If you’re not familiar with pepian, it is a thick green Mexican sauce (or mole) that uses pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds as its base. Fish or poultry is often simmered in this sauce making it a rich dish brightened with green herbs. My version is not a classic pepian dish– I’ve taken the sauce that you’d ordinarily cook the protein in for a long time and made it a sauce for fish tacos. The bright green color comes from all the cilantro, green onions and fresh chiles. The ingredient list looks long, but the recipe is simple. It’s just a matter of prepping your ingredients and blitzing them into a smooth puree in the blender. I used salmon as the fish here but you could use any other type of fish or even chicken. I topped the tacos with a bit of crunchy raw cabbage for some texture and added cherry tomatoes for acidity. I prefer to have this with salmon with the skin on since it lends some flavorful fattiness to the taco.
- 3 6-ounce (approximately) salmon filets (preferably skin on)
- 3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 cup pumpkin seeds (shelled)
- 6 serrano chiles
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 1 bundle cilantro (about 1 cup, packed)
- 1 bundle scallions (about 7-8 scallions)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 limes (plus more for serving)
- 1 cup water (plus a few tablespoons more for thinning sauce, if needed)
- 1/4 head red cabbage
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
- 6 corn tortillas
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (for garnish)
- grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
- sea or kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- First, make the sauce by toasting the cumin seeds and pumpkin seeds in a pan over medium low heat until the cumin and pumpkin seeds become fragrant. Keep swirling them around in the pan and keep an eye on them to prevent them from burning. Remove the seeds from the chiles by cutting the stem off and slicing the chile down the middle. Using a spoon scrape the seeds out. If you want your sauce really spicy you can also leave the seeds in. Remove the stems from the cilantro and the root ends of the scallions and roughly chop.
- Add the cumin, pumpkin seeds, serrano chiles, cilantro, scallions, garlic, tahini, the juice of 2 limes, in a blender. Add about 3/4 cup of water and blend. The sauce should thick, very smooth but pourable. If it is too thick, add more water about a couple tablespoons at a time until you get the right consistency. Add two large pinches of salt. Taste as you go and add more salt if it needs it. Remember this is the sauce for the tacos so it should be flavorful (and sufficiently salted).
- Cut your filets in half and pat your filets dry with a paper towel and season liberally with salt and pepper. In a non-stick skillet, heat a glug of oil over medium high heat and sear the skin side and top side of the salmon for several minutes each until the salmon is cooked through. I press the top of the salmon to determine the doneness but if you can't tell use a paring knife to cut into the thickest center of a piece.
- To serve, heat both sides of each tortilla over an open flame until it becomes soft and pliable. Add a piece of salmon to each tortilla. Very thinly slice the cabbage and slice the tomatoes in quarters. Top each tortilla with a piece of salmon, a generous pour of the pepian sauce and top with some cabbage, tomatoes and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Serve with extra lime wedges.
(images by HonestlyYUM)