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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pozolé Rojo inspired by The School of Essential Ingredients


Heather was probably just under a year old when she fell in love with the flavors traditionally referred to as “Mexican”. It was nothing complex…just pinto beans, refried…but that first solid food, fed to her by her parents on a regular jaunt south-of-the-border would stay with her for the rest of her life.

She doesn’t really remember when or how she came to leave San Diego to live in the Midwest…Michigan to be exact. What she does remember is that connection to an earlier time, a time when strolling over the border was not an offense punishable by shooting or imprisonment. It’s held strong inside her for all these years. She remembers a time in elementary school when she discovered that the old couple who lived next door to one of her friends were Mexican…or Latino of some descent (Tejano maybe??)…this beautiful, brown-skinned little lady would place a tortilla, warm and comforting into her small hands…feet ready to take off running around the cool, blue pool in their courtyard. These tortillas were made from wheat flour instead of the corn flour that she was accustomed to. Although, she contemplates quietly, many of the Northern Mexican states do make “flour” tortillas quite often. Either way, those tortillas are never far back in her mind as her now-adult sized hands knead that familiar mixture of flour, fat, and water.
As she rolls out the dough and toasts it up on her own well-loved comal…and places a tortilla in the small, waiting hands of her own children.

Surely it was inevitable that she would marry a man from Mexico. Destiny, perhaps? A seed planted that day some 34 years ago. The universe works in mysterious ways. However it came to be, she always knew that a kitchen filled with the deep, earthy scent of dried chiles, toasted, ground corn and the steam from a pot of beans simmering on the back of the stove was In the cards for her. She reveled in the scent of garlic, fresh and sticky on her fingers from smashing a half a head and rubbing it together with salt to form a pungent paste that would be stirred in with the creamy avocados that her husband stopped to pick up from the Mexican market on his way home from work…and the brightly colored ingredients laid out on the counter in front of her…juicy, dripping chunks of summer-fresh tomatoes, small-diced jalapeño squares…bright and green, slivers of white onions that had inevitably made tears fall down her face only moments ago, and fresh, tangy lime juice just waiting to bring everything together.

Life is a funny thing, Heather thought. Funny that her favorite restaurant throughout high school had been a Mexican restaurant. Funny that her favorite celebrity chef specialized in Mexican cuisine. Funny that she learned so much of what she knows and incorporates into her own cooking from that chef…who happens to be an American with a deep connection to Mexican food, culture, and tradition…just like her. Funny that even these many years after she finished culinary school, where she studied the cuisines of many different countries and cultures, she still cherishes those same flavors that she has for as long as she can remember…

Smiling as she watches her husband and kids soaping, scrubbing, and hosing down their car on this clear sunny day…a basket of fresh radishes, lettuce, avocados, and limes at her feet from her recent return from the market, her mind wanders effortlessly to the jar of hominy that she cooked and put in the refrigerator the day before yesterday. And to the mulato chiles in her pantry…the ones that are still pliable with tacky insides that will surely stick to her fingers as she pries out the seeds and ribs on the inside. As sure as she’s sitting there, her soul is already in the kitchen…gathering, prepping, simmering the ingredients that will turn into an earthy, comforting bowl of Pozolé…she can almost feel the heat creeping up her face after she scoops up a big bite with a broken piece of tostada…the cooling garnishes giving the ultimate in contrast of flavors and textures.


Heather thought she could still smell the scent of garlic on her fingertips and Pozolé lingering lazily in the air tonight as she pushed through the gate to Lillian’s restaurant for the cooking class that she was starting tonight…a gift form her husband. She loved how he always thought of her and supported her insatiable search for knowledge and love of food.
This is how I imagine my chapter would begin if I was a character in the Erica Bauermeister's novel The School of Essential Ingredients.  This is our current Cook the Books that I easily became lost in...a part of.  The School of Essential Ingredients is a cooking class held in Lillian's restaurant...a class where people of all different backgrounds and life experience come together and learn not only the "essential" ingredients in the kitchen, but unexpectedly in their lives outside of the kitchen, as well.  Each "chapter" is titled with a different character's name and proceeds to tell the story of each person as it relates to their character.  Each person's story drew me in further; I felt as if I actually was an active member of Lillian's if I was gaining insight on those new people I shared one night per week with.  For me...and many of you, I and food are connected in almost every aspect.  This is how Bauermeister writes...with passion, hunger and respect for the nuances of life.  I didn't want the journey into any characters past or present to end...I didn't want to break my connection with them.  Bauermeister speaks to how our experiences shape who we are in every aspect of our lives in the present.  What memories certain foods conjure up...which foods make us joyful, which foods make us weep, which foods make us remember and which foods make us lovers, friends, neighbors, bosses, employees...which foods make us utterly contemplate our humanity.  I wanted to place myself smack dab in the middle of Lillian's, that's exactly what I did.
Pozolé Rojo
from the kitchen of girlichef
yield: ~1qt.

3 mulato chiles, seeded & stemmed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed
~1 Tbs. olive oil
6 c. homemade chicken stock
~3 c. cooked, shredded chicken
~3 c. cooked hominy
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
sea salt
garnish (NOT optional):
radish slices
shredded Romaine lettuce
avocado, diced
lime wedges
dried Mexican Oregano
piquin chile powder

Pour boiling water over mulato chiles in small bowl and let sit ~20 minutes to soften.  Place chiles in blender with onion, tomato, and garlic.  Add ~1/2 c. of the chile soaking liquid and blend until smooth, adding more liquid if needed to make blender run smoothly.

Heat olive oil in large pot, add pureé and cook, stirring for ~10 minutes, until thickened a bit.  Whisk in cumin and then stock and bring to a boil.  Add hominy and chicken, bring back to a boil.  Cook for another 10 minutes or so on a lazy bubble.  Add 1/2 tsp. of salt and taste.  Add more if needed.  Otherwise, ladle the Pozolé into serving bowls.
Add garnishes...first the lettuce, avocado, and radish.  Next, crumble the oregano in your hands to release the oils and sprinkle it over the bowl.  Add a pinch of chile powder.  Squeeze some lime juice over it.  Scoop it all up with some broken up tostadas.  Taste the deep, earthy, comforting flavors...
If you haven't read this book yet, please do so and join us over at Cook the, books, books, know, the finer things in life.
I am sharing this post with:
cookthebooks Souper_Sundays2 YBR
*Update 8/3/10: A winning entry...woo hoo!

Would you like to comment?

  1. Oh, even though it's supposed to go up to 90 today, that looks fabulous ... I want some for breakfast!!!

  2. You could have SO been a chapter in this book! Great writing. You really captured Bauermeister's style.

    And your love of all things Mexican really was fate. Or serendipity. Whatever you want to call it. That all led up to this fabulous pozole. Total yum.

  3. Oh holy moses! That posole looks soooo good! My best friend growing up was mexican and some of my fondest childhood memories are of sitting in her mother's kitchen while she cooked.
    You did a fantastic job of writing your own chapter, I could totally see it in there.
    I'm putting this one on my "must try" list!

  4. Your literary style glows in your writing as well as your dishes, Heather. Excellenta!

    Thanks for sharing...

  5. Great post Heather, you're a fabulous writer. Well at least you come by it honestly. I grew up in the middle of Kansas and the only introduction to Mexican type food was a Taco Bell (I swear I just gagged when I typed the words Taco Bell) about 15 miles away. I tried it once and hated it. And now Denver is chock full of "tex-mex" places...not a fan. I'll have to blame my Mexican food obsession on an old cookbook I found at a garage sale. Authentic earthy flavors from this made me a fan...and then along came Rick and it was all over. :-) Making Tacos al Pastor this weekend. Can't wait to blog about it.

  6. I love pozolé! And I love your post. It's this deeper consideration of how food comes to symbolize our selves and our lives that fascinates me so. This would make a great chapter for The School of Essential Ingredients (thank you for introducing me to this title), but I think you should write a book of your own . . .

  7. Loved reading your post. Your soup looks so spicy and yummy, perfect with tortillas. I'm sure it'll also taste delicious with Indian naan or roti's.

  8. Love this post Heather. I have gone through many stages of my own life...Greek, Italian and Middle Eastern. Love the cuisine of all. In a recent trip to Washington I am now in love with Mexican too:D

  9. Great post! Heh, although I was wondering if you had lost it when you were referring to yourself in the third person so much. ;)

    Soup looks awesome, I love that the garnish is *not* optional.

  10. Chief...I can smell the kitchen...your writing makes it so vivid...this is a lovely post..enjoyed it throughly with a cup of coffee...mid day break :)

  11. I'm learning...I'm learning....good to know more about essential ingredients.

  12. Thanks all...I would LOVE to be an "actual" writer. Maybe someday...

    Bob...HA!! "What is wrong w/ this chic"...tee hee. And yeah, NOT optional ;)

  13. Brilliant review of the book--I just love how you wrote yourself into the story--and so well too. ;-) Loving the Pozolé--it looks so flavorful and good. Thanks for sending it to Souper Sundays!

  14. Smart, sweet post - as you became part of the book, all of the post. And the food - well - you do your love of it proud!

  15. OH MY GOD heather! OH this is so freaking good--sorry for swearing on your comments but GIRLFRIEND you made me BAWL my eyes out!!!! I am so sharing this on my thoughts on friday to share your passion, your knowing and your delicious food! Oh man, i am just shaking!!! You my dear so wicked rock! LOVE YOU! Alex

  16. i think you should contact the author and get your chapter added. it's so funny, i JUST read that book and adored it, so when i was reading your chapter i kept thinking "i really must be losing my mind, i can't for the life of me remember this part!" lol! your writing was so good though, you had me convinced!

    fabulous dish, very inspired, i am in love with Mexican food too, i NEVER get sick of it. i hope you're having a lovely summer!

  17. Mmm. Mexican food is one of my very favorites. This sounds like such a fun read! Your pazole looks fantastic. I love the radishes in here too! ;)

  18. what a lovely post! and such a great recipe to share... Being of Mexican descent and a Texan I do love Mexican food, and also remember better times.
    thanks again for such a great post!

  19. Wow! It was like reading a love story. The way you captured your love and fascination for Mexican food, well really all Real food. I sit in awe girl of your talent. I will be first in line to buy your book!

  20. Stupendous post for Cook the Books, Heather. I love your line about the good old days when crossing the border did not involve imprisonment or shooting. Well put.

    I think Ms. Bauermeister will really appreciate this testament to her book when she reads through the entries. Brava!

  21. I love how you wrote your own chapter! You should continue it and write a book - I was mesmerized! The more I hear about the book the more I'm certain I need to go order it. Your pozole has my mouth watering! It looks insanely good.

  22. I'm moved by your passion. Don't kid yourself, girl, you are an actual writer, and a talented one at that!

  23. Your pozolé is gorgeous. If all the chapters written as well as yours, I will have to read the actual book. It sounds like it would make my commute much more enjoyable :)

  24. That's the perfect beginning to your chapter! And the most awesome soup. I've never seen hominy in this country, but it can't be that hard to find!

  25. You get my vote. Your chapter was beautiful and your dish was too.

  26. Great post! Your pozole looks amazing and I agree that the garnishes should, absolutely, not be optional.

  27. Girl, talk about getting into a book! Great pozole recipe too. I made one for the night of Spain's World Soccer win - a Green Chile Pozole with pulled pork.

  28. I love your writing sis! you made me wanna cry..beautiful :)

  29. I have never had pozole, so I am trying to imagine what it tastes like from your inviting recipe. I like what you wrote: "garnish (NOT optional)".

  30. Ooooohmygoodness. I am LOVING this recipe! We're trying it out for sure.

  31. You so rocked the memory post!!! Awesome first hsoul post!

  32. Heather- This remains one of my favorite posts! Such a fitting way to kick of the Hearth and Soul blog hop!

  33. I am with butter on this one. I loved it then, I love it even more now, as I have gotten to know you! SO awesome, evocative and true! Whooo hooo. I am gonna have to try this! Hugs and thanks for hosting and posting on the hearth n soul hop! :) Alex

  34. Beautiful post! The pozole looks fantastic! Adding this to my "must try" list!

  35. Those are some nice flavours mixing together. I think I'll have to look up that book as well.

    I'm embarassed that I had to look up "hominy." All I know about it is from "My Cousin Vinnie" when they had "grits" with their breakfast.

    I didn't know what I "grit" was either, outside of "something that goes with a Southern breakfast" :-)

  36. Beautiful post - I so enjoyed it!! Thank you for sharing your story with us, and also the Cook the Books Club which sounds wonderful. I'm off to have a look now! Oh, and the Pozole sounds (and looks!) amazing too :)

  37. you are a gifted writer and amazing cook...i feel transported and will carry the beauty and heart of this post with me into the kitchen today.

  38. This post was so beautiful. I was drawn over here with the photo from YBR, but your words kept me here. I love posole, every time I see a bowl of it, it brings back the best memories. I like this version, it's quicker than mine. Happy New Years.

  39. Great post and recipe Heather! Pozole is one of my favorite meals, that is my Mom's pozole rojo. Happy New Year and thanks for participating in the YBR. As always it's a pleasure to have your share your delicious recipes. Best wishes for el ano nuevo!

  40. I love this recipe. Everyone can have what they want and yet we all eat the same thing together. Genius.

  41. The blend of the fresh and the warm soup is just phenomenal.