“NuLu” is the trendy term for Louisville’s East Market district, currently reigning over Bardstown Road and Frankfort Avenue as the street deemed “Restaurant Row.” (Non-trendy Louisvillians have many more “restaurant row” streets to choose from. Some of them have battling all-you-can-eat buffets.) Before it was “Nu” East Market was more “Ew”—a place of derelict buildings (complete with actual derelicts!), Christian missions and one amazing chef. Bruce Ucán opened Mayan Café on East Market while many people still automatically locked doors and increased speed as they entered his block. One of our favorite dishes even when we were slightly skeeved at the neighborhood was tok-sel lima beans. Smoky, creamy and crunchy with pumpkin seeds and laced with sesame oil, the blackened beans were magic.
This weekend, as we slipped back into Louisville’s seasonal rhythms, we found some nice-looking lima pods at the Bardstown Road market, where we often (embarrassingly often, to Steve’s wishing-to-remain-anonymous restaurant reviewer sensibilities) see Ucán looking over local produce right next to us. We bought a bunch and Michelle sat down for a session of shelling, then made the entire batch into Ucán’s tok-sel creation.
When Steve reviewed Ucán’s restaurant in 2007 he prepared questions about “authentic” Mayan cuisine, including these tok-sel lima beans. The chef said his dishes were simply inspired by his childhood home—the complex sauces and superbly-cooked dishes products of his imagination, not tradition. It was the start of Steve’s attempts to remove “authentic” from his restaurant reviewer vocabulary, and the beginning of a profound awareness of and respect for Ucán’s talents. It’s nice to see “NuLu” becoming a place where people actually want to go, but it’s even better to see Mayan Café being rewarded for sticking it out when others had given up hope.
RECIPE NOTES: The recipe for tok-sel lima beans is on the restaurant’s website. We didn’t change a thing, except to blanch our slightly large limas a little bit longer than the one minute called for. We’ve made the recipe many times with frozen beans, which are almost as good.
Yeah, interesting that non-Mayan sesame seed-oil note. I’ll have to try this. Thanks!
I think this is one of those dishes that he can’t take off the menu, as everybody would riot.
The pumpkin seeds are interesting … Almond slices or even pinenuts might work too maybe…
Oh, for sure. And sometimes I’ve thrown some sesame seeds in.
This looks delicious!!
This is such an easy and quick dish to prepare and your photo couldn’t make it any more appealing.
Looks fantastic! I imagine this could work well with edamame, too, though they would be slightly less creamy than limas. Either way, slightly smoky, slightly shriveled beans sound like a treat.
You’re absolutely right. I’m gonna have to try it with some edamame.
That sounds wonderful, but lima beans seem to be unobtainable in Europe. The consensus of opinion is that all the equivalents are a shadow of the real thing. I checked out the restaurant that seems to me to be excellent.
I’ll swap you for some cocos, which we can’t get here!
Reminds me how much I miss Louisville food! Thanks for this excellent post.
Just means you need to come back and visit.
Excellent, though as others have said, finding fresh ones in Europe is a challenge.
Somewhat unusual to find the fresh ones even here in the Southern U.S.
I love this recipe.. and wish we had one like it here.. or a row of restaurants. Occasionally we have a few sprouting up and 17th Avenue is starting to grow into one.. but these things take time, I guess! I wonder if any Lima Bean could work??
Oh, sure, I think any lima would do.
A fantastic post and recipe my friend, great job 😀
Choc Chip Uru
The question about “authenticity” in food is highly charged, isn’t it? I’ve seen bloggers and critics get very up in arms about supposedly bogus claims to authenticity and/or tweaks on “classics.” As someone who liberally plunders a host of culinary traditions, I’m not too bothered, although of course attribution is key. Sorry, I’ve gone off on a tangent, haven’t I…
Did you see the latest stupid “cite a couple of anecdotes and call it a trend” article in the New York Times, complaining about Americans using Britishisms? I think both language and food ought to have an open door policy!
Yes, that was annoying. Hurrah for open door policies!
Had your black bean burger and Lima beans at the NuLu Festival. Would love the recipe for the limas.
There’s a link above. And you’re right: they are delicious.