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At holiday time people throughout the world honor traditions, and New Mexico is no exception. One tradition many here look forward to on Christmas Eve is a steaming bowl of posole (po-SO-lay), a spicy corn stew that is known as the ceremonial dish for celebrating life’s blessings.
New Mexicans have been enjoying posole for centuries. The cuisine here springs from three cultures: Native American, Mexican, and European. The Rio Grande Pueblo Indians, and their ancestors, the “Anasazi,” or “ancient ones,” relied on corn, beans, squash, and chiles for sustenance. These early crops became firmly entrenched in the culture, forming the foundation of New Mexican cuisine even before the Spanish arrived.
Corn has been and is the major food plant of the Native Americans. Red, yellow, and blue corn are cultivated in New Mexico. The corn is ground into meal and flour for use in breads and tortillas, and it is processed into posole corn.
Posole corn is prepared by soaking hard kernels of field corn (traditionally white, although blue is sometimes used now) in powdered lime and water - a method thought to mimic the ancient preservation of corn in limestone caves. After several hours, when the corn kernels have swollen, the liquid is allowed to evaporate and the kernels to dry.
Posole is different from hominy, another kind of processed corn, which tends to be softer and more bland. Compared to hominy, posole’s flavor is intense and earthy, its consistency more robust. Since posole corn can be difficult to find, hominy is often used as a substitute in posole stew.
The variations for posole are many. Some make it with chicken rather than pork; some prefer to use vegetable protein rather than meat. While posole in Southern New Mexico is always made with red chile, it is not uncommon to find Northern New Mexico posole made with green chile.
The posole pictured here was prepared by Valentine Esquivel, owner of the Coffee Pot Restaurant in Deming, New Mexico. Valentine said his recipe is for “Guadalahara-style” posole, and is the exact recipe his mother used when Valentine was a boy in Mexico City. This recipe serves 20-24 people.
Note: Posole can be easily adapted for vegetarians.
Ingredients for Posole
12 dried long red chile
10 lbs. Boned pork roast cut into 1″ cubes
1/2 head of garlic peeled and chopped
A large pinch of Mexican oregano
1/2 of a large onion, chopped
Large can hominy
Break open the chiles and remove the seeds and veins. Put the chiles to cook in a medium sized pot. Cover with fresh water and gently boil until chiles are very soft. Let the mixture cool and using a favorite method, blend the chile and the water to make a paste and strain.
Meanwhile, put the cubed pork, oregano, garlic, onion and salt into a large heavy pot and cover with water. Boil meat gently for 30 minutes. When the meat is soft, add the chile and hominy and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the mixture is boiling nicely.
To serve, ladle the posole into heavy bowls and serve with thinly sliced cabbage and radishes, quartered limes, oregano, chopped onion, and fresh corn tortillas. Besides these side dishes, posole is usually served with sodas or cervesas.