Saturday, September 16, 2017


I'm going to be away for a few days, so I've invited a guest blogger this week--my son, Daniel Searl, who is a Spanish teacher and Director of Hispanic Student Development Equity and Inclusion at Westminster School in Atlanta, GA. Twice a year Daniel is one of three faculty members to lead a group of Westminster students on the Guatemala Global Education program.

During a nine-day stay in Antigua, Guatemala, using materials purchased through fundraising, students work with Guatemalan families to build affordable and safe homes. The homes are part of a wider campaign, in partner with From Houses to Homes, to connect families with educational, health care, and housing opportunities.

Key delivery for a new home with a real roof to this family in Guatemala. Students from Westminster school collaborated in the building. Faculty advisor, Daniel Searl, is in the center, wearing the black tee-shirt.

Not all is bricks and mortar, though. The kids also enjoy a trek to nearby volcanoes, cycling, sports events with Guatemalan students and even cooking classes.

 The completion of each simple, cement block house is celebrated with  key delivery to the recipient family and a communal meal as sumptuous as a Thanksgiving feast. Daniel sends photos from this summer's Guatemala trip and a recipe for pepián, considered the national dish of Guatemala.

Students and family share tortillas and a feast of pepián, a typical Guatemalan dish with chicken and chilies.

El Señor Max is the man of the 'new' house.  A proud man who worked his tail off everyday, all day, building his new home.

Corn tortillas cook on an outdoor brazier.

The feast is ready--bowls of pepián with chicken, pumpkin seeds, chile-inflected sauce, and rice. The centerpiece is a basket of warm tortillas wrapped in a colorful woven huipil.

The newly constructed house has a skylight that beams light onto the table.
Chicken with Pumpkin Seeds and Chilies
Pepián de Guatemala

Pepián is a simple stew with complex flavors. Layers of flavor are enhanced by roasting each ingredient to bring out the full fragrance of each.*Note: dried chilies and spices can purchased online if not available in your area*

1 whole chicken
2 guaque chilies (dried, de-seeded and de-veined) 
guaque - guajillo
2 pasa chilies (dried, de-seeded and de-veined) 
4 oz raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
4 oz sesame seeds (ajonjoli)
2 medium white onions 
6 large black peppercorns
6 cloves (clavo de olor)
3 large cloves of garlic
1 small bunch cilantro
9 roma/plum tomatoes (approx 1 lb) 
1 Tbsp dried oregano
½ stick cinnamon (canela)
1.5 lbs potatoes
1 qüisquil (chayote or substitute hard-skinned squash)
1 cup corn kernels
Cooked rice to accompany
Tortillas as a side

Cut whole chicken into 8 or more pieces. The chicken can be cooked skin on or off, as preferred. The bones are included and add flavor to the dish. Boil chicken in a stock pot in roughly 3 liters/quarts of water. Water should cover the chicken by about 2 inches. Add 1 heaping Tbsp salt and ¼ onion to the water while the chicken boils.

While the chicken is boiling, roast in a heavy skillet or plancha the dried chilies (de-seeded and de-veined) over a medium low flame until very dry and fragrant. Once roasted, crumble chilies into a mixing bowl. All roasted ingredients will be combined in this bowl.

Roast raw pumpkin seeds until toasted. Add to mixing bowl.

Roast sesame seeds until lightly toasted. Add to mixing bowl.

Roast one whole onion cut into sections with black peppercorns, cloves and garlic. 
Add to mixing bowl.

Toast fresh cilantro on stovetop in a skillet the same as the other ingredients. This will become very fragrant. Add to mixing bowl.

Roast tomatoes. These take the longest to roast. They are likely to become black but should be roasted until soft. Add to mixing bowl.

Roast 1 Tbsp dried oregano. Add to mixing bowl.

Roast ½ stick cinnamon until dry and fragrant. Add to mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl cut peeled potatoes into large chunks. Cut qüisquil into thick slices and peel. Cut remaining onion into chunks. Add these to the chicken pot once chicken is almost cooked.

Combine all roasted ingredients and add 3 ½ cups water. Blend liquid and roasted ingredients in a blender to combine fully. Add the mixture to the chicken pot. Continue cooking at a rolling boil, adding the vegetables part way through cooking, until the sauce reduces and all ingredients are cooked through. The sauce is typically like a thick soup.

Serve with cooked rice and corn tortillas. 

Westminster School 


  1. Hello Daniel! What a wonderful sounding recipe; must try. And how wonderful to see what you are doing as an adult. I remember first meeting you many years ago when you and Ben were children. Your work is so worthy and so needed in this world, especially now, more than ever!

  2. Looks like an amazing home! And I can't wait to try that recipe, I'm really curious cause it looks so good!