Many of the cooks that work in San Francisco hail from the Yucatan, and several years ago, their home cooking was my first exposure to this distinctive cuisine. Often, these cooks would bring in something to share that their wives had prepared at home like panuchos or tamales. When David Sterling’s Yucatan cookbook won the James Beard award last year under the Best Cookbook category, I definitely took notice and purchased it immediately.
One section of this book I found particularly intriguing contains several dry spice rubs. This regional cuisine has many influences. In addition to the native Mayan cooking, the Spanish galleon brought spices, as did a large wave of Lebanese immigrants in the 20th century. One of these spice blends Sterling calls the “Puchero Blend”. Consisting of coriander, cumin, oregano, achiote, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and saffron, while he recommends it as an addition to stews, what immediately came to my mind when I smelled it was Indian food. Riffing on samosas, I created a mixture of mashed potatoes, onion, peas and this spice mix which is used as a filling for empanadas. They are served with “X ni pek” salsa, which translates from Mayan as “Dog’s nose”, referring to the spice level that makes one’s nose sweat like that of a dog. This salsa is essentially a take on pico de gallo that uses habanero chiles, tomato, red onion, cilantro, and Seville sour orange juice (in this case, from my backyard tree). There will also be some cilantro yogurt on the plate to add a cooling element to counteract the spicy salsa.
We will continue to have this version of empanadas in rotation on the menu at Comal through the spring and as long as my tree continues to produce beautiful sour oranges.