Pipián (pumpkin seed salsa)

Pipian pumpkin seed salsa DSC1166

I spend a lot of my spare time exploring the outer reaches of New York City in search of authentic and delicious Mexican food. Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Elmhurst, a Queens neighborhood right off the 7 train. Like most of the Mexican immigrants in New York City, the dominant Mexican population hails from the state of Puebla. This means you find lots of tingas, cemitas and moles. And it seems that now pumpkins are in season, you’re also seeing lots of pipián—a salsa made out of pumpkin seeds.

The first time I had pipián, it was a beige, thick sauce dotted with brown specks. It didn’t have much heat and tasted like pureed pumpkin seeds more than anything else. I didn’t like it and was reluctant to try pipián again.

On a recent Saturday, however, I wandered into a lively joint on Roosevelt Avenue. Two men in cowboy garb were singing Mexican karaoke and the crowd was a mix of large families and young couples. And almost everyone seemed to be eating chicken covered in a green sauce. I asked the waitress what it was and she pointed to the menu: on special that day was pipián.

Pipian (pumpkin seed salsa) | Homesick Texan
I have a few rules about deciding where I’ll eat Mexican food. One is that if it looks like I’m the only one who speaks English and there’s not an empty table in the joint, then the food will probably be good. Another rule is that I usually order the specials as these are often the cook’s specialty. So that Saturday afternoon, I squeezed into the last chair available and ordered the pipián.

The waitress brought me a plate piled high with chicken legs and thighs drenched in a light green sauce. I pulled off a bit of the meat from a drumstick and twirled it in the sauce before taking a bite. It was fiery! That was a surprise as my last (and only) experience with pipián had been so bland. I took another bite. It also had the tart, bright flavor of tomatillos, the sweetness of the pumpkin seeds and the tang of cilantro. I loved it! After I’d finished my chicken, I fortunately had a pile of corn tortillas to sop up the rest of the delicious sauce.

I was determined to recreate this at home, especially since I had a large supply of pumpkin seeds (or pepitas in Spanish). I then learned that there are not only countless ways to make pipián, but not all pipiáns are green. To further perplex me, there are a ton of recipes for green mole (mole verde), which sometimes looked awfully close to what others were calling pipián. I was very, very confused. (And if anyone knows the definitive answer to this, please let me know!)

Pipian (pumpkin seed salsa) | Homesick Texan
I decided to combine five recipes, culling my favorite ingredients from each one. The sauce was overwhelmingly bright and green with its radish greens, lettuce leaves, tomatillos and cilantro, and the pumpkin seeds made it rich and smooth. To warm things up a bit I threw in a pinch of cinnamon—a nod to other moles. The end result had a complex flavor that belied its simplicity. It was as good as I’d had in Elmhurst, if not better. I was thrilled!

Pipián is usually served with chicken or pork, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t serve it with turkey. Other moles are traditionally served with turkey, so I reckon it’s not too much of a stretch to pair this green mole with it. Plus, I tend to think of Mexican cuisine as protein agnostic—what really distinguishes most dishes are the sauces. So if you are looking for a different way to use up some of your leftovers, pipián could definitely be an option.

Pipian (pumpkin seed salsa) | Homesick Texan
I’m looking forward to the long weekend. And when I’m not in my kitchen cooking for the big feast, you’ll probably find me wandering around Queens, in search of delicious Mexican food.

Pipian pumpkin seed salsa DSC1166
4.5 from 2 votes

Pipián (Pumpkin seed salsa)

Servings 6
Author Lisa Fain


  • 2 poblano chiles
  • 3/4 cup pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
  • 4 Serrano chiles, seeded, and diced
  • 1 (10-ounce) can of tomatillos, drained
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro
  • 1 small bunch radish leaves
  • 2 romaine lettuce leaves
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil or lard
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon


  1. Cook the poblanos under the broiler for about 5 minutes on each side, or until blackened. Place poblanos in a closed paper bag for 15 minutes so they can steam. After 15 minutes, take the poblanos out of the bag, and gently rub off the skin. Remove the stem and seeds and dice the peppers and add to a blender.

  2. In an ungreased iron skillet, toast the pumpkin seeds on medium heat for a couple of minutes, then add to a blender, along with the Serrano chiles, tomatillos, cumin, black pepper, onion, garlic and 1/2 cup of chicken broth. Puree until well blended and smooth.

  3. Add the radish leaves, romaine lettuce leaves, cilantro to blender, and puree until well blended and smooth.

  4. In a pot, heat up the oil on medium and add the puree. Cook for a couple of minutes and then slowly add the rest of the chicken broth and the cinnamon.

  5. Cook on low for half an hour, stirring occasionally.

  6. Serve with turkey, chicken, pork or even tofu if you desire.

  1. Oh wow! This sounds like it would taste good with just about anything!

    Happy Thanksgiving Lisa!

  2. Exploring Mexican restaurants sounds like a swell way to spend your time, and this sounds like a delicious payoff for your efforts. Sounds like it would be super with turkey.

    I’m sorry you’re not getting to spend Thanksgiving with your family but I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving in New York!

  3. Culinarywannabe

    How interesting – who would have thought of grinding up pumpkin seeds. I too am always on the quest for good mexican food in NYC. For the past year or so I’ve been totally in love with the little tacos at Mercaditos.

  4. Woman Interrupted

    My cousin gets pipian from El Salvador. I assumed that it came dried and she cooks it into a dark brown sauce with speckles in it. It has a very rich, heavy flavor but not too spicy. She uses it to cook crabs in…so when you crack and eat ’em, you are licking this rich, flavorful sauce off your fingers. Oh, its amazing.

  5. [eatingclub] vancouver || js

    Such a beautiful colour on your pipian. I have pumpkin seeds left over so maybe I should try this sauce. Bookmarked: thanks!

  6. Anonymous

    Just a small nit: The accent should be on the “a”, not the “i”. It is pronounced “pee-pee-AHN”.

  7. Lisa Fain

    Kalyn–I just know that you’d love it! And I think it’s South Beach friendly.

    Julie–I’m bummed I’m not going to Texas, too, but city Thanksgivings with your friends are a blast.

    Culinarywannabe–You know, I haven’t been to Mercaditos yet, probably because I don’t spend that much time in Brooklyn. Sounds like a trip is in order!

    Woman Interrupted–Well, there are a ton of different pipians, so the fact that hers is dark brown doesn’t surprise me. And with crab? Oh, my!

    Eating Club Vancouver–Thank you–hope you enjoy it!

    Anon–Many, many thanks for the correction!

  8. Anonymous

    just a question, are the pumpkin seeds in their shell when you grind them?

  9. I’m glad to know that Mexican food can be found in Queens, as that is where I may also have to venture in search of good Indian food!

  10. LandShark 5150

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I have enjoyed your blog. This year is the first in a long run to spend away from home but your blog has made me feel as if I am there with family. The food I will miss also. From one TEXAN to ANOTHER take care YA!!

  11. TacoLady

    Pipian is like a mole with a nut base. Usually the nuts are ground pumpkins seeds but I’ve also seen sesame seeds used. I’ve seen green and red pipians. The red is pureed chiles. Pueblo mole has nuts and seeds in it, but maybe its not enough to qualify as a pipian. Happy Thanksgiving.

  12. Lisa Fain

    Anon–They’re seeds, so I believe there is no shell–just grind the whole thing!

    Olivia–The Indian food is awesome in Jackson Heights! It’s funny, when I moved here I ate a ton of Indian for the spice and fire because the Mexican offerings (back in 1995) was so pitiful.

    LandShark 5150–Happy Thanksgiving, my fellow Texan! I’m glad the blog has made you feel a little bit closer to home.

    TacoLady–Ah, I see. Thanks for the explanation–and a very happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

  13. Wow; that stuff looks and sounds delish. I must try it. Love the stories of your exploits around NY.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  14. Lisa Fain

    Lisa–Many thanks, and a very happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

  15. Lisa,
    What did you and your friends do for Thanksgiving? I have spent Thanksgiving in New York city before, and it was one of the best ever!

  16. Aha, Jackson Heights, thanks for even more info!

  17. Hi Lisa,
    I am relatively new to your blog, and I’m loving it! This looks delicious, but I was just reading the pie recipes on your blog and I was wondering, is there a reason why you use oil in your pie crust instead of the usual butter or shortening? Does using oil produce a better result?
    Also, just out of curiosity, how do Texans pronounce “pecan”? I’m from Australia and we seem to pronounce it very differently from the Americans.
    Although we don’t celebrate the holiday here in Australia, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

  18. I found your blog a month or so ago and ran across the recipe for your Grandma’s Chocolate Pie. I decided that I wanted to try it out, but I tweaked it a bit. The ingredients are the same, but I cooked it in the microwave instead of on the stove. It took two times at 1-1/2 minutes and one time at one minute, stirring after each interval in the microwave. Then I finished with the vanilla and butter and it was done. It took longer to measure the ingredients than it did to cook it, I think.

    My family loved it. Just wanted to say thanks for posting it. I hate using boxed mixes because they are full of preservatives and other chemicals as well as high fructose corn syrup.


  19. Protein agnostic. Heh. Never thought about it like that before.

    I could feel your happiness and excitement in recreating the sauce. Nothing feels more wonderful. 🙂 Thanks for the suggestion for a creative way to eat leftover turkey.

  20. I am so intrigued by this recipe! Ive always considered myself a Mexican food expert since Ive grown up in AZ with a LOVE of all things Mexican food. Ive never ever heard of this sauce! I cant wait to try it out. Ive got it bookmarked!

  21. Woman Interrupted

    I saw a little package of pipian at the grocery store (Gotta love Houston!)

    I may have to try my hand at this stuff!

  22. fritterblog

    I love the nut- and seed-based sauces that you find in Mexican cooking. Beautiful!

  23. I too was wondering if you ground the whole seed, shell and all. Some people would save the seeds after carving a Jack-0-Lantern dry em out in an oven, and salt them. They were then eaten like sunflower seeds, where the user would spit out the shells.

    Can you clarify this ?

  24. Lisa Fain

    Nancy–In the morning the parade, and then I went to a pot luck–very fun!

    Olivia–You’re welcome!

    Vidya–I don’t know why, but it’s my grandmother’s recipe and it’s been used for years–it’s still my favorite crust and it’s really easy to make as well. And we say pee-CON.

    Gloria–Thanks for the microwave tip–very handy! And I’m happy to hear your family loved it. I’ll let my grandmother know!

    Melissa–You’re welcome!

    Rachel–To be honest, I never heard of it until I moved to New York.

    Women Interrupted–It’s simple and delcious.

    Fritterblog–I know, the nuts add such a dept of flavor and luscious texture!

    Tommy–Well, technically pepitas are pumpkin seeds without the hull, but unless you buy them that way it’s a pain to get rid of, so you can grind hull and all.

  25. Paula Maack

    What a terrific post, Lisa! I am enjoying your blog tremendously.

    I, too,was born with a Jalapeno in my mouth! I will travel far and wide for a good taqueria and drag any willing parties with me. This is the first I have ever heard of Pipian. Thank you so much for sharing!!

    Your recipes sounds incredible! I can’t wait to try it. I told my husband about it, and he clapped his hands together and said “what are you waiting for?” Then, I pointed to the almost empty bowl of freshly roasted pumpkin seeds next to him and said… well, more pumpkin seeds, I guess.”

    Pepitas have since been added to my shopping list for next week (no way am I shopping this week, with a fridge full of leftovers and all). And, I am very much looking forward to tasting your creation.


    ~ Paula
    (of Ambrosia Quest)

  26. lisaiscooking

    This look delicious. It’s going on my list of stuff to try soon!

  27. Culinarywannabe

    Mercaditos is actually in the city – there is one in the east and west village. You really should try it with a group, since the tacos are the best for sharing. I ate at the downstairs “secret” restaurant at la Esquina last night though and it was AMAZING!! If you haven’t been there you must must go!! It’s very authentic and in a cool like prohibition style place.

  28. Amy C Evans

    Yes, please!

  29. I just came back from a trip to the Yucatan peninsula and now I’m craving authentic Mexican cuisine. Your recipe looks fantastic – I think I’m going to try it out tonight!

  30. _ts of [eatingclub] vancouver

    We made it already! =)

  31. Susan from Food Blogga

    I don’t know the definitive answer, but the pipian I make is green and it comes out a little chunky and thick, which is how I like it. I usually serve it with grilled pork, but I love it on eggs too. Yours sounds great!

  32. jxhtsarch

    Which Mexican restaurants in Elmhurst / Jackson Heights do you recommend? I live in JH and haven’t really explored the non-South-Asian places as much as I should…

  33. Anonymous

    Hi there– I live in New York am just starting to get serious about cooking Mexican cuisine. Can you share any recommended markets, in Queens or otherwise, for chiles and spices? Thanks!

  34. Lisa Fain

    Anon–In Queens I go to Bravo and Associated on Roosevelt in the low 80s, I believe, for very fresh chiles. There are also a ton of Mexican mini-marts that sell all sorts of things as well. 116th in Harlem also has a few markets.

  35. This looks so delicious! 🙂
    All the ingredients in it look great– and good idea to make this with This looks so delicious! 🙂
    All the ingredients in it look great– and good idea to make this with pumpkin seeds !
    You don't by any chance know a good place to find pumpkin seeds , do you?
    I've been looking around online for these so I can make pumpkin pie also. 🙂

    Really like your blog


  36. Lisa Fain

    Tina–You should be able to buy them at any grocery store.

  37. Lisa: I will *definitely* be trying this.
    @Tina- I normally get my Pumpkin Seeds from NutsOnline– I've looked a fair bit and they seem to consistently have the best prices.
    Lovely blog and post Lisa– all looks really tasty!

  38. As a (homesick) Texan currently living in Puebla and working on a cookbook of traditional Pueblan recipes, I thought I'd chime in.

    The pepitas used in pipián verde are toasted and ground still in the shell, which should still have a green hue when bought. The pepitas are more slender in shape than the fatter, rounder pumpkin seeds we commonly think of. The pepitas are very slowly toasted and stirred almost constantly for an hour or more so they don't burn and become bitter or lose their green color on a comal de barro (clay disc used to make tortillas or roast tomatoes, tomatillos or chiles for guisados and salsas), or, more recently, a metal comal over the stove. The toasted pepitas are then taken to a molino, or "grinder," where they are ground to a pebbly paste. The spice grinder does a good job as a substitute. Some recipes also called for sesame seeds to be toasted and ground with the pepitas. This ground mixture is then fried in hot oil until it deepens in color, stirring continually (about 10 minutes). The raw tomatillos and serrano chiles are blended with a clove or two of garlic and added to the pepitas. Only after the pipián seasons for another 20 or so minutes are the ground cilantro, lettuce and/or radish leaves, epazote and another Mexican herb called hoja santa blended and added to the pipián, adding more green color to the dish. Add broth to obtain the desired consistency, throw in some chicken or turkey and season, adding salt to taste, for another 8-10 minutes and you have a delicious pipían. I have not seen pipián verde with cumin or cinnamon but it doesn't mean it can't be done.

    I love the variety of Tex-Mex and traditional Mexican recipes on this blog! I'll certainly be visiting often.

Leave a Reply to Lauren Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

Recipe Rating