Even since MasterChef season 10, there were three things I sought to learn more about/perfect. The first was tarte tatin, the second was cooking in a cast iron, and the third, which I finally have gotten around to doing, is learning more about Latin flavors. After that disastrous showing with prickly pear, I knew I identified a very clear blind spot in my repertoire. So I have been studying a few different Latin cuisines and some of the regions of Mexico, as well as dishes made by Latin chefs, trying my best to learn more about this region of the world I haven’t paid much attention to. Truthfully, I still have a lot to learn, but this dish is the hopeful first in many steps to me being able to master Latin flavors.
For the dish itself, I sort of centered it around ha sikil pak. This is a Mayan pumpkin seed salsa, similar to a hummus or dip in that it is creamy in texture, but packs a bit of heat from chilies. Some recipes call for habanero, some jalapeno, and some pasilla. I went with the pasilla just because I found the heat to be better rounded and less sharp and in your face, which I think would be overpowering with the fish. I opted to pair that with snapper dusted in annatto seed, just because that flavor profile works well with basically any kind of chili. I also took some inspiration from the farmers market, because I was able to find squash blossoms with mini Mexican squash, and I knew I had to just use those as my garnish to this dish, coupled with some radish and nasturtium for garnish. I really wanted to do something fresh and vibrant, so I also went with a tomatillo based salsa verde, using cilantro, lime, and the greens from the radish to add that body and greenness to it. And lastly, I have a slightly spicy, sour, and fragrant vinaigrette made with the pollen from the squash blossoms, just as to not waste them, but also to tie everything together a little better.
For the ha sikil pak:
1/4 cup pepitas
1 pasilla chili
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cilantro
2 tablespoons oil
Blanch and shock the cilantro. Half the pasill chili and remove half of the seeds. Roast the pasilla chili, half of the chili seeds, garlic, shallot, and pepitas in a nonstick pan for about 30 seconds on high heat. Transfer to a blender. Roast the tomato as well and transfer to the blender. Puree together with oil and salt. Finish with pureeing in the cilantro last. The final consistency should be like a guacamole.
For the salsa verde:
juice and zest from 2 limes + more as needed
1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
1/4 cup radish leaves, rinsed
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 shallot, peeled and halved
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons oil
On a nonstick pan, over medium heat, roast the tomatillo, garlic, and shallot until the exteriors are considerably dark, almost black. Blanch and shock your cilantro and radish leaves in salted, then ice water. Puree together the ingredients, streaming in the lime juice to loosen the salsa to make it more sauce-like. You’ll be using this to dress your Mexican squash.
For the snapper:
2 snapper filets
1 tablespoon ground annatto seed
a pinch of salt
a pinch of pepper
a pinch of paprika
Toss the filets in the spices. Heat up a nonstick pan with oil and then sear the filets, skin side down, for about 7 minutes before flipping and finishing on the flesh side for another 1 minute. When searing with the skin side down, press the filets against the pan for at least 1 minute to guarantee that the skin won’t coil or buckle.
For the squash pollen vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon squash blossom pollen
1 tablespoon agave
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon canola oil
a pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
Whisk together until combined. You will be dressing the radishes and nasturtiums in the vinaigrette, just so they don’t dry out.
Mini Mexican squash
Toss the radishes and nasturtium in the vinaigrette. With the squash blossoms, cut into individual petals. For the squash, cut them along a bias, then in half lengthwise to form “spears” of squash. Toss the flowers and squash into the salsa verde. To plate, start with some ha sikil pak on the bottom. Top with your snapper, then garnish the sides with your dressed vegetables.