Old New World: Mayan ts'anchak bi chay and pim

ts'anchak bi chay, toasted and chopped pumpkin seeds, pim

The leaves from the chaya tree were used for both food and medicine by the pre-contact Maya and apparently every family grew a tree whenever and wherever they settled. If you do happen to come across a chaya tree, keep in mind that the leaves are toxic when raw; cook them for at least 20 minutes. Since I don't have a chaya tree, I used kale in this simple, naturally vegan dish. Ts'anchak means "boiled" - as in the "boiled squash" dish from last week - and though "boiled kale" doesn't necessarily sound tasty, it is. You can serve this either as a soup with the broth, or as I did: removed from the cooking liquid and served as a vegetable with a spicy sauce and fresh corn pim in addition to the garnishes. Pim were slightly thicker than modern tortillas, about as thick as three corn tortillas stacked; you can try making them that way if you like.

kale, a substitute for chaya

ts'anchak bi chay 

makes 4 servings

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 dried chili peppers
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin or squash seeds
  • 2 limes

Wash, stem and chiffonade the kale and place in a large pot with the water. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until kale is tender, about 8 minutes. 

While the kale 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 kale with the pumpkin seeds, chile peppers and lime or set out the small bowls of the garnishes along with the kale 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.


 pim, chile poblano sauce, toasted and chopped pumpkin seeds


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 don't have a spice grinder be very careful to grind the dried and toasted chile peppers very finely, otherwise the larger chunks of chile pepper may burn!

You can also substitute spinach, chard or any other seasonal green. Greens do cook down significantly, so keep that in mind. 1 bunch of kale cooks down to about a cup.

I actually stem my larger greens first just by pulling out most or all of the tough center rib by hand, then I rinse and chiffonade them. 

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


ts'anchak bi chay, toasted and chopped pumpkin seeds, pim