Chicken with Pepita Pesto

When I first started this blog I was a staunch traditionalist when it came to Mexican food and cooking.  I believed that to really understand it I had to use purely classic recipes and I held my nose up to those who strayed from lo tradicional.  But these days, I’m over it.  While I still love traditional recipes, I no longer have qualms about deviating from strictly classic Mexican fare.  At the end of the day, the adjective traditional, as we apply it to Mexican cuisine, is very relative.  Given the history of colonization and migration and the addition of new ingredientes, recipes and techniques over time,  it’s really hard to define what´s truly traditional and what’s not. These days I prefer to embrace new interpretations of recipes and if they’re tasty, that’s really what most important.

With that, I give you a recipe that comes from British chef, Diana Henry’s cookbook Bird in the Hand.  The dish is described as being Mexican and while I´ve never seen anything like this before, it does call for a variety of ingredients that recall flavors typical to the Mexican palette.  The dish includes oregano, pumpkin, lime, pepitas, allspice, cilantro and fresh chilli giving it a nutty, sweet and spicy flavor.  It’s a great, easy option for dinner parties, makes wonderful leftovers and the pepita pesto is delicious.

I haven’t changed this recipe too much.  The original version calls for pumpkin, but I was unable to find any so I’ve replaced it with sweet potatoes.  I´ve also decided to quickly brown the chicken before baking to give the skin a crispier texture.

If you´re interested in checking out the original recipe click here.


  • 4 -6 chicken thighs with skin
  • 1 tbsp piloncillo or brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves picked
  • 1 tbsp Mexican oregano
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground allspice
  • 3 tbsp of lime juice
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 5 cups of chopped sweet potatoes, skin on (about one large sweet potato)
  • Cilantro for serving
  • Fresh cheese for serving (queso fresco, queso cotija, feta, etc.

Pepita Pesto

  • ¼ cup hulled pepitas (about 20 grams)
  • ¼ cup of  unroasted, unsalted cashews (about 40 grams)
  • ¼ cup of olive oil
  • ½ cup of cilantro with the stems
  • 1 serrano chilli, without the stem
  • ½ tsp of salt

Pepita Pesto:

In a small pan, on low to medium heat, toast the pepitas, stirring frequently.  When they are popping and slightly browned remove from heat. In a blender or food processor add all of the pesto ingredients and blend together.  Check for salt and set aside.


Mix together the spices, fresh herbs, sugar, salt, lime juice and olive oil.  In a bowl mix the marinade with the chicken and let sit for at least a couple of hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or 180 degrees Celsius.

In a bowl, mix the chopped sweet potatoes with olive oil and arrange them on a shallow roasting pan.  Bake for 15 -20 minutes.

While the sweet potatoes are baking brown the chicken thighs on medium to high heat on each side for about 3 minutes.

Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven and arrange the chicken thighs on the pan.  Pour the remaining marinade over the chicken.

Bake the chicken and sweet potatoes for about 40 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and check to make sure chicken is done.  

Use the baking dish for serving, there is no need to dirty anymore dishes!  Sprinkle with cheese and add a dollop of the pepita pesto on each piece of chicken.  Add cilantro and serve with the extra pepita pesto on the side.

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