Tag Archives: Mexico

Pozole Rojo

Pozole Rojo is a dish I encountered during my travels in Mexico. It is warming and flavorful, ideal for cold weather and for sharing with friends. However, the reason I developed the recipe below is that it seemed like an appropriate culinary bridge between my book on corn (Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland) and the complement that came out in October 2018 (Pigs, Pork, and Heartland Hogs: From Wild Boar to Baconfest). Corn and pork define agriculture in the American Midwest, but they also come close to defining the cuisine of Mexico. In fact, it has been said (though it is clearly an oversimplification) that Mexican food is Aztec food plus pigs.

The word pozole comes from the Nahuatl (language of the Aztecs) pozolli, which means “hominy.” The rojo in the name (Spanish for “red”) both underscores the combined Indian/European influences in the dish and hints at other variations that exist–because not all pozole uses the red chiles found in this dish. (As is true of every dish of any antiquity, there are as many versions as there are people making it, and sometimes even more.)

Hominy is corn that has undergone nixtamalization–that is, it has been processed with lye or lime in a traditional way discovered long ago by the indigenous people of Mezoamerica. Nixtamal is the Nahutal word that refers to the product of the process. It is a process that makes the corn both more nutritious (makes niacin and lysine more bio-available) and able to be stored longer than untreated corn.

Pozole is a delicious, filling soup that, while other ingredients can and will vary, always includes hominy and pork. Traditionally made for large groups, an entire pig’s head is often included in the recipe. I wanted a version that would feed a more modest number of people, and this version makes roughly 6 servings. However, I also wanted the flavor and texture added by the bones and collagen found in the head, so I added a pound of meaty neck bones. It turned out splendidly. Hope you like it as well as I do.

Pozole Rojo

2 lb. stewing pork
1 lb. pork neck bones
10 cups water
2 tsp. salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, roughly chopped
3 15-oz. cans white hominy, drained and rinsed
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
3 dried ancho chiles
3 dried guajillo chiles
1 clove of garlic, whole
Salt and pepper to taste

Garnishes
tostadas or tortilla chips
2 limes, quartered
1 onion finely sliced
cabbage or iceberg lettuce, shredded
sliced radishes

Place the pork, bones, 2 tsp salt, minced garlic, chopped onion, and hominy in a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim scum as it forms. Once scum is skimmed, add black pepper. (You lose a lot of the pepper if you add it before skimming.) When water is at a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until the meat is close to falling off the bone, about 1-1/2 hours.

Remove seeds and stems from the dried chiles and discard. Place the chiles in a bowl. After the first hour of simmering the pork, remove enough liquid to just cover the chiles (about one ladleful). Let chiles soak for 30 minutes. Then place chiles, soaking broth, and the final clove of garlic in a blender and puree until smooth.

Remove the soup from the heat and remove the pork to a platter to cool. When cool enough to handle, shred the stewing pork and remove all meat from the neck bones. Return meat to pot, stir in chile paste, and return pot to the heat, and simmer for another hour, until the meat is meltingly tender. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with a selection of the suggested garnishes/accompaniments. (Not all need to be included to still be authentic.) Enjoy.

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Almonds

Though Prunus amygdalus is, as its name hints, a close relative of plums, as well as peaches, you’ll never eat this tree’s fruit. For this drupe (the technical name for fruit with stones, such as plums and cherries), life is the pits. Literally. The fruit of this native of southwestern Asia becomes leathery as it matures, and splits open when ripe, exposing the world’s most popular nut, the almond.

Actually, there are two types of almond—sweet and bitter. The bitter almond is used primarily for flavoring, but it is the sweet almond that we eat. The sweet almond, which is almost as famous for its beautiful white flowers as for its nuts, closely resembles the related peach.

The almond probably started in Asia Minor, but it was on the move so early that it is hard to be precise about where its roots truly lie. It is believed that almonds, along with dates, were among the earliest cultivated foods. Almonds have been found on the island of Crete, at the Neolithic level under the palace of Knossos and in Bronze Age storerooms at Hagia Triada. The almond was written of by the Babylonians, Anatolians (who used it largely for oil), and Hittites, and, along with the pistachio, is one of only two nuts mentioned in the Bible.

The Greeks were the first to grow almonds in Europe. The Greek scholar, Theophrastus, mentions in his history of plants, written about 300 BC, that almond trees were the only trees in Greece that produced blossoms before leaves. The Romans, who referred to almonds as “the Greek nut,” brought almonds to Italy around 200 BC The Romans used almonds primarily in the form of sweets, but also used ground almonds to thicken and flavor sauces. Actually, ground almonds have never lost their popularity as a thickener. Continue reading

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Cabrito Asado

Goats, which offer high quality protein and are low in saturated fats, are now growing in importance in beef-happy North America, Australia, and Europe, as growing interest in ethnic foods, along with concern about cholesterol, gain fans for this slightly tougher but well-flavored alternative.

If you’re interested in preparing a goat, here’s my version of a lovely dish I found in many places in Central Mexico. This recipe is an easy introduction to preparing kid, as it does not require specialized equipment. The taste of baby goat is somewhere between lamb and veal, and is perfectly suited to the big, flavorful sauce in this dish.

Cabrito Asado
(Oven-Roasted Young Goat)

1/2 baby goat, cut into parts (4 large parts—legs, side, breast)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs. oregano
1/3 cup light olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 medium green peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 jalapeño chilies, seeded, deveined, and chopped (optional)
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups of canned, peeled Italian tomatoes with juice (approximately 2-1/2 cans, 14.5 oz. each)
salt and pepper to taste Continue reading

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Frijoles Negros con Epazote

The city of Oaxaca, capital of the state of Oaxaca, lies in a valley known as the Etla Valley. Etla is the Spanish rendering of the Nahuatl word etl, which means “black beans.” So the Etla Valley is the valley of black beans, and this is indeed the bean which one encounters almost exclusively in Mexico’s south.

Epazote is an indigenous Mexican herb. It has a strong smell that is reminiscent of something you might use to thin paint, but it actually adds a rich, wonderful, indescribable flavor to things cooked with it. You can find fresh epazote at Hispanic grocery stores. It is said by some that cooking black beans with epazote helps mitigate any gastric disturbances one might normally expect from eating beans, but I’m not sure how much the evidence supports this. I just know that it really compliments frijoles negros. Continue reading

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Seasons of My Heart

Rancho Aurora, home of Seasons of My Heart Cooking School

During my first trip to Mexico, as I was interested in both sampling a variety of cuisines and glutting myself on history and culture, I traveled around a fair bit, from Mexico City to Oaxaca and then across the Yucatan, ending my wanderings in Mérida. Great fun.

While I was in Oaxaca, as I browsed through markets (I have a real fondness for great markets, and Oaxaca has some amazing ones), whenever I encountered a vendor who spoke English, he or she asked me if I was there for the cooking school. I wasn’t, but I made a point of finding out more. Continue reading

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Rajas con Crema

Mexico Market

Veggies, fruits, and chiles in a Mexican market.

The second time I went to Mexico, it was for cooking school. But my first trip was just to tour, to visit a variety of regions and sample a variety of regional specialties. Mexico is a key location for culinary history research, because so many foods either arose or were further developed here.

Mexico and vicinity was home to turkey, maize (probably first developed in the area around Oaxaca), chocolate, vanilla, and squash/pumpkin. The region also acquired, through trade and travel, avocado, tomato, and chilies from South America—and chilies were not merely adopted, but also bred for variety, and Mexico still has more varieties than anywhere else. In addition, there are indigenous foods that have not spread so widely, such as tomatillo, chayote, nopales (cactus pads), and tunas (cactus pears).

Combine all those dandy foods with a few introduced items and techniques from Europe, and golly, the food in Mexico is good. And far more varied than most people realize (unless they’re fans of Rick Bayless).

That first visit, I traveled from Mexico City to Oaxaca and across to the Yucatan, enjoying a fascinating diversity of foods and cultures. The recipe below is for a dish I got addicted to in Mexico City. My first morning there, I was served rajas con crema with breakfast. That night, I found rajas con crema served with my steak tampiqueña. Rajas con crema is so popular in Mexico City that there are rajas con crema-flavored potato chips. Rajas means “strips,” but by general consensus in Mexico City, it virtually always means strips of green chilies. Continue reading

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Bread: A Real Slice of Life

Bread in Oaxaca, Mexico

Mercado de los Abastos in Oaxaca, Mexico

Bread seems like a pretty basic food, sort of an irreducible minimum on which one builds. But bread is actually quite complex, and it was not the first thing people did with cereal grains. For a big chunk of early human history, grains were simply parched on hot stones or pounded to a rough powder and boiled into gruel or paste. (In fact, in many regions, these food forms are still important, from the foofoo of West Africa to the tsampa of Tibet.) Scholars believe that the first time people realized they could put the paste on the hot stones, producing a simple flatbread, was likely the late Stone Age. And just as gruel and paste persist to the present day, so do classic, stone-cooked flatbreads, from Mexican tortillas to Scottish oatcakes to Chinese pancakes.

It actually took several millennia and a bunch of technological advances to get the world to the place where bread as we know it was even a possibility. First, a variety of wheat had to be developed that could be easily husked. Wild wheat must be roasted to remove the husk, but heating wheat denatures the grain’s gluten-forming proteins. No gluten, no rising. The first settlements we know about arose in areas where wheat grew wild, so it seems that wheat first domesticated humans, and then, returning the favor, humans began to domesticate wheat. This jump likely occurred between 8000 and 7000 BC in the region that is now Anatolia, Iran, and Syria. It is not known exactly when that ideal, easy-hull wheat was bred, but it was likely among the first traits people tried to develop during the domestication process. Continue reading

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