Old New World: Mayan ha tsikil kab

ha tsikil kab

The literal translation of ha tsikil kab is "squash seed honey water." Ha is water and kab is honey.  Tsikil, squash seeds, were an incredibly important part of the day-to-day Maya diet -  it is thought that the oil from squash seeds was the main source of fat for the pre-contact Maya! Squash seeds were also a frequent offering to agricultural deities, as was honey. These candies, combining those two important foodstuffs, are still made today. In this adaptation I use corn syrup instead - I thought it was a fitting substitution for the honey in a sweet from a society that also valued corn highly.

pumpkin seeds about to be pan-toasted

ha tsikil kab

makes about 36 candies

  • 2 cups pumpkin or other squash seeds
  • 1 cup corn syrup

First, toast the pumpkin seeds, either in the oven for about 5 minutes at 350 or on the stovetop until most are golden.  Place the seeds in a pot and add the corn syrup. Bring to a simmer - you'll be able to hear it hiss even if you can't quite see it - and stir constantly for about 5 minutes.  Drop tablespoonfuls onto wax paper and let cool. Store in a closed container.

ha tsikil kab, cooling on wax paper

notes 

I do use corn syrup here - something I have never purchased before! I used an organic non-GMO kind, but you could also try agave nectar, which is something that was known and used at the time. The Aztecs made a similar sweet of squash seeds "stuck together with cooked syrup" that was most likely cooked down maguey syrup.

Work quickly as the corn syrup gets tacky fast and will start to leave thin threads.  Use two spoons, one to scoop and one to help release the candy from the first spoon.

However tempted you might be to lick the spoons, don't. They will be hot and sticky! 

You might recognize the sikil in tsikil from sikil pak!  I'm not sure why it's spelled differently in this sweet application.

Recipe adapted from Mayan Cooking: Recipes from the Sun Kingdoms of Mexico by Cherry Hamman and America's First Cuisines  by Sophie D. Coe.

 

ha tsikil kab

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

toksel

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.

 

wah 

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.

 

notes

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

Old New World: Mayan xculibul, sikil pak and pim

Mayan xculibul, sikil pak, pim

I know that may look like a bit of a mouthful, but be assured it's a tasty  mouthful, and would fit in with the taco cleanse of your choice. Xculibul are beautiful dark purplish black beans (buul) that are part of the Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Project, sikil pak is a sort of dip made from pumpkin seeds (sikil) and tomato (pak), and pim are tortillas. If you've never made tortillas from scratch before, you can use store-bought, but now might be the time to try your hand at it!

soaked xculibul

xculibul 

makes 6 servings

  • 2 cups dried xculibul , soaked overnight
  • 1 jalapeño chile, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic (10 cloves) 
  • 2 TBSP ground cumin
  • 2 TBSP ground coriander
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Drain and rinse your beans. Put in a large pot and cover with at least 2 inches of water. Add the jalapeño, onion, cumin, coriander and 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 and let cool for about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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

sikil pak in a food processor

sikil pak

makes about 2 1/2 cups

  • 1 habanero or other chile, stemmed
  • 10 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds
  • 4 tomatoes, tops trimmed
  • 1/4 cup parsley finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

While the oven is preheating, place the garlic and chile in a pan over medium heat and char until garlic and chile have patchy dark marks. Remove from pan and set aside. Char the tomatoes in the same way. Remove and set aside with the garlic and chile.

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.

Grind the pumpkin seeds into a fine, uniform meal in a food processor or a molcajete if you'd like to do it by hand.  Devein the chile and quarter it, then add to the pumpkin seeds. Add the tomatoes and garlic and mash or process, leaving the mixture semichunky. Add in the parsley and salt and stir or process briefly.

Recipe adapted from Super Natural Cooking: Five Delicious Ways to Incorporate Whole and Natural Foods into Your Cooking by Heidi Swanson. 

 

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

 

notes 

All the recipes I read for sikil pak called for cilantro rather than parsley, so feel free to use cilantro as in the original recipes if it doesn't taste like soap to you.

If you can't find xculibul, substitute the black bean of your choice. 

Depending on your beans they may take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours to cook until tender. 

If you're making tortillas for the first time, make sure you have your exhaust fan running and burn the heck out of one so you have an idea of how hot your pan should be and how long you should cook each side.  Adjust heat up or down as necessary - a heavy cast iron pan for even heating works best for this. Pim are slightly thicker than modern corn tortillas.

 xculibul, sikil pak and pim

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.

notes 

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