I first encountered pozole at a small Mexican restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. It was a freezing cold day, much like today, in fact, and one of my friends ordered a preternaturally red, steaming, spicy bowl of pozole–or, Mexican pork and hominy stew. Big, hearty kernels of white hominy floated around in the bright red broth as lovely pieces of cilantro clung to them. The smell was divine. It was exactly what I was craving…except for the large hunk of pork-on-bone anchored right in the middle of the bowl.
I decided to find a vegetarian recipe that I could make at home, and came up empty. So I went about creating my own version, based partly on my memory of what was in that steaming bowl and partly on some of the many soups I had tasted when traveling around Puebla, Mexico, when I spent time studying there in graduate school.
My version lacks the shocking red color, which actually derives from a natural seed called called achiote (or annatto, in English). I left it out because it’s only there for color, not flavor, and unless your supermarket has a large Hispanic foods selection, it can be difficult to find. (You may recognize annatto from your natural cosmetics; it’s used to impart orange and red colors to lip balms, soaps and body washes.) We fake the achiote effect here by using the canned tomatoes with their juice.
Hominy is dried white corn that has been soaked in a basic (as in pH) solution, traditionally lime water, so that the hulls are removed from the kernels. In Mexican cuisine, you’ll see hominy mostly in soups, though it is also used to make tamale flour. In the U.S. south, you’ll also see hominy used to make grits. The big, soft kernels (which look like oversized soft corn nuts) help give this soup a hearty, substantial-ness that I find is lacking in some vegetable soups. (Of course, I’ve included beans and mushrooms for this same purpose. What can I say? I like soups that eat like a meal.)
Since pozole is a soup I crave in the cold, dead of winter, when the pickings can be slim as far as fresh, inexpensive and flavorful produce goes, I designed this recipe to take advantage of some pantry staples you can keep in the cupboards, supplemented with a just a few, key fresh ingredients.
Depending on what’s available locally in your area, you can use fresh zucchini or chayote, which is a small, green-skinned, mild-flavored summer squash (well, it’s really a gourd, technically) that looks sort of like a quince or a pear. In my area, where there is a large Hispanic population, it’s cheaper and easier to find in winter than zucchini is, so I’ve offered it as an option for this recipe. If you can find it, try it! Chayote is super low-calorie and is a good source of Vitamin C, potassium, folate and fiber.
Lastly, don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients. This soup is a breeze to make, since you basically just dump in all of the ingredients and let the thing simmer for an hour.
(Makes a big-ol’ pot that should serve at least 10. Leftovers freeze well.)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 TBSP olive oil
- 1 29-oz can white hominy
- 1 4-oz can diced green chiles (hot) (e.g., Hatch brand)
- 2 small zucchini, quartered and chopped OR 2 chayotes, peeled, seed removed, and chopped
- 2 cups sliced mushrooms
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes, including the juice (so choose low-sodium, if possible)
- 1 handful of cilantro, chopped
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp oregano
- 8 cups broth (chicken or vegetable; low-sodium, if possible; or, 8 tsp bouillon and 8 cups water)
- Salt to taste
- To serve:
- 1 15-oz can kidney beans, rinsed
- Monterrey jack cheese, shredded OR fresh diced avocado
- 1 lime (optional)
- In a large stockpot, sautee onions in olive oil until translucent.
- Add all other ingredients EXCEPT for kidney beans and cheese/avocado, bring to a boil, and simmer partially-covered for 1 hour to let flavors blend. Salt to taste.
- Before serving, scoop 1/2 cup kidney beans into each serving bowl. Add soup. Squeeze a small fresh wedge of lime into bowl.
- Top with a sprinkle of shredded cheese OR diced avocado. Serve.
If you want to heat up leftovers, you may need to add some water before re-heating. This pozole has a tendency to become stewier and stewier after the first round.