One of the best lessons I ever learned from my godfather Awó Jorge Puig Kaiser, Iwori Oddí is that it is a blessing to share a meal with family, friends and godchildren. Some of my best moments with him have been while having dinner. He not only enjoys the meal and always thanks the cook profusely, but he also likes to reminisce about his life back in Cuba, his friends and my favorite is to listen to stories about his godparents and other elders from the Island.
Often times when I am in the kitchen working on dishes for the orisha, I think of him. He does not cook, but he is always ready to offer to sample whatever is bubbling on the pot or roasting in the oven. Of course, you can imagine that I have no issues indulging the old man and letting him sample whatever he wishes.
One of his favorite dishes is cornmeal porridge with cinnamon and raisins. I remember when I was celebrating my 7th anniversary of kariosha and I was in the process of making all the sweets for the orishas. Padrino Jorge got a whiff of the cornmeal porridge and made a dash to the kitchen. In a blink of an eye he was spoon in hand ready to take a sample of the not-read-yet porridge, of course, under the guise that seasonings may need adjusting and I could need an expert opinion from the awó of the house. I smiled and handed over the spoon and took the picture in. He relished the bite and told me to give him a bit once I was done serving the orisha. How could I resist?
No one that visits the house of an Olosha should leave hungry. This I learned with Padrino Jorge. Sharing food is part of what we do in our celebrations. Those who have been to a Wemilere, to a Dia del Medio or Throne Day, or to an anniversary party know that food is paramount. That brings me to something that absolutely irks me: Waste.
It is such a blessing to have things in abundance to share, but what I can’t tolerate is to see offerings wasted. It is true that all the fruits, candies, sweets and vegetables placed to the Orisha are for them, but we do partake from those as well particularly at celebrations when they have not been used for cleansings. On those occasions normally, even after letting folks take some fruits home, there are left overs. Rather than letting fruits go bad at the altar, I propose we repurpose them and then share them with our brothers and sisters or with whomever you feel needs to receive special blessings. After all, those items get irradiated with the positive energy of the Orisha and thus they are special.
Here is my take in a ‘waste not, want not’ recipe made with pumpkins, a sacred offering to Oshun. I have selected pumpkins because they are especially meaningful as they represent wealth, the place where Oshún hides her riches and they can also represent the special place of female creation, the womb.
These dishes are part classic and part my own inspiration. I do believe in not wasting anything, and often times pumpkin seeds are discarded. Those seeds are not only magical, they are also medicinal. Did you know that pumpkin seeds are used to kill intestinal parasites? Well, I am not going to dwell on that subject since I am about to talk about something as sublime as a well-made pie, but, I can certainly write about the medicinal powers of pumpkin on another blog post.
I had to enlist the help of my son, the Balogún, since I have as ewe when it comes to cut pumpkins. Being a son of Ogún, he wasted not a second in sharpening a knife and brandishing it like the kitchen Samurai he thinks he is.
So here is what you will need to make a scrumptious pumpkin pie…or many of them as is always the case in my house. I started thinking I would make a couple; I ended up with 7 pies in the oven! Seven, go figure why an oní Yemayá and a son of Ogún would end up with such an interesting number in their pie production?
Omimelli’s Classic Pumpkin Pie
Pie Crust, you have two choices. Make it from scratch (that is what I do) or buy frozen pre-made crust. In any case, you will need to blind bake the crust for about 12 minutes before you pour in the filling, or else you will have a soggy-bottom-pie, most disgusting.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, chilled and diced
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup of iced water
1. In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in water, a tablespoon at a time, until mixture forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
2. Roll dough out to fit a 9 inch pie plate. Place crust in pie plate. Press the dough evenly into the bottom and sides of the pie plate.
For this pie, it is important to bake the crust for about 10 minutes using pie weights or if you do not have any of those, then use some dried beans to keep the pie crust from puffing.
2 eggs plus 1 yolk (reserve extra egg white for glaze)
2 cups of fresh pumpkin (steamed and mashed)
¾ cup granulated sugar (I prefer brown sugar)
1 ½ cup of heavy cream
2 tablespoons of melted butter
½ teaspoon of salt
¾ teaspoon of cinnamon
½ teaspoon each of ground ginger and freshly grounded nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon of freshly ground cloves
Assembling the pie is very simple. Mix all in one large bowl and then pour into the pie shell. Bake for 45 minutes at 350°F or until you can insert a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean.
I promised however, not one but two recipes…so here goes the next one, made with a good dosage of creativity.
Pesto Sauce with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
2 cups packed fresh cilantro leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup freshly oven roasted toads*
½ teaspoon pan toasted cumin seeds
½ teaspoon pan toasted cilantro seeds
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese
1 small jalapeno pepper take out seeds, this is optional
Pumpkin seeds have a rich nutty flavor and it can be a perfect substitute for pine nuts which are much more expensive and heavier in fats. Instead of using basil as the traditional herb of pesto, I have substituted it with fresh cilantro and highlighted the flavors with cumin and cilantro seeds. There is an optional ingredient, the jalapeno, for those who like a bit of a bite in their sauce.
To make this sauce put all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Serve over pasta, baked fish or chicken.
As you can see, there is really no excuse to waste any of the pumpkin. If you have it as ewe or prohibition, then share it with others who can enjoy it. I see it go to waste so often and almost treated like it is such a horrible thing to consume because it is sacred to Oshun. I say, honor the orisha and learn additional ways to highlight this great blessing from the land.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá
*Just checking to see if you are paying attention! No toads were harmed in making this dish. It is really ¼ cup of oven roasted pumpkin seeds what you need to have here.