Old New World: Mayan potato and fresh green bean salad

Mayan potato and fresh green bean salad

When I first encountered this recipe, green beans were nowhere to be found at the farmers markets, but this weekend as I was picking up some late season strawberries I saw a tiny basket of green beans tucked into a corner. I gleefully snatched up a few quick handfuls as I was waiting in line and presented my find to my sweetheart as though I had discovered hidden pirate jewels. This is a traditional and typical Mayan dish that hasn't changed much over time - except these days, many home cooks use food processors instead of molcajetes.

pepitas about to go in the oven

Mayan potato and fresh green bean salad

makes 5-6 servings

  • 1 pound new potatoes, quartered
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 3/4 cups green beans, stemmed and cut into bite-size lengths
  • 1 cup pumpkin or squash seeds
  • 1 to 3 tomatillos, husked
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

While the oven is preheating, place the potatoes and salt in a pot with enough water to cover. Cook over medium high heat for 12-15 minutes, until the potatoes are fork-tender. Remove the potatoes and reserve the water.  Allow potatoes to cool completely. Return the water to a boil over high heat. Add the green beans and cook just until the water resumes a mild simmer. Remove the green beans and reserve the water. Cool the beans in an ice water bath or on a plate in the refrigerator.

Spread the pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Toast for about 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Place the tomatillos and the garlic in a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often, for 5 to 7 minutes, until browned and softened.

Place the toasted pumpkin seeds in a molcajete, food processor or blender, and grind to a coarse paste. Add the tomatillos and garlic and process until smooth. Gradually add 2 to 2 1/2 cups of the reserved cooking water to make a dressing thick enough to generously coat the potatoes and beans.

To assemble the salad, place the potatoes and beans in a bowl and sprinkle them with the black pepper. Add the dressing and toss to coat evenly. Serve immediately.


Tomatillos feel very waxy and sticky under their husks. Don't panic, it turns out that's what they're supposed to feel like. 

If you've refrigerated the potatoes and beans let them stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes before tossing with the dressing to allow the flavors to warm up a bit.

I served this with pinto and rice burgers for a Labor Day picnic, but it would also be nice and more traditional served warm with fresh corn tortillas as an alternative to a room-temperature salad.

Recipe from Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions by Smithsonian American Indian  by Fernando Divina and Marlene Divina. 

Mayan potato and fresh green bean salad; pinto and rice burgers