Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Vegetarian Posole with Mole

Anyone who knows me knows of my love of posole.

Or is it pozole?

Regardless, this is the single best thing about coming home to Phoenix. And not just any pos/zole. No, no. It must be made by Maria, goddess of Mexican cuisine, chef and owner of El Conquistador Mexican Restaurant. As is only right, she makes posole (both red and green) only on weekends, giving the broth time to marinate and thicken and become, in a word, wonderful.

Now, my personal favorite is her green variety. Made with pork, topped with slices of avocado and chicharrones (pork scratchings), and a healthy sprinkling of oregano, this soup is the stuff of dreams.

Because I'm unable to make the pilgrimage to the homelands very often, I'm always on the lookout for a posole recipe that could rival Maria's. And I have yet to find one. Too often they are thin watery things, with none of that fabulous deep rich flavor that makes Maria's so more-ish. Think more of a tortilla soup than a true hearty posole. And so I have been disappointed time and again when making them myself.

So when I saw a recipe in Bittman's Vegetarian cookbook, I was sure I was in for another let down. Yet my mother (who was a similar devotee of Maria's soups) has recently turned vegetarian, which has meant a sad new lack of posole in her life. I had to take pity and make this vegetarian version for her. We both knew it couldn't rival the Maria's, but still, we had to try.

And surprise, surprise! This may be the best homemade posole recipe I've found. Granted, there was a stunning lack of pork and thus it missed the rich meatiness to the original, but still, the thick broth, flavored with pumpkin seeds and tomatillos was spot on (also the addition of pork scratchings for my helping didn't hurt either). If I had a mind to make this for a non-vegetarian crowd, the addition of pork might send this recipe over the top to even rival Maria's version. I know this to be heresy, but still, Bittman deserves his credit for creating a vegetarian version of a soup that I thought to be solely within the realm of the meat-eating population.

Kudos, Bitty.


Makes: at least 8 servings

6 cups precooked hominy (i.e. canned)
1 1/2 cups freshly toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds, just toasted in a dry pan until lightly brown and popping)
4-6 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock for the non-vegetarians)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 medium poblano or other mild fresh green chiles, roasted and cleaned (I did mine under the broiler in the oven for about 5-10 minutes, remove the skin and seeds)
2 serrano or other hot green fresh chiles, roasted and cleaned (see above)
1 lb tomatillos (16-20 depending on size), husked and rinsed (canned are okay, but include their juices)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped epazote or radish greens (optional, I couldn't find any so mine was without)
1 tablespoon fresh oregano or marjoram leaves
salt and black pepper
1/4 cup grapeseed oil

Optional Toppings:
Sliced avocado
Chicharrones (pork scratchings/rinds)

Place the pepitas and 1 cup of the stock in a blender or food processor; puree until smooth; transfer to a large bowl. Put the onion, garlic, chiles, tomatillos, herbs, and a large pinch of salt and pepper in the blend or food processor and puree until smooth (I had to do mine in batches, also add a bit more stock or water if necessary). Mix the tomatillo puree with the pumpkin seed puree.

Put the oil in a large pot over medium high heat; add the mixed puree and cook, stirring frequently, until it's dry, 10-15 minutes. Gradually stir in another 3 cups of the remaining stock; reduce the heat to a gentle bubble and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, another 15 minute or so.

Add the hominy. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve hot with any and all garnishes.

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