Posole is great winter comfort food and a fascinating part of our cultural heritage. Made from corn dried in the summer sun so it would keep all winter, this is what New Mexicans ate when eating local was the only option! The dried corn is cooked in highly alkaline water, a process called nixtamalization. The resulting product, called nixtamal, posole, or hominy, develops a uniquely delicious taste and aroma as well as a chewy texture. The process also makes the corn more nutritious, by releasing certain B vitamins and amino acids. It can then be re-dried or frozen as posole, or ground into masa, then dried to make masa harina for tamales or tortillas. Posole is different from hominy in flavor, due to the lime (rather than other alkaline substances) used to make it.
Last week at the Los Ranchos winter market, I got the chance to chat with the farmers from Corrales Chile Company, who were selling dried blue corn and corn meal. They also sold little packets of pickling lime and explained how to do the nixtamalization process at home to make your own posole and masa! It’s surprisingly easy to do, and if you’re so inclined, I’ve posted instructions on my blog, www.veggieobsession.blogspot.com. It turned out great – there is something deeply satisfying about the flavor. Making your own may also be the only way to get organic posole, as I’ve never seen it for sale. Of course, you can buy locally produced dried or frozen posole at most New Mexico grocery stores. Just don’t use canned hominy, which is mushy and bland in comparison.
In New Mexico, posole is often served as a simple vegetable side dish. It can be as basic as just corn, onion and salt. Of course it’s better with chile – either red or green. Using a really good (preferably homemade) stock gives it a richer flavor. When you have great ingredients, they don’t need much embellishment. There are as many posole recipes as there are families that enjoy it. You can add meat if you like. I love how the recipe on the back of the Bueno frozen posole package calls for pigs’ feet to make the stock! Many recipes call for oregano, some use cumin. And some like to garnish with fresh cilantro, radish slices and a squeeze of lime juice.
Photo by Sergio Salvador