September 9, 2011 6:00 PM
Pozole: Try It Green!

Red pozole, or Pozole Rojo, Jalisco style, has been my favorite pozole of all time. It is bold and gorgeous in every possible way. I am so attached to it, we even served it at our wedding.

For decades now, I've refused to replace it with another... And then, I tried a unique green version, Pozole Verde, Guerrero style. It has not surpassed my Pozole Rojo, but it is attempting to tie with it at my table. And that is a lot to say.

Treasured all around Mexico, pozole has many variations, mainly green, red and white. Each distinct and beautiful, and coincidentally, represent the colors of the Mexican flag. Since September is the month of Mexican independence and The Day of El Grito is just around the corner, there is no excuse not to find an excuse to celebrate! And in my mental Mexican dictionary, pozole equals celebration.

Pozole has been made for centuries, and according to Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, a Spanish missionary, Moctezuma -greatest Aztec Emperor of all times-, would honor the God of the Sun by eating and serving it. I don't know though, what color it was!

What makes a pozole red or green is the seasoning sauce added to the stew. If there is no sauce, it is a white pozole. Though there are many kinds of green pozole, they all use green ingredients, and this one has: tomatillosepazote (or cilantro if you can't find it), pumpkin seeds and jalapeños.

Making that green seasoning sauce is simple. Tomatillos, garlic and chile simmer in water until the color of the tomatillos changes from bright, happy and loud to a mellow green. The texture goes from firm, to very mushy, but not coming apart.

The toasted pumpkin seeds are ground, they are pureed with that cooked tomatillo mix and white onion. The pumpkin seeds give the sauce a nutty, velvety base. Then the sauce is taken a step further and simmered until it is seasoned, thickened and its flavors have concentrated. It must be powerful, as it will dilute in the pozole. See? The spoon on the left has the green sauce before it is seasoned.

sauce.jpgWhat is common about any pozole is not only the many garnishes that dress it at the end, but also the very large corn known here as hominy, and in Mexico as maíz cacahuacintle, also known as maíz mote and giant corn. It gives pozole its signature mealy bite.

Cooking hominy is simple, but takes a while, so it is available already cooked in cans or refrigerated bags if you do not feel like preparing it. This is how it looks when you buy it at the stores before cooking.

But I love to cook it at home. It is as simple as throwing it in a pot, covering it in water and waiting for it to "bloom".  Literally, when it opens up at the top, you know it's ready. 

Just like when cooking beans, add salt after they are cooked, or they will toughen up.

Then in a big pot, combine the cooked hominy, the shredded chicken that was simmered in a simple broth (complete recipe below) as much green pozole sauce as you want, and a leafy stem of epazote, which will have anywhere from 5 to 10 leaves. If you don't find epazote, add like 5 sprigs of cilantro. I personally add all the sauce. Then, you want to let all the ingredients cook together for about 20 minutes.

Once it is ready: dress it up! Radishes, lettuce, white onion, ground dried chile, oregano and quartered limes to squeeze juice on top, are placed at the table for you to choose. Tostadas to be munched on the side. And, in particular for the green pozole, green avocado and chicharrones (crispy pork rind), are often too, which gives it an extra crunch. If you find some, add it on!

Whatever you choose, do squeeze fresh lime juice onto it.

Pozole is so popular in Mexico that there are pozolerías, restaurants that only serve pozole. That would be like a restaurant in the US that only served chicken noodle soup! How is that possible? Take a bite into this one-stop meal. You'll see. 

P.S. Pozole tastes even better reheated. Great excuse for making the soup ahead of time. Also, watch out for this recipe: It serves a hungry party of 12. 

Pozole Verde
Makes 12 to 15 servings

White Pozole
1 pound dried hominy (the same as giant white corn or maiz mote pelado), rinsed)
1 head garlic
2 whole chickens, or about 6 pounds, cut up in serving pieces, rinsed (combine with pork butt or shoulder if desired)
1 onion
Couple fresh cilantro sprigs
1 tbsp kosher or course sea salt, or to taste

Green Pozole Sauce
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted
1 pound tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed
1 to 2 jalapeños, stemmed
1 fresh large leafy stem of epazonte, or 5 sprigs cilantro
3 garlic cloves
1/3 cup onion, coarsely chopped
1 tsp kosher or sea salt, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tbsp vegetable oil

5 to 6 limes, cut in half
10 radishes, rinsed, halved and thinly sliced
1 head of romaine lettuce, rinsed, drained and thinly sliced
4 tbsp onion, finely chopped
1 avocado, halved, pitted, meat scooped out and dried
Piquín Chile, or a Mexican mix of dried chiles, ground
Dried oregano, crumbled
Tostadas or Totopos

Place the hominy in a large soup pot with cold water at least 3 inches ontop. Take off the dried skin layers from the head of garlic and add it into the pot. Do not add salt, because the hominy will toughen. Bring to a boil, then gently simmer over low medium heat uncovered for 3 hours or until hominy is tender and has begun to "bloom" or open up. Alternatively, you can buy precooked hominy and continue from this point.

In the meantime, place chicken in a large soup pot and cover with at least 1 inch of water above. Add white onion, cilantro and a tablespoon of salt and bring to boil. Simmer uncovered until chicken is cooked and tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and reserve the cooking liquid. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and the bones, and shred the meat into bite size pieces.

Meanwhile, make the green pozole sauce. Place tomatillos, garlic and chile in a medium 3-quart saucepan. Cover with water and set over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer; cook until the tomatillos have changed color from a bright to a dull green and are soft but not breaking apart, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Drain the cooked vegetables and set aside.

In a blender, add toasted pumpkin seeds and chop until finely ground. Then add the cooked tomatillos, jalapeños and garlic, onion, salt and reserved liquid. Puree until smooth. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium high heat until hot. Add the tomatillo sauce from the blender. Bring to a boil and simmer 15 to18 minutes, stirring occasionally, so it will thicken, season and deepen its color.

When the hominy is ready, incorporate the shredded chicken and its cooking broth. Add the green pozole sauce and the epazote or cilantro. Let it cook for 30 minutes more. Check for seasoning -at this point I always add more salt- and serve.

You may present the Pozole in a big soup pot and place the garnishes in smaller bowls on the side. Each person can serve Pozole in their individual soup bowls, and then add as many garnishes to their soup as they would like. I do, however, recommend that some fresh lime juice be squeezed into it! Tostadas or Totopos are eaten on the side.