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

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.