When The Boy and I first started dating, one of our favourite spots for a cheapie weeknight dinner was Mexitaco, a little neighbourhood mom-and-pop Mexican restaurant down the street from my apartment in the west end.
While I rarely order the same thing twice in a row, The Boy was unstintingly faithful to his favourite – the pozole, a steaming bowl of spicy pork and hominy soup accompanied by a basket full of colourful garnishes. He loves the stuff so much that we occasionally make the trip back to the west end to drop into Mexitaco, just so he can get his fix.
The appeal of posole is in the mixture of contrasting textures and temperatures contained within each spoonful – a combination of piping hot spicy broth with a slight acidic bite of lime juice, toothsome chunks of hominy and pork, tangy pickled onions, refreshing crisp radishes and lettuce, buttery soft avocado, and crunchy bits of tortilla. Plus, it’s an awfully fun dish for a dinner party, because everyone gets full permission to play with their food by adding whatever toppings might catch their fancy.
With Cinquo de Mayo just around the corner, I figured I’d try my hand at making some posole at home. As you can imagine, The Boy had absolutely no objections to this plan. The end result wasn’t quite on par with his restaurant favourite, but it made for some mighty fine eating nonetheless.
Now, I’m not going to pretend this is an authentic recipe, by any means. For one, a traditional posole is usually prepared with bony cuts of pork like ribs or shank, and uses dried hominy corn which must be soaked in advance. It’s a multi-stage, multi-pot, multi-hour, all-day sort of dish, while my interpretation avoids a lot of the fuss by making use of several shortcuts like boneless pork stew and canned hominy corn.
That said, you’ll still want to start a couple of hours in advance, since the pickled onions and salsa roja both need a head start. Save this one for a lazy Sunday afternoon where you don’t mind spending a few hours puttering around the kitchen. Trust me, it’s worth it.
(BTW, if you’re inclined the try the real deal, you should try this version from Rick Bayless instead.)
2 lbs boneless pork loin or shoulder, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp each salt and ground pepper
6 cups water
4 cups chicken broth
2 cans (29 oz) cooked hominy corn
2 bay leaves
1 batch Salsa Roja (recipe below)
Chopped iceberg lettuce
Thinly sliced radishes
Pickled red onions (recipe below)
Fried tortilla strips or tostadas
Season pork cubes with cumin, salt and pepper.
Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook until browned on all sides, working in batches if needed to keep the pot from being too crowded.
Stir in water and broth, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits that might be clinging to the bottom of the pot. Add hominy corn and bay leaves.
Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat to low and let simmer, uncovered, until pork is very tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Stir in salsa roja and simmer for 10-15 minutes to heat through. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Once the posole is ready, set out an array of small dishes with various toppings in the middle of the table. Serve the posole piping hot in large bowls, and let everyone customize their bowls as they please.
2 dried guajillo chiles
2 dried pasjilla chiles
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup minced onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano (Mexican, if possible)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
Juice of 1 lime
Cut open the dried chiles, and remove the stem and seeds. Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut into thin strips.
Place the chile strips in a small bowl, and add just enough boiling water to cover. Set aside for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until the chiles are soft and rehydrated. Drain off the liquid, reserving 2 tbsp for later.
Heat the olive oil in a small skillet set over medium high heat. Add the onions and garlic, and saute until onion is lightly golden, about 3-5 minutes. Add oregano and cumin, and continue cooking until spices are fragrant, about 1 minute.
Combine the chiles, reserved soaking liquid, onion mixture and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Process until you have a smooth puree, adding lime juice as needed to create a smooth consistency (I found that the juice of one lime did the trick for me).
Mexican-Style Pickled Onions
Adapted from Epicurious
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 clove garlic
1 tsp Mexican oregano
Blanch the onion slices in a large saucepan full of boiling water for 1 minute, then drain.
Return the onions to the pan, along with cider vinegar, salt and as much cold water as needed to barely cover. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute.
Pour onions and brine into a clean glass jar. Smash the garlic clove with the side of a knife, and add to the jar, along with the oregano. Chill in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours before serving.
Pickled onions will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator – aside from posole, they make a great condiment for a simple cheese plate, and can also be used to perk up your favourite sandwich (try them with roast lamb or chicken).
(This recipe is really best when made with red onions, which will take on a gorgeous magenta pink colour as they sit in the brine. That said, regular white onions will taste just as good, despite the fact that they won’t be as pretty.)