Mexican Chicken Stew

Mexican cuisine is a unique blend of flavors that mixes Old World herbs such as garlic, oregano, cumin, cinnamon and lime, with distinctly Central American representatives such as chili, cacao, epazote, and annatto seed (achiote). With its reliance upon soupy stews and legume dishes, Mexican cuisine is in many ways similar to Indian cuisine, relying on a highly flavored mixture of spices and herbs called a mole that resembles the masala spice mixtures used in India.

This recipe calls for the chipotle pepper, which derives its unique flavor from carefully smoking the chili over different types of wood including mesquite, hickory, oak and other hardwoods. Although ripe jalapeño peppers are typically used, a variety of other peppers can be dried and smoked for this purpose including the relatively mild pasilla pepper, the hotter morita and serrano peppers, and the catecholamine-pumping habañero. Smoking the chili peppers reduces the intensity of heat by about 20-30%, and adds an earthy, smoky flavor that is distinct to Mexican cuisine. If you can’t get chipotle, you can try making your own chili powder by dry roasting cayenne pepper with other herbs such as paprika, and smaller amounts of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and black pepper. Chili peppers are excellent to enhance digestion, eliminate congestion (kapha) and promote good circulation, but are contraindicated in excess heat (pitta) and dryness (vata).

This recipe also calls for epazote, a relative of lambsquarters and a frequent weed of Mexican gardens. It has an aromatic flavor reminiscent of gasoline or paint thinner, but when cooked yields more of a citrusy herb flavor. It is used to enhance the digestion of legumes, and is excellent to prevent and rid the body of parasites, which are more common in warmer climates like Mexico.

1 whole chicken
2 onions, chopped
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
6 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 head garlic, minced
2 tbsp. dried oregano
2 tbsp. paprika
1 tbsp. dried basil
1-2 tsp. dried epazote
1 tsp. cumin seed
2-3 dried bay leaves
2-5 chipotle dried peppers, finely chopped
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
2-3 tbsp. olive oil
cilantro, as garnish
goat feta, as garnish

In a pressure cooker at medium heat, sauté onions and celery, and add in garlic, oregano, paprika, basil, epazote, cumin seed, chipotle peppers, salt and pepper. Cook until onions are translucent and add in tomatoes. Move all the vegetables to the side of the pot and place the whole chicken in the center. Add in 2-3 cups of chicken stock and the bay leaves. Cover pressure cooker, bring to a boil and then cook under highest pressure for 60-80 minutes. This can also be cooked in a Dutch oven for approximately 2-3 hours at 350˚F/180˚C. Before serving, use a spoon to break the chicken into small pieces and remove the large bones. Serve with freshly made tortillas and/or rice, and garnish with crumbled goat feta and chopped cilantro.