Sunday, March 24, 2013


Pibil is a Mayan word meaning "buried or cooked underground." That's a little how I've been feeling lately at work, so fitting - on my first weekend off in awhile - that I made Vegetarian Times' roasted fennel pibil.

Pibil is from the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and is known for being a slow-cooking process for food (often meat) where the main ingredient is cooked wrapped in banana leaves, tenderized by a highly acidic, citrus sauce and flavored with achiote. Achiote is a paste made of the small, red annatto seed mixed with a variety of ingredients like citrus, garlic, cumin, allspice berries. The flavor isn't hot; rather, there is a nutty, peppery depth and a slight tartness to achiote. If you buy it from a store, make sure to check that the binding ingredient isn't lard.

 To prepare the dish, I quartered large bulbs of fennel and browned them on the stove before adding them to the pan to roast. In hindsight, I should have let them cook longer or substituted jackfruit to achieve a more "melt in your mouth" consistency with the main ingredient. I also used my broiler for the first time and almost started my house on fire. Man, that thing can char food fast :) The roasted fennel simmers with broiler-charred roma tomatoes and onions in a legendary sauce. The sauce has a complex citrusy, deep, rich flavor thanks to the achiote, tomato paste, orange and lime juice and spices (bay leaves, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, cumin seeds, salt and black pepper.) When I read the recipe back in December, I knew immediately I had to try this dish - and I'm glad I did!

While the pibil bubbled, I mixed up the quick habanero-lime red onions recommended. I approached the habanero with great trepidation recalling how often I get jalapeno in my eyes when carelessly forgetting to wash my hands. I decided to go for glory and added the whole habanero; rather than wasting half. It really wasn't too spicy and added a nice fruity punch of heat to cut through the richness of the pibil sauce.

Vegetarian Times recommended pairing the pibil with black beans and plantains. The plantains were really easy when you peeled them according to these step-by-step photo instructions. I recommend adding good company and some lime water or pale beer to round out the meal. This was a fun break from work, and it reminded me that I've been neglecting this blog as of late. Sorry about that :)

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