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Tame your tongue with achiote
If you've got a case of wanderlust but can't leave home right now, perhaps an exotic dinner would temporarily tame your inner traveler.
Achiote (ah-chee-OH-tay) chicken with mango salsa and black beans may conjure images the Yucatan Peninsula, where the ancient Mayans and Aztecs are said to have used achiote, the rust-colored seeds of the annatto shrub, for cooking as well as dyeing cloth.
Thought to be a native to Brazil that found its way through Central America to Mexico, the annatto shrub is now a widely cultivated crop. The seeds are harvested and used for dyeing cosmetics and foods such as cheese and margarine.
And achiote is still used for preparing foods that originated with the Mayans and Aztecs. One such preparation is achiote paste, which is used today in many Mexican meat, fish and poultry recipes.
Achiote paste can be purchased at most Mexican markets or online. Or you can buy whole or ground achiote seeds and make your own paste (I found both at Food City).
Ground or whole, the seeds themselves have little flavor. But combined with lemon or orange juice, a dash of turmeric and crushed garlic, achiote takes on a unique, tangy flavor as well as a rich, beautiful color.
A specialty in Yucatan is Pollo Pibil, which is chicken coated with achiote paste, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in pits dug in the ground, wrote Barbara Hansen in “Mexican Cookery.” The following achiote paste and chicken recipes are adaptations from her cookbook.
Achiote chicken goes well with black beans and the following mango salsa recipe. But the salsa is a bit hot on the taste buds, so you may want to chase it with a sno-cone.
(Ground or whole achiote seeds are available at Food City and other local markets)
- 2 tablespoons ground achiote seeds
- Dash or two of turmeric
- Juice of one medium lemon
Blend all ingredients well and let sit for about 30 minutes.
- 4 chicken leg quarters
- Achiote paste
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 1/4 cup cooking oil
- 4 large sheets of aluminum foil
Use half of the cooking oil to gently sauté onion and garlic in a large frying pan. Remove onion and set aside. Remove garlic, crush it, add to achiote paste and set aside. Meanwhile, add remainder of oil to frying pan and sear chicken over medium-high heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Place each chicken leg quarter on a sheet of aluminum foil, and use a pasty brush to coat chicken with achiote paste. Add sautéed onion slices. Wrap chicken in foil and seal it completely. Place foil-wrapped chicken in shallow baking pan and cook for about 50 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.
- 4 fresh jalapenos, seeded, de-veined, and chopped
- 3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 red onion, chopped
- 2 mangoes, peeled, pitted and chopped
- 4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- Juice of half a lemon
- Juice of half an orange
- Salt, to taste
Combine all ingredients. Although this salsa is tasty when served immediately, it's even better after it has been in the fridge overnight.
Nancy Gilkey can be reached at email@example.com or 261-9144.
(Additional sources for this article: La Perla Spice Company and Illinois, Nevada and Harvard University Web sites.)