Cooking Like A Mexican

December 26, 2016 Edition
BY: ALEJANDRA SARACHAGA

One of the most popular Mexican dishes for the holiday season is pozole.

There are three different kinds of pozole. There is green, white and red pozole and, yes, these are the three colors of our flag. Each color has a meaning for us. Green is for hope, white is for the brotherhood between the Mexicans and the Spaniards, and red is for the blood shed during the Independence battles.

Pozole, with its distinctive scent and flavor, is a dish rooted in the Mexican identity, history and culture, as well as the flavors of the pre-Hispanic heritage. Since corn was a sacred plant for the Aztecs other inhabitants of Mesoamerica, pozole is made to be consumed on special occasions. After colonization by the Spaniards, the ingredients of pozole changed, but corn remained the staple ingredient.

As with many of other traditional Mexican dishes, different states have different ways to cook it. We have the northern style, Michoacán, Jalisco, Guerrero, Oaxaca and Durango styles, among others. In all of these representations there is a reference to the ancestral cuisine.   

 

The word pozole comes from the Nahuatl “potzolli”, which means foamy. It was a ritually significant, traditional stew from Mexico. It is made from nixtamalized cacahuazintle. Cacahuazintle is a special variety of corn that has bigger kernels. Nixtamalized is a fancy word for describing how the kernels have been prepared before you buy them. The cacahuazintle is mixed meat – usually pork, but also chicken, turkey or pork rinds, chili peppers and other seasonings and garnishes. Vegetarian and vegan versions also exist.

The pozole preparation process can be long but it’s not really as complicated as it sounds. Plus, it is completely possible to cook copious amounts because the main ingredient is abundant and cheap. That is why this dish is considered a party food. It is possible to prepare large quantities to satisfy a large number of people without much effort. It is the most common dish to eat in almost every Mexican celebration, including weddings, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and, of course, on September 15th, when the Independence of México is celebrated.

Those popped corn kernels, seasoned and served in a broth that our Mexican ancestors used to cook, is served today with other ingredients and garnishes from other parts of the world that enhance its flavor. These include thinly sliced lettuce and/or cabbage, finely chopped onion, sour cream, grounded oregano, lemon juice, sliced radish, avocado, cheese, salsa or chili powder. These ingredients are generally placed on the table before the meal so each person can add what they want. Pozole is always accompanied with crispy tortillas.

There are many varieties of pozole, but they can be grouped in two main types: white and seasoned. White pozole is basically corn soup with meat, served in a deep bowl with garnishes. Seasoned pozole is seasoned during cooking, so the dish turns a different color, red or green depending on the kind of chiles or salsas that are used.

In the northern part of the country, the dish is also made with tummy guts instead of the more common meats of beef, pork, chicken or turkey. In Oaxaca, the broth is white but they serve it with two tablespoons of mole and no greens at all. In Guerrero, it is also white but they add pork skin and avocado on top. There is also another variety in which cooks use peeled, roasted and ground pumpkin seeds, green tomato and epazote leaves so it takes a green color. Pozole in Jalisco is red and prepared with guajillo chile.

The vegetarian versions substitute the meat with mushrooms, and in some coast regions they prefer to serve it with fish and seafood.

A very important part of the Mexican ancestral heritage is in every bowl of pozole. It is considered a festive meal to be served for the most important Mexican celebrations.

Any person who tries this dish will without a doubt, exclaim: “Tasty, delicious, exquisite!” And especially now, with the chilly evenings, it’s a great way to heat yourself while enjoying a backyard diner with your friends and family.

Even though the common belief is that this is a very complicated dish, let me tell you that it is completely the opposite.

 

Recipe for red pozole (This is my favorite.)

Ingredients

For the corn:

2 packages of pre-cooked corn (It is easy to find in the supermarkets; usually it is in the dairy department.)

1 head of garlic

1 large onion

1 tablespoon of cumin

1 tablespoon of oregano

 

For the meat:

4 lbs of pork loin or pork leg

2 pork bones

4 cloves of garlic

1 medium sized onion

1 tablespoon of chicken broth powder

1 pinch of cumin

1 pinch of oregano

 

For the salsa:

6 chiles guajillo (Deep red dry chiles, they come in a bag.)

¼ teaspoon of oregano

4 cloves of garlic

½ onion

¼ teaspoon of cumin

¼ teaspoon apple cider vinegar

NOTE TO THE COOK: The cumin, oregano, garlic and onion repeat is supposed to be used in every part of the recipe – don’t leave it out of any part. And don’t forget that you can use the meat of your preference. Also, if you don’t like it red, just skip the salsa part. It will be just as tasty.

Step one: Wash the corn kernels well and boil them in plenty of unsalted water with the rest of the ingredients for the corn part. If the water reduces too fast, add more water but be sure to heat it first. The idea is to boil the corn until the kernels opens, like popcorn but there isn’t a popping sound.

Step two: Cook the meat, bones and seasoning listed above for the meat part. When the meat is soft, shred it and put it back in the pot so it stays warm.

Step three: Boil all the ingredients for the salsa. Once the chiles are soft, drain and grind them, then fry in a little bit of oil, or lard if you prefer.

Step four: Once the corn kernels burst, combine all the ingredients in a large pot and let boil for a few minutes. Taste and season as needed. And voila! Your pozole is ready to serve.

Don’t forget to serve your pozole with the garnishes I listed above, lettuce, radish, more oregano, etc.

Serves 4 (if you have 8 people, just double everything. Duh). ,