I have a guest post today from Laura Elliott, an American expat living in Mexico City. Her new blog is called American Chilanga, and it's about her adventures in the city that we both love. In this post, she writes about her mother's pozole, a warm, comforting dish that's only slightly related to Mexico City's version. The rainy season has arrived in Mexico City, and cravings for a nice bowl of soup tend to accompany me on these soggy afternoons. Lately, I’ve been longing for pozole — a pre-Colombian hominy, pork, and chile based stew. In Mexico City, it’s served with garnishes of shredded lettuce, sliced radishes, dried oregano, pepper flakes, chicharrón, tostadas and fresh limes. Delicious and satisfying, it’s not quite like the dish I had with my family on Christmas Eves, while growing up in southern Colorado. My mom's pozole is always served with warm flour tortillas on the side and cheese melted on top. She also stirs Southwestern green chiles into the broth. There are actually many ways to make pozole, which vary region by region, both in Mexico and throughout the southwest United States (where it’s often spelled with an ‘s,’ posole). My mother created her own recipe, modifying the instructions she found on the back of a package of dried hominy, and tweaking the dish over the years. I never questioned our Christmas Eve tradition as a young girl; we often left some pozole for Santa alongside the milk and cookies. Now I consider it a special detail to my background, which I use to try to convince my friends in Mexico that despite my blond hair, green eyes, mainly German descent and foreign accent, I am clearly more Mexican than they think. I’m not sure if they believe me. Nevertheless, my mom says pozole “seemed to fit our family.” She must have been right. The dish has been what’s requested and expected ever since it replaced my grandmother’s clam chowder over 25 years ago. The addition of roasted Hatch New Mexico Green Chiles is a special treat -- my mom always keeps a supply of them in the freezer, as they are not available for sale year round. Eager to recreate a memory of home, I recently set out to make my mother’s pozole. The ingredients filled my kitchen with earthy aromas, blending together as the soup cooked. It was hard not to try a spoonful, just to make sure the dish wasn't missing anything... and then maybe one more spoonful after that. More than three hours later, once the soup was done, I dipped a tortilla into the broth. The first bite warmed me up instantly. The hominy was soft and savory, and the slow-cooked meat fell apart in my mouth. Hearty and smoky, this soup seemed rooted to the land. My mother’s Pozole Recipe Pozole is fairly simple, but it takes time. If planning to have it for dinner, you’ll probably want to start this in the morning or the day before, especially if using dried hominy, which needs to soak first and can then take from three to three and half hours to cook before you start to add the other ingredients. Make sure the kernels have been nixtamalized, which is the process of boiling the corn with calcium hydroxide, which adds essential vitamins and nutrients. If buying hominy in the U.S., it has usually already gone through this process. You can also find it canned, but my mom would not recommend it! In Mexico, I found nixtamalized hominy in bags with water sold in the cheese section of the supermarket. You might find dried kernels that are simply plain maize, so double check the package or ask the vendor. Ingredients 2 cups dried white hominy* (see note) 6 cups water (to start) 1 pound lean pork shoulder, cubed ½ cup minced white onion 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 tablespoon each: dried oregano, red chile powder, crushed red pepper flakes, ground cumin 1 cup sliced roasted green chiles (Hatch New Mexico if you can, but Anaheim or Poblano also work fine. Use canned roasted chiles if that’s what you can find.) Directions Prepare the dried hominy as you would dried beans: soak it overnight and rinse it before adding it to a pot of about six cups of water. Bring water to a boil and then simmer until the kernels start to burst open. (If using hominy from a can or bag that is packaged in water, you can skip the soaking, but still cook it until the kernels start to open before adding the other ingredients; it will just take less time. In this case you won’t need to start with the full 2 cups. Try 1 ½ cups instead.) Add pork, onion, garlic and spices. Simmer for several hours -- mine took between three and four -- adding water and additional spices according to taste. Be sure to simmer thoroughly after adding water to avoid a diluted taste. (You want all the flavors to taste as if they've melded together and cooked for a long while.) Add the green chile about a half an hour before serving. You may lose some heat and flavor if you cook the chiles too long. Serve with your choice of cheeses and warm flour tortillas.
Because of the temperate climate here, Mexico City is blessed with beautiful produce almost year-round. You can always find squash, green beans, carrots, tomatillos, tomatoes and poblanos at the markets. (Notice I said markets and not supermarkets -- the supermarkets are always running out of stuff.) You can almost always find squash flowers, too. Sometimes they’re big and gorgeous like this. We’re not exactly in squash flower season right now -- they're mostly available in May and June, and then August through October -- but you can find a few solitary bunches at the markets if you get there early enough. They’re often eaten in guisados or soups. This soup in particular comes from Diana Kennedy's Mexican Regional Cooking, one of her earlier books that was later folded into The Essential Cuisines of Mexico. (I found the book at a thrift store in Olympia, Wa., and finished reading it while preparing for my cooking class with her a few months ago.) The soup comes together quickly, and because all the ingredients are fresh, it tastes like it took hours. In the book it's described as a ranch-style soup -- basically using whatever ingredients are on hand and tossing them into the pot. I really like this specific combination, though: a poblano pepper, charred on the comal and peeled, adds a sweet, buttery note. The squash flowers and corn add texture. I've eaten this soup as a first course to a mole dinner, but it's hefty enough to work as a light lunch. You can make this with either chicken or vegetable broth. If you do the latter, I highly recommend making your own broth in the slow cooker. I'll post a recipe for that next. It'll make your house smell amazing. Squash flower, corn and poblano pepper soup Adapted slightly from Diana Kennedy's Mexican Regional Cooking Serves 4 The original recipe calls for both cream and either queso fresco or Muenster, but I've omitted both because I like the soup on the lighter side. Also, be careful when adding the poblano peppers because they may be hotter than you think. Try a piece first before adding them to your soup. When buying fresh corn in Mexico City, any market vendor will shave the fresh kernels right off the ear if you ask. (As an aside, can I quickly rant about restaurants who use canned corn here? USING CANNED CORN IN THE CRADLE OF CORN DRIVES ME NUTS.) If you can't find fresh corn, frozen is acceptable. Ingredients 1 1/2 tablespoons butter 1 tablespoon oil 1 small onion, sliced thin 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced 1 1/2 cups fresh corn, or about 250g (see note) Salt to taste 1 1/2 cups diced or quartered squash 1 small bunch squash blossoms (about 10) 1 to 2 poblano chiles, charred on a comal, peeled, seeded and de-veiened, and then diced 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth Fresh epazote, chopped (optional) Directions Heat the butter and oil in a soup pot or saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and stir, cooking until soft and translucent. Then add the garlic and stir quickly, cooking for about 30 seconds more. Add corn kernels and salt to taste. Cover and cook until corn is slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Add the squash, squash flowers, poblano peppers, broth and more salt to taste. Cook until all the ingredients are tender, about 20 minutes, and then stir in chopped epazote if using. (I also like to add a few grinds of fresh-cracked black pepper.) This soup tastes even better the next day.
The first time I saw flor de nabo was a few years ago on a sidewalk in the Roma. A woman was selling it out of a big plastic bag, and I, ever the quelite-scouter, stopped to ask her: "Qué tipo de quelite es?" She said flor de nabo. I loved how pretty it was, so I bought a kilo right there. It turns out flor de nabo is brassica rapa, a type of spicy, peppery green that's in the same family as rapini or broccoli rabe. They look similar. Flor de nabo drifted out of my life until last week, when I saw it on the menu at Rosetta, an Italian restaurant in the Roma. Then a few days later I found a sidewalk vendor selling a bagful near the Meracdo Portales. Cooking flor de nabo When raw, flor de nabo tastes bitter and sharp. Cooking it for a long period of time in broth brings out its natural sweetness, with little touches of mustard and pepper. Because it was so rainy and dreary outside, I bought a kilo from the Portales vendor and decided to make soup. (Another day I'll maybe try to attempt Rosetta's garlickly flor de nabo with orecchiette pasta.) The soup ended up being just what I craved: comforting and hearty, with just enough pizzazz to brighten up the gray day. Here's the recipe, in case you're needing some comfort-food inspiration. Chicken Soup with Flor de Nabo, Carrots and Noodles Ingredients For the broth: 1 chicken breast 1 small piece onion (about 1/4 chunk of small onion) 1 bay leaf 5 or 6 peppercorns 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1 big clove garlic Salt For the soup: 1/2 medium onion, chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 3 carrots, chopped About 1/2 pound flor de nabo, chopped (stems included) 100 grams noodles of your choice Salt to taste Directions Place the chicken breast in a pot and cover with water. Add onion, bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme and garlic, with a few pinches of salt. Bring to boil, skim off any scum and then lower the flame. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes, or until chicken is cooked. Note that the time is variable -- my chicken breast weighed about a pound, but for smaller chicken breasts and regular altitudes, I'd start checking at the 25-minute mark. When chicken is cooked, remove from the flame and cool while you chop your vegetables. Then strain the broth and reserve both the broth and the meat separately. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the onion and cook until translucent; then add garlic and stir, cooking with the onion until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the carrots and mix well. Then add the chopped flor de nabo, some pieces of chicken breast (I just tore some off with my hands and shredded it directly into the pot) and your reserved chicken broth. (You can add as much broth as you want, depending on how thick you like your soup.) Season with more salt and black pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the flame, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Add noodles and cook until al dente. Season for more salt and pepper and serve hot.
I've been a little overwhelmed lately. In the past week, I have: Worked nearly 7 hours a day on an intense writing project; attempted to clean and grocery shop and see my husband; tried to prepare for our upcoming trip to India, and failed, and begged Crayton to plan the whole thing by himself; attempted to plan our visit from my in-laws, who arrive tomorrow, and lastly, thought deeply about whether we want to stay in our apartment for another year. I am kind of going insane. Today, just for fun (because I had two minutes allotted for "fun"), I thought about what feast I'd prepare to calm myself down, if I had all the money and time in the world. I looked through my photos of tacos and tostadas and salads, and a picture of these absolutely kick-ass esquites we ordered recently at La Capital in Condesa. I was planning to write a post on my Top 5 Most Relaxing Foods. But do you know what I remembered? Lentils with bacon. Made in a clay bean pot. I whipped up a batch last Friday in a kind of half-frenzy, because I was working on this writing project, and Crayton and his friend Nick were coming over to watch the basketball game. They didn't ask me to make anything, because they knew how busy I was. They were going to order pizza. But I couldn't let them do that. A little voice in my head told me I had to prepare these lentils. These are the internal issues I hope to resolve while I'm meditating in an ashram in two weeks. Anyway: The lentils turned out fabulous -- kind of soupy, kind of not. I served them with crusty bread I'd warmed in the oven. Crayton and I have been eating the leftovers, happily, for almost a week. Today I had a bowl while sitting next to my space heater. They're so comforting and sloppy, and smoky from the bacon. Wish I could just keep eating them every few hours, to give me the peaceful zen I need to finish all my tasks. How to handle stress is another thing I'm hoping to work on in the ashram. Lentils with Bacon Adapted from The Joy of Cooking Serves a LOT Note: I originally planned to make this with the lentils I had in my pantry, but when I unearthed the bag, I discovered they'd expired in 2008. EXPIRED in 2008, not even purchased then. Whoops. So I ordered some more from Superama online. Also, you can use deli-sliced ham or any variety of bacon, but I like using thick chunks of bacon that have been cut into smaller pieces. It's so nice to stumble on a chunk of bacon when you're eating this. It's like stumbling on a peanut in the Cracker Jack box. Ingredients 1 large onion (I used 1 medium sized onion, and a leek, because that's what I had on hand) 3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press 3 carrots, chopped 3 pieces of celery, chopped 1 to 2 thick slices bacon, chopped into bite-sized pieces 1 bag of lentils (about 2 heaping cups) 1 teaspoon dried thyme 1 bay leaf water Heat a few glugs of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet, or, if you wish, a 3 1/2- to 4-quart dutch oven. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add celery, carrots and bacon and cook until just tender, about 15 minutes. Gently pour this mixture into your clay bean pot, or keep everything where it is, if you're already cooking in a dutch oven. Turn the heat to medium, and add lentils and water -- about 8 cups, or as much as you think is necessary -- and the thyme and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer and cook until lentils are tender. (This took me about 90 minutes to two hours.) Add more water if the lentils look too dry. Serve with crusty bread and a cold beer.