The Mexican stew pozole, traditionally made with pork and dried corn called hominy, is one of those dishes I never had before 1) going vegan and 2) moving to L.A. It’s not that I was opposed to eating it; there just had never been an opportunity for me to consider having it. Minnesota, where I grew up, isn’t exactly a thriving hotbed of authentic Mexican cuisine. But Mexicans shouldn’t take this personally. Minnesota isn’t a thriving hotbed of any type of cuisine. (Sorry folks, Scandinavian fare hardly qualifies as cuisine.)
Despite living in L.A. for eight years, we still hadn’t tried pozole, mainly because we hadn’t yet stumbled upon the marvelous vegetarian Mexican restaurant, Cinnamon in Highland Park. Finding vegetarian, let alone vegan, Mexican food is nearly impossible, here or in Mexico. Sure, there’s a whole lotta rice and refried beans going on…but even those are generally made with chicken stock and lard, respectively. So, when you’re, say, indulging in happy hour margaritas with friends, you end up eating basket after basket of warm, salty chips and salsa. Not that that’s bad. It’s just not pozole.
I had a pound of hominy from Ranch Gordo sitting in my cupboard since I had ordered his Mexican/Latin Sampler Pack a couple months ago. I immediately used up the beans and oregano (I’ve ordered more of everything since) but the hominy, quiet frankly, confused me. I just didn’t know what to do with it. I mean, it’s corn. Dried. Not exactly the most beautiful thing to look at nor the most inspiring ingredient to cook with.
Around the same time I was pathetically ignoring the hominy, Emmett and I hit up Cinnamon for lunch. I’m not sure what possessed him to order the pozole, but he did. And when it arrived at the table, steam billowing from the bowl, we both deeply inhaled and let the wonderful smells of garlic, oregano, chiles, and Cinnamon’s homemade soy carnitas fill us up. Next to the bowl sat a heaping plate full of condiments with which to top off the stew: sliced radish, shredded cabbage, chopped onion, Mexican oregano, lime quarters, and cilantro. It was heavenly. I decided right then and there to use my hominy in my own pozole. I just had to learn how to make it.
Like with most Mexican food, there are as many ways to make pozole as there are regions in Mexico, but generally you can divide pozole into three categories: blanco (white) made with a clear broth, rojo (red) made with red chiles, or verde (green) made with tomatillos. My friend Loretta had blogged about making red pozole for her friend’s birthday and since I love Loretta’s food, I decided to veganize her recipe. The only problem was that she used red chile sauce in a can from the grocery store. I wanted to make my own. So I did, based on this recipe.
My version of red pozole is an amalgamation of these two ladies’ recipes. And while I can’t say for certain that it tastes exactly as a red pozole in Mexico would, I can say with confidence, it is delicious!
Red Pozole Serves 8
The key to making an excellent vegan version of this wonderful soup is in the hominy. I highly recommend forgoing the canned stuff in favor of high-quality dried hominy like the kind I get from Rancho Gordo. While dried takes a little extra cooking time, the upside is that it allows the hominy to absorb the bold flavors of the broth resulting in a one-two punch in every spoonful. It’s also important to use Mexican oregano, which is very different from the European oregano most people have in their spice racks. You can find it in most grocery stores, though I’m a huge fan of Rancho Gordo’s (I promise, he is not paying me to endorse his products…I truly love them!). This soup is even better the second day, making it a great do-ahead dish for parties.
Red Sauce: 2 Tablespoons olive oil 2 Tablespoons finely diced white onion 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano 2 Tablespoons flour ½ teaspoon ground cumin ½ cup (2 oz.) ground red chile (NOT chile powder, which is different) 2 ½ cups water ½ teaspoon sea salt
Pozole: 1 pound dried hominy 3½ quarts (14 cups) veggie broth 1 small white onion, diced 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed 3 dried whole red chile peppers such as New Mexican or guajillo, stems and seeds removed 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
Garnishes: Sliced radish Shredded cabbage Toasted, dried Mexican oregano Diced white onion Cilantro Toasted tortilla strips Lime quarters
Soak the dried hominy overnight in a large bowl of water.
Make the red sauce by combining the olive oil, onion, garlic, and oregano in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir continuously for a few minutes until the onion takes on a bit of color. Add the flour and cumin and stir until the flour browns a bit, a minute or two. Whisk the chile into the water and then add it into the saucepan, whisking all the while. Stir until the sauce thickens, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Stir in the salt. Remove from heat and set aside.
Drain the hominy and place in a large stock pot with the veggie broth, onion, garlic, chile peppers, oregano, and half the red sauce. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until the hominy is tender and many of the kernels have flowered into popcorn shapes, approximately 2 to 3 hours.
Once the hominy has cooked, stir in the lime juice and as much of the remaining red sauce to taste. (I use it all!).
Spoon the pozole into bowls, top with toasted tortilla chips, and serve with the remaining condiments on the side.