucepan, add the whole tomatillos, garlic, and chiles and cover with water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the tomatillos are cooked all the way through, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. In the food processor, grind the pumpkin seeds until you have a coarse powder. Add the cooked tomatillos along with the garlic, chiles, and cooking liquid. Add the onion, cilantro, and salt, and puree until smooth.
4. In the saucepan, warm the canola oil over medium heat, then pour in the tomatillo puree and add the chicken broth. Stir well and cover with the lid slightly ajar. Let the sauce simmer until it has thickened and changed color, about 35 minutes.
5. SHRIMP: About 5 minutes before the sauce finishes, warm the remaining canola oil in the large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté just until it releases its fragrance, about 1 minute. Add the shrimp and cook while stirring, until the shrimp turns pink, about 4 to 5 minutes. Don’t let them go much longer or they’ll be tough. Transfer to a serving bowl and squeeze some lime over it. Serve with the pipián verde.