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Recipe: Yucatán’s Kaaxil Sikil just happens to be vegan

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Addi María Ay Ché represented Yucatán in a national cooking contest that called for a taste of the Mexican homeland. Photo: Courtesy

The Yucatecan dish Kaaxil Sikil isn’t found in any cookbooks or cooking blogs. Not yet, anyway. 

It made it to the 2021 finals of a national cooking competition which translates to “What does the homeland taste like?” It was hosted at Los Pinos Cultural Center in Mexico City, which was also the official residence of Mexico’s presidents from 1934 until 2018. 

The traditional cooks representing Yucatán were Addi María Ay Ché and her two daughters Erika and Wendy Gabriela. The women are from Chichimilá, a small community of roughly 5,000 people, seven kilometers south of Valladolid. 

“We are so happy to bring this recipe to the competition. We want it to live on for future generations because, aside from being delicious, it is also vegetarian and very healthy,” said Addi María. 

Kaaxil Sikil. Photo: Courtesy

Addi María, the squad’s matriarch and head cook, says she learned the recipe from her mother, who was an excellent cook herself. The main ingredient of this unique dish is pepita, an almost huskless oval seed produced by a type of squash known locally by its Mayan name, k’úum.

Although you may not be familiar with Kaaxil Sikil (most people are not) you have likely enjoyed pepita k’úum without knowing it. It is one of the main ingredients in one of Yucatán’s best-known dishes, the vegetarian favorite, papadzules

But unlike papadzules, you are unlikely to find Kaaxil Sikil on any restaurant menus, at least for now. So if you would like a taste you will probably have to prepare it yourself. Other than the k’úum seeds, which you can find in Yucatán’s traditional markets, all other ingredients should be fairly easy to come by. 

The Mayan name translates to “pepita de pollo” or “chicken nugget,” but there are no animal proteins in this dish. So it’s perfectly suitable for a vegan or vegetarian diet.

Kaaxil Sikil

Ingredients

To taste: 

  • pepita k’úum
  • Black pepper
  • Tabasco pepper
  • garlic
  • achiote seeds
  • cinnamon 
  • salt
  • peppermint
  • cabbage leaves
  • water

For garnish:

  • sour orange
  • chile habanero

Preparation

Boil water in a large pot.

Crush the garlic, pepper, peppermint, and cinnamon in a molcajete (mortar) and add the ingredients to the pot.

Add some water and achiote seeds to a small bowl and mix until the water turns red, and then pour the mix into the pot, adding also a large spoonful of salt.

Toast the k’úum pepita seeds in a large pan.

Once they are toasted, grind the seeds using a hand mill until they are ground into a fine powder.

Add some water to the pepita dust and tightly mold the resulting mix into small oblong balls, collecting the drip of the resulting pepita oil in a separate bowl.

Add the pepita oil to the boiling pot along with the pepita balls.

Mix the bowl gently, making sure to not break the pepita balls.

Add the cabbage leaves and allow the mix to cook for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, take the pot off the fire and allow it to sit for another 20 minutes, after that it will be ready to serve. 

Garnish with sour orange and chile habanero and enjoy with handmade tortillas. 

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