I had a brunch last Saturday for a couple of new friends and a set of parents that were in town. I was up to my eyeballs in work and writing and deadlines, and I quickly realized I would not be making the grand three-course breakfast I had been planning on. I settled on making posole. Not because posole is super fast – it definitely is not the type of thing you can throw together in 20 minutes – nor because I had all of the ingredients in-house. In fact, there were a handful of dishes I could have made from ingredients I already had in my house or I could have sourced from a local tienda in more or less half of the time.
No, I chose posole because I needed a little bit of home. I needed comfort that I felt was uniquely my own, from my family and archived away in the recipes in my mind, learned from years of watching loved ones cook similar dishes. I wanted to cook something I didn’t need to follow a recipe for, something I didn’t need to look up in a book or online. I wanted it to taste like it had taken days to prepare, when I didn’t actually have days. I wanted something that would make my guests feel at home. I wanted them to feel with every bite that I enjoyed cooking for them and sharing this meal with them amid the semi-organized chaos in which I live my life now.
This is what entertaining should be about. Making something that you want to eat as much as you want to share it with your dining companions. It should not be about being in the kitchen all day slaving over a hot stove so by the time you actually serve the meal you don’t even want to look at it. It should be about love.
This posole, I have to say, turned out amazingly. The pork, after its cinnamon and chile-spiked bath, tasted faintly of spices and shredded perfectly. I didn’t have to worry about adjusting spices to the preferences of my guests, because the condiments bar allowed them to add as much or as little of whatever they wanted. You can easily augment portions by adding rice and serving tortillas if you are unsure of how many people you are having (if you are like me, the whole world get’s an invite so I am never quite sure who will show up). It’s the posole I remember from my childhood. Quite frankly, it tastes of home.
Sitting on the porch of the SJ house, sipping mimosas and beers before we departed to tackle the rest of our Saturday, one of my guests asked me for the recipe. She was disappointed to learn that I didn’t have one, because honestly, I made it up. It’s a combination of tips and flavors my mother, grandmother and aunts taught me, but it also takes into account what I have learned in the last ten years of being left to my own devices in the kitchen. For instance, I don’t remember cinnamon being used in family recipes, but it is quite common in other Mexican meat dishes, as well as in some of my family’s Lebanese dishes, and it just felt right here. That’s what I love about cooking – it’s elastic. What you like I might not like, and visa versa. It can be fluid and natural. Last Saturday morning I really wasn’t concerned with teaspoons or ounces, I was more concerned with feeding people, and judging from our distended bellies at the end of the meal, this posole did just that.
If you liked this recipe, check out A Recipe for Enchilada Sauce from a Real Mexican here.
If I were making this in the States, close to one of those lovely, sprawling Mexican supermarkets, I would use one 28 oz can of hominy instead of dried. Because this is Guatemala and I can’t find decent canned products to save my life, I used dried hominy, which will add cooking time. Same goes for beans. Active time: 20 minutes, Cook time: 3 hours; Serves 10 heartily
2 pounds pork shoulder (also known as pork butt), cut into 2 inch cubes
1.5 gallons of water
1 large white onion, divided
4 cloves garlic
2 bay leafs
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon chile powder
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
2 pounds tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 dried pasilla pepper, or similar
1 pound dried hominy kernels, like from Rancho Gordo, soaked overnight
2 large carrots
1 28 oz can pinto beans
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
To serve any of the following…
Thinly sliced cabbage, finely chopped radishes, finely chopped onion, chile powder, dried oregano, hot sauce, lime wedges, cooked rice, tortillas
In a large pot, combine first 10 ingredients (reserving 1/2 of the onion) and bring to a boil. Partially cover and simmer for 2 hours or until pork can easily be pulled apart.
In the meantime, toast dried chile pepper in a skillet or on a comal. Add chiles, along with tomatoes, to a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
Remove pork to a bowl and cover. Remove bay leaves and cinnamon stick and disgard. Add tomato mixture, the remaining 1/2 onion (sliced), hominy, carrots and beans. Bring back to a boil, partial cover and simmer for another hour, or until the hominy kernels have popped, or the skin has broken open on each kernel. Add cilantro. Shred pork and add back to pot. Adjust for salt and serve with your choice on condiments.