The idea for this recipe came to me one day while watching Guy Fieri’s “triple D” show on TV. He visited a diner that was serving cochinita pibil. Until that point, I had no idea such a thing existed but I knew I had to have some! I set out on an internet recipe quest to find out how it all worked. It turned out that cochinita pibil is a dish that has been enjoyed by the Mayans for eons. It is a marinade of citrus along with traditional Latin ingredients, cooked in banana leaves buried in a fire pit in the ground to cook. In essence, Mayan kalua pork. If you aren’t a pork fan, don’t worry. I’ve also made this dish with tri tip and chicken thighs. While the traditional method of cooking this is in the ground (“pibil”). I think my homeowners association may take issue with my digging a hole in the ground for purpose of dinner, so I cook it either on a barbeque or in the oven. This may even be a decent crock pot recipe, though I’ve not tried it that way. I typically like my taco very basic since this recipe needs very little help. So just garnish with a little chopped cilantro and diced onion with a squeeze of lime! For something extra special, you can always serve on homemade corn tortillas.
1/2 cup Achiote paste
10 cloves of garlic, chopped
Zest and juice of three limes
Juice of two oranges (the more tart the better)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 bay leaves, crushed
4 pound pork roast, cut into large chunks
1 pound banana leaves
1 onion, cut into ½ inch rounds.
5 Roma tomatoes, slices ½ inch thick
4 Anaheim chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded and sliced into thin strips. (*see note)
In large, non-metal bowl, mix together all ingredients, toss in the pork and let marinade tightly covered over night (large Ziploc is fine).
In a hot, dry skillet, char the onion and tomato slices on each side and set aside.
Line a baking dish in several layers of banana leaves, place the marinated pork in the middle, top with the chiles, charred onion and charred tomato and pour on a little more of the marinade, then fold the banana leaves up and inward forming a “package”. Tie the “package” with several pieces of string. Then wrap the “package” in two layers of tin foil.
Cooking methods vary. “Pibil” means to bury, so traditionally this dish was cooked in the ground wrapped in banana leaves. You can also cook it on the barbeque or in a baking dish or Dutch oven in the oven.
The goal is to cook on low heat for as long as possible. When the package is cut open, you should be able to shred the pork easily with a fork. In the oven or on the grill, 300 degrees will have it cooked in about 3 hours.
Serve on fresh tortillas with a little diced cilantro and onion and a squeeze of lime.
*To roast chiles, coat them in a little vegetable oil and place on a pan in the oven at 450 degrees. Turn frequently. Once the chili skins begin to blister and char, remove from the oven and place in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap while still hot. This process makes it very easy to just peel the skin off. From there you can also cut the seeds out. Chiles can also be roasted on the stovetop in a similar fashion in a skillet on medium-high heat.
Troubleshooting: If your banana leaves seem too stiff, place them on top of the barbeque or on a hot griddle to soften them up before use. I also understand that soaking them in hot water accomplishes the same thing.
When I first started cooking meat in a banana leaf I couldn’t believe the flavor of the meat, not to mention the moisture the banana leaf retains in your food. Banana leaves are abundant, fast growing, easy to use and super cheap to buy.
As I think about cooking food in banana leaf, I generally think that this is what tin foil was before there was such a thing. How handy is that? And so simple. It’s a leaf, then a tool and when that tool is done being used, it can be composted. No scaring of the earth to extract metals, no chemical washes, no advertising to sell it, no need to even wash it! That is truly an environmentally friendly thing. It makes me wonder how we ever made it from there to our now mass-produced tin foil. As you go about your day, think of ways that you can reduce your own impact on the Earth’s resources. Maybe you could use cloth napkins instead of paper (better for your hands and the planet). Maybe when you sit down to eat at a restaurant, you can skip the straw in your drink or the plasic cup lid next time you eat fast food in the restaurant. Maybe skip the plastic or paper bag on your 2 item purchase next time. Or maybe next time you are sitting in your parked car, you could roll the window down for fresh air instead of running the car and the air conditioning. However small the gesture, it makes a difference.
Don’t forget to enter our Cinco de Mayo contest for a chance to win either at $25 Amazon.com gift certificate or a tortilla press of your own!