Yucatecan Vegan Tamales for Day of The Dead (Pibipollo Vegano)
Pibipollo or mucbipollo is a traditional dish served in the Yucatan to celebrate Day of the Dead, or Hanal Pixan as it is called in the native Mayan language. This huge tamal is unlike any other and an absolute must try. This is my vegan take on a delectable ancient dish and it's guaranteed to please everyone!
thinly sliced habanero pepperor a milder chile may also be used, as needed
In a large pot heat up the oil, once hot add the onion and saute until soft. Next add the minced garlic and saute for a minute, then add the potatoes and fry for about 5 minutes. Next add the patty pan or pumpkin and cook for a few more minutes (If using regular zucchini add at step 2). Carefully pour in the broth, sprinkle in the seasonings and allow to simmer until the vegetables are soft -- but not mushy.
PREPARING THE KOL OR SAUCE
While you wait for the veggies to cook combine all of the ingredients from the kol or sauce list. This will make a thickish mixture that you'll use in step 4.
PREPARING THE MASA OR DOUGH
Next prepare the masa (or dough) by combining the achiote paste with the 2 cups of broth and oil in a bowl. Whisk or stir until the paste has completely dissolved. Now in a large bowl combine the corn flour with the salt, then little by little begin mixing the liquid mixture into the flour. Use your hands to work the liquid into the flour and continue to add more until you achieve a dough with the consistency of play dough -- not too dry, and not too wet. Lastly add the cooked black beans from the masa ingredients list and work them into the dough until they are distributed throughout. Cover the bowl and set aside.
CONTINUE COOKING THE FILLING AND PREPARING THE SAUCE
Once the vegetables are soft, add the cooked beans and the spinach (if using regular zucchini add now) to the pot. Then pour in the mixture from step 2 and simmer under low heat for 10 minutes. After this very carefully separate the cooked vegetables from the broth by placing a large colander over a big bowl or large pot, and draining the broth into the bowl or pot. You need to reserve both! Once the veggies have drained off the liquid set them aside and pour the liquid back into your cooking pot. At this time taste this broth and if needed add more salt or any of the seasonings from the filling ingredients list. Next, over medium-low heat gently simmer this leftover reddish broth until it becomes thick like a gravy. Depending on how humid it is where you live you may or may not need to add another tablespoon or two to the broth in order for it to thicken up.
PUTTING THE TAMAL TOGETHER
While you wait for the sauce to thicken up preheat the oven to 200°C or 392°F and have a large baking sheet ready. You can either make the whole pibipollo in a large deep baking dish, or you can prepare 4 individual sizes like I did (which aren't too small). The process will be the same but if you will do the one large then the process isn't repeated, of course.
Once the sauce has thickened up you can start shaping the tamales. If making one large tamal then set about one quarter of the dough aside to make the lid. If making 4 individual tamales then separate the dough into 4 equal parts, from each of these four pieces remove one quarter to make the lid. With each piece make a ball. If making the one large tamal, layer the baking dish with banana leaves until they cover the entire dish and even fall off the sides. If making the 4 smaller ones lay a large piece or two of banana leaf on your working surface. Place the dough ball on the centre of the banana leaf and use your fist and hands to form a bowl just like you see in the photos. Next scoop in some of the vegetable filling and spread it around the cavity of your dough bowl to create an even layer. Then arrange slices of tomato, onion, and the chile around the top of the filling. Next ladle some of the red sauce over each tamal and smear it around.
Next take that remaining quarter piece of dough and lay it on another piece of banana leave. Use your palms and fingers to flatten the masa and create a flat thin disk that is large enough to cover your tamal bowl. If you'd like you can spread a little bit of the red sauce over the top before proceeding. Once ready carefully place the flat disk over the filled tamale and pinch it around the edges to seal it. Now as best as you can fold the edges of the banana leaf that you placed your tamal on, to create a wrapping. Carefully lift the wrapped tamal onto your baking sheet and continue until all four are prepared, once they are place in the oven and bake for 2 hours. Keep an eye on it because the banana leaves will crisp up and smell like their are burning.
After baking your tamal or four tamales, leave them to rest for 10 minutes so they can cool down and be handled. When ready to serve place each one on a serving plate and carefully cut away the banana leaf wrapper to expose the tamal. Since this one is bake the texture will be firmer and a bit drier -- in fact the top crust will even crisp up but be tender in the inside.
Refrigerate any leftovers for up to one week and you can also freeze the uncooked pibipollo for a few months if desired.
Notes Traditionally this dish is prepared with a local variety of squash, but any of the mentioned alternatives work well.The espelon black beans that are typically used are not easily found outside of the region, but regular black beans will work.You can make this dish as spicy or mild as you like. For the extra spicy version use slices of habanero chilies, for a medium heat use serrano peppers, and for a milder version use jalapeno peppers.