As I gathered the ingredients for this post, I thought about a woman my family once knew in Laredo. Her name was Ana María. She was born in Nuevo Laredo and moved to the U.S. side of the border after her marriage to a Laredoan. Ana María was an eccentric woman who made it clear in subtle and not so subtle ways that she belonged to Nuevo Laredo’s well-connected families. However, in Laredo, Ana María and her husband were as poor as church mice. That is, until the 1980′s when gas drilling along the Rio Grande made overnight millionaires out of ordinary people like Ana María and her husband.
My parents had become friends with Ana Maria and her husband some time after I left Laredo. But I remember many funny stories about her and how my mother tolerated some of her crazy ideas. Finally, I met her during a trip to visit my parents. She was a natural beauty, albeit with a strong belief in heavy black eye liner and pitch-black hair dyed to match. Within no time, she told me she knew all the “right” kind of eligible, young men from Nuevo Laredo for me to meet. She was truly from another time and place!
What brought Ana María to mind as I planned this recipe was how much she loved pozole. She often invited my parents over for pozole–too often for my mother, who didn’t care much for it. It’s not a northern Mexican dish and my mother just didn’t understand it. She would often describe how she had avoided another pozole dinner at Ana María’s by offering to cook dinner at our home so that she could have some control over the menu. My mother had the nagging suspicion that Ana María’s real intention was to end up with a dinner invitation rather than have to cook.
I was always curious about the dish, never having tasted Ana María’s famous pozole all those years. Later, during my trips to Mexico, I found many occasions to savor it. There are many versions of the hearty soup and, unlike my mother, I soon became a fan of pozole!
Last month, some friends from New Mexico brought me some dried blue corn kernels. I used them in this pozole recipe in place of canned hominy that is traditionally used. Normally, pozole is served with satellites of garnishes, little dishes of items that can be added to the soup: chopped white onion, sliced radishes, chopped cilantro, sliced limes, and thinly-sliced romaine lettuce. I like to add strips of fried tortilla as well.
My pozole recipe might be too spicy for little children who have not grown up with spicy food but it’s substantial enough to serve as a main course. The flavors and textures are like few things I’ve ever had; the meat of the pork is tender, the corn kernels are chewy and the flavor of the chile guajillo cooked into this thick soup is deep and earthy. And adding a squeeze of lime and the chopped cilantro creates a bright contrast with the savory flavors of the soup.
- 6 or 7 guajillo chili pods, deveined and seeded
- 2 cups dried blue corn which has been soaked overnight
- 2 lbs pork shoulder cut into 1 inch cubes
- 10 cloves garlic roughly cut
- 1½ tablespoons dry oregano
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 4 bay leaves
- Garnish: finely chopped romaine lettuce or cabbage, minced white onion, limes, cilantro, radishes, and tostadas, or fried corn tortilla strips
- Soak the corn overnight and then add salt and boil it at a simmer, covered, for about two hours in about 1 quart of water or enough so that there is enough liquid to soften the corn; add more water if it begins to evaporate too fast.
- While the corn is cooking, remove the seeds and stems and devein the guajillo chiles, then place them on a heavy skillet or a comal at low heat until they soften, about 5 minutes or less.
- After the chilies are soft, place them in a pot of about 5 cups boiling water , set aside to soak, covered, in this water for about 20 minutes.
- Place the cubes of pork in a large, heavy bottomed stock pot and brown for about 6 minutes on a medium to high flame.
- For an additional 3 minutes and at a lower flame, add the cloves of garlic to sweat as the meat browns. Add salt.
- Pour the boiled corn pozole along with its liquid into the stockpot with the seared pork and garlic cloves.
- While this is cooking, place the chilies along with their liquid in the blender, and blend. Do this little by little so the blender lid doesn’t pop off with the expansion of the liquid.
- Add this red liquid into the stock pot and add the oregano, crumbled bay leaf and cumin.
- Place the pot lid at a tilt, check for salt and cook at a simmer for about three hours. Check the liquid frequently to make sure the result is brothy.
- Fill small plates with garnishes: minced white onion, chopped cilantro, thinly sliced radishes, sliced limes, thinly sliced romain lettuce, and fried strips of tortilla.