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

Old New World: Aztec tlahtlaōyohs with chile Poblano sauce

tlahtlaōyohs with chile Poblano sauce


Tlahtlaōyohs are still around and kicking! Sort of. They are known today by a version of their Nahuatl name as tlatloyos or tlacoyos and sold as street food in Mexico, though these days they are not usually stuffed but rather topped with ingredients. Stuffed corn tortillas, called memelas, may also be descended from the tlahtlaōyoh, possibly from the kind known as tlascalmimilli described in the Florentine Codex:

"They also ate small rolls which were not round but long which they called Tlascalmimmili; these were long and rounded, about the length of the palm of the hand or a bit less." 

The recipe I was working with assumed the cook would be more experienced than I am in the ways of tlahtlaōyohs and simply called for "medium sized" ones "filled with beans" so I eyeballed this non-vegan recipe from Serious Eats to get an approximation of the ratio of masa to water.


Mayocoba beans after soaking overnight

Mayocoba bean filling

makes about 2 cups

  • 1 cup dried Mayocoba beans, soaked overnight
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

 Drain and rinse your beans. Put in a large pot and cover with at least 2 inches of water. Add the garlic.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until tender, about 2 hours. Remove from heat, drain leaving about 2 TBSP of cooking liquid in the pot, and let cool for about half an hour and then mash right in the pot.


  chile poblano sauce

makes about 2 cups

  • 2 Poblano chiles
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic

Blacken the chiles, either on a grill, in the oven or on a burner. Peel, destem, deseed and devein the chiles.  Stem the tomatoes. Mash all ingredients together either in a molcajete or with a food processor.

balls of masa dough


makes 4 servings

  • 1 cup masa harina
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup water, more if needed

While the beans are cooling, 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 4 balls of dough, cover them in the bowl with a damp  towel and set aside until the beans are mashed.

Press dough balls between wax paper on a tortilla press or roll out into circles. Divide the beans among the rounds and fold them in half, pressing the edges together firmly to seal.

Heat a flat pan over medium heat until drops of water dance and evaporate when flicked, then cook for about 4 minutes on each side.

Serve with the chile Poblano sauce. 


As always, be careful when handling spicy peppers.  I wear gloves even for Poblanos, which are supposed to be mild but can set my hands on fire for days.

Mayocoba beans are heirloom beans from Peru that range in color from ivory to pale lime and are a tasty and mild bean.  Feel free to substitute pinto beans or black beans if you can't find Mayocobas.

You might think these look like empanadas - and you'd be right. The idea of forming them into oval shapes seemed a little overwhelming so I went with what I know. For stuffed doughs like dumplings, empanadas and tlahtlaōyohs, I like to make the "bellies" of the dough balls a little thicker than the edges rather than perfectly round to make sure they don't break open.

I didn't use any oil in cooking these. This isn't because I hate oil but because, according to Sophie Coe, there weren't any Aztec methods used for great quantities of oil extraction or contemporaneous cooking vessels that appeared to be used for oil frying or sautéing. This may or may not be true - cooking vessels can be destroyed or used in an unfamiliar way - but I decided to give it a shot and it worked out just fine.  After all, I don't use oil when cooking tortillas!

Recipes adapted from Serious Eats and Cocina Prehispanica by Ana M. de Benitez.



Old New World: Haudenosaunee Three Sisters salad

Haudenosaunee Three Sisters salad

I feel like the Three Sisters are something that is glossed over only very briefly in California public grade schools, right before you learn how to make hand turkeys. But it's such an interesting thing! If you've never heard of the Three Sisters, they are companion plants,  staple crops grown together - corn, beans and squash. The corn provides a natural trellis for the beans, the beans provide nitrogen to the other plants, the prickly vines of the squash deter pests and the leaves of the squash protect the soil below against weeds and also allow it to retain moisture. When eaten together, these Three Sisters also provide a wonderful balance of nutrition. This salad is based on a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) dish.

cranberry beans after soaking overnight

Three Sisters salad

makes 4 to 6 servings

  • 2 cups dried cranberry beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 TBSP sunflower oil
  • 2 TBSP agave nectar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 summer squash
  • 2 ears corn
  • 3 tomatoes

Drain and rinse your beans. Put in a large pot and cover with at least 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until tender, about 2 hours. Drain and set aside.

While your beans are cooking, you can prepare the corn and squash. Slice the squash in half lengthwise. If using a grill, grill the squash until crisp-tender (about 10 minutes) flipping once, and husk and grill the corn until lightly browned, turning to brown on all sides. If using an oven, at 425 roast the squash for 20-25 minutes, turning once, and roast the corn, unhusked, at 350 for 30 minutes.

Cut the corn from the cobs into a large bowl. Slice the squash into half-moons and add to the bowl. Add the beans and chop and add the tomatoes. Toss gently to mix.

In a small bowl, combine the apple cider vinegar, agave nectar, sunflower oil and salt and pepper. Toss with the salad in the larger bowl.  Serve at room temperature.


I like to use mixed colors for the tomatoes and the squash. 

Cranberry beans are a beautifully striated and quite round bean, but they will lose a bit of their distinct striping after soaking and cooking. If you can't find them, pinto beans or even cannellini beans would work here.

Recipe adapted from The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook: Recipes from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian  by Richard Hetzler.

 Haudenosaunee Three Sisters salad in a small bowl