Tok seel recipe uses beans to showcase the breadth of Mexican food

Versie Dortch

Tok Seel (Seared White Beans With Pumpkin Seeds)

Total time:25 mins

Servings:3 to 4 (makes about 3 cups)

Total time:25 mins

Servings:3 to 4 (makes about 3 cups)


If your idea of Mexican food is dominated by cheese-smothered plates, this recipe, adapted from television host and cookbook author Pati Jinich’s cookbook “Treasures of the Mexican Table,” will be an eye-opener. In it, white beans are seared until lightly browned, then tossed with toasted, ground pumpkin seeds; fresh cilantro; chives; and scallions, and served with a bright squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of chopped, fresh chile.

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It’s Jinich’s take on tok seel, a dish from the state of Quintana Roo, on the Yucatán Peninsula, where sizzling hot stones are traditionally applied to get the seared effect on the beans (according to Jinich, tok means burned in the Mayan language). To approximate the deep taste of the original dish, Jinich uses a mix of olive, peanut and toasted sesame oils. It’s a satisfying recipe that’s full of unmistakably Mexican flavor without a shred of cheese in sight.

And it’s just one example of how healthful Mexican food can be. Mexican cooking, Jinich explained via email, “has deep ancient roots that precede the arrival of the Spanish and the cuisine of the Old World. So there are a lot of dishes that focus on different beans and seeds, such as Tok Seel. There is so much more to explore from the rich and diverse universe of Mexican cuisine, filled with its regional and micro regional cuisines.”

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This plant-protein-packed, vegan recipe is certainly a great place to start. Besides being healthful, it’s practical and affordable, too. Using precooked or canned beans, it can be on the table in under half an hour. Jinich suggests serving it as a side dish, or as a light main with corn tostadas or crusty bread. I added a simple green salad with sliced avocado to round out my meal and was completely fulfilled.

Tok Seel (Seared White Beans With Pumpkin Seeds)

NOTES: Be sure to drain the beans, whether they are home cooked or canned, and pat them dry to avoid excessive splattering.

To cook the beans for this dish as Jinich does, rinse 1 pound of beans, then place them in a large pot and add enough water to cover by 3 inches. Chop 1/2 red onion and 3 cloves garlic. Add the onion, garlic, and 3 sprigs fresh epazote or cilantro to the beans. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so the liquid is simmering, partially cover and cook for 1 hour. Season to taste with salt and continue cooking until the broth thickens and the beans are tender but retain their shape, an additional 15 to 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and discard the aromatics. To use the beans for the dish above, drain the desired amount before proceeding with the recipe.

Storage: Refrigerate for up to 4 days.

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  • 3/4 cup (4 ounces) raw, hulled pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cups cooked white beans, such as cannellini, great northern or navy, drained (see NOTE; if using canned, use two [15-ounce] cans, drained and rinsed)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
  • Fine salt (optional)
  • 2 scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced, for garnish
  • 2 limes, halved, for serving
  • 1/2 fresh habanero or serrano chile, minced, for serving
  • Corn tostadas or crusty bread, for serving (optional)

In a large, dry, deep skillet over medium heat, toast the pumpkin seeds, stirring frequently, until they brown lightly and smell toasty, and some of the seeds start to pop, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl of a mini food processor and pulse until finely ground.

In the same skillet over high heat, heat the sesame, peanut and olive oils until shimmering. Add the beans, season with pepper and sear, stirring once or twice, until the skins of the beans begin to brown, about 2 minutes.

Add the pumpkin seeds, cilantro and chives and cook, gently stirring until incorporated, another 1 to 2 minutes. Taste, and season with salt, if desired. Transfer to a serving platter and top with the scallions, cilantro and chives. Serve, alongside the lime halves and the chiles as well as tostadas or crusty bread, if desired.

Per serving (3/4 cup), based on 4

Calories: 376; Total Fat: 23 g; Saturated Fat: 4 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 338 mg; Carbohydrates: 29 g; Dietary Fiber: 13 g; Sugar: 0 g; Protein: 15 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

From cookbook author and registered dietitian nutritionist Ellie Krieger.

Tested by Rachel Sadon; email questions to [email protected].

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