Old New World: Mayan toksel, tsah bi yax ik and wah

toksel, tsah bi yax ik and wah

This pre-contact Mayan dish of toasted lima beans and squash seeds is traditionally made using heated cooking stones in a vessel - toksel means "burned and coarsely ground."  Rather than risk the dire twin possibilities of stones either exploding or flying from my pot, I opted for a more modern adaptation, used by the cooks today who still make this "elusive" and marvellously savory recipe. Tsah bi yax ik is a spicy green chile sauce with some oil added to it: tsah refers to the enriching fat, ik is used to name sauces and yax means green here. Wah are tortillas, thinner than pim, and the average Mayan may have eaten as many as 30 in one meal!

soaked and drained Christmas limas


makes about 4 servings

  • 1 cup dried lima beans, washed and soaked overnight
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 square inch dried Kombu
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup pumpkin or squash seeds
  • 1 hot green chile
  • 3 green onions

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

Simmer for 1/2 hour, then add  salt. Simmer 1/2 hour more or until beans are tender, adding water if necessary - you want to cook them down until they are mostly dry - and stirring occasionally.  Remove Kombu. 

While the beans are simmering, toast your pumpkin or squash seeds until golden brown either on the stove over medium heat (I use a small cast iron pan) or in the oven for 5 minutes at 350. Let cool, then grind them in a molcajete or a food processor, and set aside in a small bowl. Toast the hot green chile on the stovetop over medium heat as well, then destem and chop and set aside. Chop the green onions and set aside.

When the beans are done, drain if necessary and add the ground pumpkin seeds, chopped green chile and green onions. Stir very carefully so as not to crush the beans and simmer for 15 minutes on the lowest possible heat. Serve with wah and tsah bi yax ik or your favorite salsa.


chiles waiting to be toasted

tsah bi yax ik

makes about 2 cups

  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 5 fresh hot green chiles
  • 2 TBSP canola or other mild-tasting oil
  • 2 limes
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Toast your onion, garlic and chiles, either on the stovetop until the skins have some black spots or in the oven for 20 minutes at 425. Juice the limes and set aside the juice.

When you are done toasting your vegetables, peel the garlic and chop the onion, destem the chiles and chop. Grind the chiles in a molcajete or a food processor.

Sauté the onion and garlic in the oil over medium heat until the onion is translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the ground chiles and sauté for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lime juice and the salt.



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 wah in a clean towel to steam for about 10 minutes.



The Mayans did not distinguish between blue and green as abstract notions, so yax also refers to blue. 

If you're making toksel and tsah bi yax ik at the same time, you can toast all the chiles at the same time on the stovetop or roast all the vegetable together in the oven.

I used Christmas limas here, but you can use any kind of lima you like. If you can't find dried lima beans, frozen would work, just adjust the initial cooking time to about 10 minutes. I imagine fresh lima beans would be really tasty as well. 

If you keep the root end of the green onions in a little water after chopping off the green part, more green will grow - and quickly, too. 

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

toksel, tsah bi yax ik and wah