Xeni Atapakua (Three-Seed Pipián with Sorrel)

Atapakua is a Purhépecha term that refers to whole range of stew-like dishes thickened with masa. In this atapakua from Imelda Campos Sebastián (also known as doña Mela) of Michoacan, Mexico, sorrel adds bright acidity to a masa-thickened sauce made of a blend of seeds and vegetables. Greens like mature arugula, mustard greens, or Swiss chard can stand in for sorrel in this dish but will lack its punchy flavor. (If substituting heartier Swiss chard or mustard greens for sorrel, remove the stems before using). Doña Mela doesn't serve this dish with lemon, but if sorrel is unavailable, squeeze in a few drops of lemon juice before serving. Yerba buena, similar to orange mint, has a citrusy, minty flavor with notes of pine; look for it or orange mint at Mexican grocery stores or at plant nurseries.

Xeni Atapakua
Photo: Photo by Felipe Luna
Active Time:
40 mins
Total Time:
55 mins


  • .666 raw pepitas (about 3 3/8 ounces)

  • ½ cup shelled raw peanuts (about 2 3/4 ounces)

  • ¾ cup white sesame seeds (about 3 3/8 ounces)

  • 1 medium dried guajillo chile (about 1/4 ounce), stemmed

  • 4 medium dried chiles de árbol, stemmed

  • 4 small garlic cloves, peeled

  • 2 large spring onions (about 8 ounces), green parts and bulbs separated, roots trimmed

  • 5 ¾ cups chicken stock or water, divided, plus more as needed

  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste 1/3 cup fresh masa (about 3 1/2 ounces)

  • 6 (6-inch) yerba buena sprigs, divided

  • 1 medium bunch sorrel (about 4 ounces), mature arugula, or stemmed Swiss chard or mustard greens, roughly torn (about 3 firmly packed cups)

  • Tortillas, for serving


  1. Toast pepitas in a heavy skillet (such as a 10-inch cast-iron skillet) or comal over medium-low, stirring constantly, until seeds are fragrant, begin to pop, and turn a delicate golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl. Add peanuts to skillet, and cook, stirring constantly, until glossy and fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a separate small bowl. Toast sesame seeds in skillet, stirring constantly, until seeds are fragrant and darken a few shades past their natural bone color, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a separate small bowl.

  2. Cook guajillo chile and chiles de árbol in same skillet over medium-low, flipping and moving chiles constantly to avoid burning, which will make them bitter, until skins darken a few shades and turn glossy, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer chiles to a bowl. Add garlic to skillet, and cook, turning often, until fragrant and golden in spots, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer garlic to bowl with chiles. Add spring onion greens and bulbs to skillet, and cook, turning occasionally, until greens are softened and wilted and bulbs are lightly charred all over, about 3 minutes for greens and 8 to 10 minutes for bulbs. Transfer to a cutting board to let cool. Once cool enough to handle, roughly chop bulbs; set aside.

  3. Grind sesame seeds into a coarse powder using a mortar and pestle or a metate (see Note). Repeat grinding procedure with pepitas and peanuts. If using a food processor, process each ingredient separately for about 30 seconds.

  4. Combine the 3 powders in a food processor. With food processor running, gradually add 1 cup chicken stock, and process until mixture forms a coarse paste, about 30 seconds. Add chiles and garlic. Process until mostly incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add spring onion greens and chopped bulbs. With processor running, gradually add 1/2 cup chicken stock, and process until mixture resembles slightly grainy peanut butter, 1 to 2 minutes. Add salt, and pulse until combined, about 5 pulses.

  5. Bring 4 cups chicken stock to a boil in a large, well-seasoned clay casserole dish (cazuela) or 4-quart Dutch oven over medium-high. Stir in nut and seed mixture, and return to a boil over medium-high, stirring occasionally. While mixture comes to a boil, whisk together masa and remaining 1/4 cup chicken stock in a small bowl.

  6. Reduce heat to medium-low, and gradually stir in masa mixture. Allow the pipián to simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 15 to 25 minutes. It should be looser than a porridge but thicker than a soup; the surface should splutter as the mixture slowly reduces.

  7. When ready to serve, return the pipián to a boil over medium-high, stirring occasionally, adding chicken stock as needed to thin to desired consistency. Once boiling, stir in leaves from 5 yerba buena sprigs (about 1/4 cup). Boil 2 minutes. Stir in sorrel, and cook, stirring occasionally, until greens are wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Garnish with remaining yerba buena sprig. Serve directly on the plate with tortillas, or, for a heartier meal, use as a sauce for fried short ribs, pork chops, or chicken thighs.

Make ahead

Pipián can be prepared through step 6 and cooled, covered, and refrigerated up to 1 day ahead.


To substitute masa harina for fresh masa, stir together 1/3 cup (1 1/8 ounces) masa harina (we tested with Masienda brand) and 1/4 cup water. Whisk together with an additional 1/4 cup chicken stock or water before adding to the pipián.

Traditionally, the seeds and nuts in this recipe are ground using a metate, a grinding stone made from volcanic rock similar to a mortar and pestle. This tool is the heart of many of Mexico's Indigenous kitchens. ($130, mexgrocer.com)

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