Old New World: Mayan ts'anchak bi k'um and pim

ts'anchak bi k'um, pim and garnishes

Squash and their seeds were incredibly important to the Maya. Ground or crushed pumpkin seeds show up in drinks, soups, sauces and the rare treat. When my sweetheart surprised me with a pretty Delicata squash, I knew I wanted to make a typical Mayan dish with it. K'um is the basic word for "pumpkin" in Maya and ts'anchak means "boiled;" this is a very simple preparation that uses garnishes to build flavor and it is one that is still made today. Pim is still the word for "tortillas" in Yucatec Maya today, sometimes doubled as pimpim.

squash about to be boiled

ts'anchak bi k'um

makes about 8 cups

  • 4 pounds pumpkin or other winter squash
  • 10 cups water
  • salt to taste
  • 2 dried chili peppers
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin or squash seeds
  • 2 limes

Seed and cut the squash, peeling if necessary, into 2 inch pieces and place in a large pot with the water. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until squash is tender, about an hour. Stir in salt. 

While the squash is simmering, toast your pumpkin or squash seeds until golden brown, then destem and toast your chili peppers, separately, in a heavy skillet (I use a small cast iron pan). Let cool, then chop the pumpkin seeds finely and set aside in a small bowl. Grind the chile peppers with a mortar and pestle or a molcajete  and set aside in separate small bowl. Quarter the limes when serving. Garnish the squash with the pumpkin seeds, chile peppers and lime or set out the small bowls of the garnishes along with the squash and pim.



makes 6

  • 1 cup masa harina
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup water plus more if necessary

Place the masa harina in a large bowl and stir in the salt. Add water and knead until the dough is firm but pliable. Form 6 balls of dough and cover them in the bowl with a damp  towel for 1 hour. 

Heat a flat pan over medium heat until drops of water dance and evaporate when flicked. Press between wax paper on a tortilla press or roll out into circles, then cook for about 2 minutes on each side. Fold stack of pim in a clean towel to steam for about 10 minutes.



If you have a spice grinder, feel free to use it to grind the pumpkin seeds and the chile peppers. 

You can substitute 1 TBSP crushed chile pepper if you don't have access to whole dried chile peppers. 

If you also use a Delicata, you don't have to peel it - you can eat the skin! 

You can save the squash seeds to plant or to use in other recipes. 

Recipe from Mayan Cooking: Recipes from the Sun Kingdoms of Mexico by Cherry Hamman. 

ts'anchak bi k'um, pim and garnishes

Old New World: Aztec chianatolli

Aztec chianatolli

The Aztecs ate or drank a variety of what are technically gruels. While I tend to associate the notion of a gruel with being sick, most of these starchy liquids were simply daily meals, though some of them were said to have medicinal qualities. There was atolli (water, lime and maize), nequatolli (water, lime, maize and maguey syrup), nechillatolli (water, lime, maize, honey and green chile), hoauhatolli (water, red amaranth, and honey) and many, many, more, including pinolli (ground toasted maize that could be transported and added to water) which is probably the most familiar today. Chianatolli (chía seeds, sometimes toasted and ground) could be taken plain or with chiles. You'll see a lot of optional options below!

chía seeds


makes about 5 cups

  • 4 cups water
  • 3 large limes (optional) 
  • 2 TBSP agave nectar (optional) 
  • 1/4 cup chía seeds
  • 1/4 tsp dried ground chile (optional)

If using limes, juice and set aside the juice. Toast the chía seeds by spreading in a pan over medium heat, stirring constantly,  just until they smell nutty, about two minutes. Set aside to cool.  Add agave nectar (optional) and lime juice (optional) to water and stir briskly. Strain into a pitcher and whisk chile (optional) and chía seeds. Chill for at least 30 minutes and stir briefly before serving.



I tried grinding the chía seeds with a mortar and pestle, but my mortar and pestle are very small - I wound up with tiny seeds all over the kitchen, so I opted to leave them whole.  If you have a larger mortar and pestle or a dedicated spice grinder, that would work.

I was pretty excited to learn that the maguey plant is the agave plant.  Maguey syrup would have been pretty similar to agave nectar, I imagine, although not raw agave nectar as maguey syrup was boiled down.

More modernly in Mexico lime juice is added to make a chía fresca; I'm not sure when this became commonplace but I find it more to my taste than the austere chianatolli. The plain chianatolli is more accurate, but try it both ways and see what you like!

Recipe adapted from Paletas by Fany Gerson and America's First Cuisines by Sophie D. Coe.

Aztec chianatolli

Old New World: Northeastern hazelnut soup and missiiagan-pakwejigan

Norhteastern hazelnut soup and missiiagan-pakwejigan

Nut soups were well-established in the pre-colonial Northeast and prepared by both the Algonquin and Iroquois or Haudenosaunee. I'm not sure who to attribute this version to, exactly, but it is a delicious soup. Erring on the side of Algonquin, this could be served with missiiagan-pakwejigan (Algonquin sunflower flatbread) or cornbread to round out the meal.

hazelnuts ready to be toasted

Northeastern hazelnut soup

makes 4 servings

  • 1 pound hazelnuts
  • 6-8 green ramps, green onions or nodding onions, white part only
  • 1/2 cup watercress, including stems
  • 2 TBSP hazelnut, sunflower or corn oil
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, until toasted. Remove and allow to cool. Place the cooled nuts in a clean kitchen towel and rub vigorously to remove as much of the papery skin as possible. 

Trim roots from the ramps and remove any woody stems or flowers. Thinly slice the ramps with their tops on and set aside.

Rinse and drain the watercress, removing woody stems or pale leaves. Chop coarsely. 

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add ramps and watercress and wilt for 3-5 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the broth and hazelnuts. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then decrease to medium-low and simmer for about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and mash, or, using a handheld blender, process until smooth.  Return to a simmer over medium heat, thin if necessary with more broth, and stir in salt. Serve immediately.



makes 4

  • 3/4 cup + 1 TBSP sunflower seeds
  • 3/4 cup + 1 TBSP water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 TBSP corn flour
  • corn oil for pan-frying

Place sunflower seeds, water and salt in a pot over low heat, cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Most of the water will be gone when well cooked; crush the seeds to make a paste, add the salt and stir. Then add the corn flour 1/2 tablespoon at a time to thicken. Allow to cool. Divide dough into 4 rounds, making small, flat pancakes. Heat the corn oil and fry each side until golden.


I substituted spinach for the watercress; any tender seasonal green will work here.

You can also make a sunflower seed or black walnut soup following the soup recipe. Don't toast the sunflower seeds, though.

I mashed the sunflower seeds with a potato masher right in the pot for about 7 minutes. 

If you don't want to use corn oil for the missiiagan-pakwejigan, you can use sunflower oil.

Shaping and pan-frying the missiiagan-pakwejigan  was very similar to shaping and pan-frying falafel for me, so if you've ever done that, you're halfway there.

Recipes from Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions by Fernando and Marlene Divina and nativetech.org.


Northeastern hazelnut soup and missiiagan-pakwejigan

Old New World: Crow biinettalappao

biinettalappao: blueberries, water and agave nectar 

Biinettalappao is a Crow pudding or gravy frequently made with chokecherries but also made with buffalo berries, huckleberries, blueberries, wild plums and grapes. Sadly, I've never even seen a chokecherry, so I went the blueberry route. Historically this thick fruit sauce was made by simmering parings from animal hides; more recently, arrowroot and other thickeners are used as well. As arrowroot has been cultivated in the Americas for over 7000 years, I used that.


makes 2 cups

  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 2 cups + 2 TBSP water
  • agave nectar, to taste
  • 2 TBSP arrowroot

In a pot, combine the blueberries and 2 cups of the water. Cook, stirring over medium heat, until the berries soften, and some burst. Sweeten to taste. 

In a small bowl, combine the arrowroot and the 2 TBSP of water to make a slurry. Stir slurry into the fruit and water mixture and simmer until thickened.


bubbling biinettalappao


You may need to adjust the amount of sweetener and thickener depending on what kind of fruit you use.  I used 1 TBSP agave nectar.

If you can find chokecherries, try them and let me know how it goes! They should be a very bright red. Traditionally the pits are left in and the seeds simply spat out, but you can strain the final mixture instead.

Recipe from Spirit of the Harvest: North American Indian Cooking  by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs.

biinettalappao in a small bowl 

Old New World: Hopi pinto beans with green chile sauce and blue corn tortillas

soaked and drained pinto beans 

If I thought I could get away with it like Amélie Poulain, I would be forever sticking my hands into barrels of dried beans. They're like treasure chests of lovely small gems: so smooth, so many colors. I may be prone to fits of whimsy but I'm no cinematic ingenue; I keep my hands to myself.

Today's bean is the marvelous Pinto bean, cooked up in a Hopi bean stew served with green chile sauce and blue corn tortillas.


Hopi pinto beans

makes 6-8 servings 

  • 2 1/2 cups dried Pinto beans, washed and soaked overnight
  • 7 cups water
  • 1 square inch dried Kombu
  • salt to taste

Rinse soaked beans and add to a pot along with the water and dried Kombu. 

Simmer for three hours or until beans are tender, adding water as needed and stirring occasionally.  Remove Kombu.

Add salt to taste; I used 1 tsp.

Serve over tortillas topped with chile sauce. 

green chile sauce 

makes about 3 cups 

  • 1 TBSP sunflower oil
  • 6 green chiles, seeds removed, chopped
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped

Heat the sunflower oil in a pot over medium heat. Add chiles, stir, then add tomatoes. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 8 minutes. Add onions and continue cooking until tender, about another 8 minutes.

peppers and tomatoes simmering for green chile sauce

blue corn tortillas 

makes 6

  • 1 cup blue cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup + 2 TBSP water
  • sunflower oil

Mix cornmeal and water until dough is pliable and moist, not sticky or wet. You may need to add more cornmeal or more water to get the right texture. 

Shape dough into 6 balls. 

Flatten balls with hands, rolling pin or tortilla press between sheets of waxed paper. 

Cook on a lightly oiled pan over medium heat until browned, about 4 minutes on each side.



You can make the beans earlier in the day or up to a few days beforehand.  Remove kombu, stir in salt and let cool for an hour if not using immediately and store beans in their cooking liquid, covered in the refrigerator. While not traditional, the kombu adds a nice savory note. The kombu will expand and may disintegrate a bit.

I used Poblano peppers for the chiles, but you can use hotter or milder chiles as you like. The green chile sauce isn't a thin sauce or even a chunky salsa - it's a pretty rough chop.

Blue corn tortillas are trickier than yellow corn tortillas - the dough goes from too wet to too dry very quickly when adding extra cornmeal and the pressed, uncooked dough is prone to cracking. They're very delicate, so take your time and don't worry if you mess the first few up. I certainly did!

Recipes, some slightly adapted, from Hopi Cookery by Juanita Tiger Kavena.

Hopi pinto beans with green chile sauce and blue corn tortillas