As with all heritage recipes, there are many versions for this particular one. It is essentially turkey legs cooked in a red broth made of tomatoes, spices and chilies and accompanied by small white tamales steamed in banana leaves. This dish from the Q’eqchi’ Maya region of Alta Verapaz, Cobán has been declared Cultural Heritage by the Ministry of Culture and Sports in 2007 and we are happy to share it with you.
This comes from a mixture of several recipes we found, and I also had the good fortune of getting help from Sandra who helps me around the house once a week, and it just so happens she knows how to make Kaq’ ik! She also made the white tamales that accompanied it. I thought this would be quite hard to make, but it wasn’t at all. Just make the red sauce, cook the chicken and then put it all together. I used chicken thighs instead of turkey legs, because I could not find any. See my note below regarding the cooking time if you are going to substitute.
A Foodies’ Original Recipe
7 tomatoes (leave them whole)
½ lb tomatillo (leave them whole)
1 large onion, quartered
2 ½ large red bell peppers, opened and seeded
1 dried guaque chili, opened and seeded
1 dried pasa chili, opened and seeded
6 dried cobán chilies*
1 garlic head, garlic cloves peeled and separated
1 tablespoon achiote paste (annato paste)
1 bunch spring onion stalks
1 cilantro bunch
3 ½ lbs turkey legs (about 3 turkey legs)*
4 cups chicken stock
mint leaves for garnish
White tamales and rice to serve on the side
First, you will make the red sauce:
- Turn your oven broiler to high.
- Place tomatoes, tomatillo, onion, red bell peppers, garlic, guaque, pasa and coban chilies in a cookie sheet that has been covered with foil. (this is just to make clean up easier).
- Broil the vegetables for about 3 minutes. Keep an eye on them so your chilies don’t burn. After about 3 minutes, remove the chilies from the oven so the rest of the vegetables can continue to brown.
- As soon as you see their skins begin to char, remove from the oven.
- Put all the ingredients and the chilies in the blender. Start by pulsing it, and help yourself by smashing everything in with a wooden spoon (turn off the blender when you’re sticking the spoon in). The liquid from the tomatoes will make it all come together. If you need to add a little liquid, add about ½ cup of chicken stock. Add achiote and give it another blend.
- Strain it and set aside.
In a separate large pot:
- Place turkey legs and chicken stock with enough water to just cover them, add about 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 garlic cloves. Put the lid on the pot to let it cook for about 1 hour and the turkey is tender. Halfway through the cooking process, add green onions and half of the cilantro to the pot. These will be removed later, so don’t bother chopping it.
- When the turkey is cooked, remove the green onion and cilantro as well as the legs from the broth and remove the meat from the bones (this step is optional. Traditionally, a whole leg is served in a bowl, but it’s much easier to eat the soup with the meat off the bone — and off the bone it serves more people.)
- Return the turkey meat to pot, add the red sauce, and stir well. Add half of the chopped cilantro, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, and then cook for another 30 minutes. Check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if you like.
Serve in bowls garnished with mint and cilantro. This dish is accompanied by white tamales and white rice.
- Cobán chillies can be substituted by cayenne pepper. Cayenne pepper is also quite hot, so add it little by little and test the flavor as you go along.
- If you can’t find turkey legs, use chicken thighs. These will not take 1 hour to cook (Step 1, part 2), so set your timer to 30 minutes instead of 1 hour. Since chicken thighs are much smaller, you don’t have to remove the meat from the bone.
- You can find achiote (annato) paste in latin markets. If you don’t find the paste, you can use powder. I recently saw that Badia Spices has Annato among its products.
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