[Photos by Tim Butterfield & Laurel Morley]
'Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.' - Charles Dickens
For some, the comfort food that conjures memories of home is a huge, steaming bowl of spicy greens or a fragrant pile of creamy grits. For others, the word home evokes specific thoughts of briney steamed clams, a family macaroni recipe doused with cheese, homemade blackberry ice cream or freshly baked rustic bread.
From my own past, the scent that drifts up in my sense memory is rich with spices, the deep earthiness of toasted cumin and ground ancho chilies, sweet slippery golden slices of butternut squash melting alongside kernels of hominy in broth, chunks of long-simmered pork shoulder bobbing at the rim of the pot.
The conjured magic of home. The creosote smell of the desert after rain. My fingertips running along the exact loops and rustic arabesques of the carved wooden sideboard that stood next to our dining room table, the rough feeling of the grain beneath my hands. The arid, toasted aroma of spices. The manic peal of laughter that rang whenever someone--and it was often, we were an exceptionally jokey family--let fly a truly funny voice or well-timed punchline. The sleeping form of a dog stretched on the cool floor. My bare-soled feet slapping the rough glaze of terra cotta tiles. The sweet heft of carrying a steaming pot of soup to the table, always carefully and with two solemn hands on both handles, to be shared among many bowls. Happiness in my nose and fingertips, happiness in my very skin and to the ends of my hair. That is home.
This soup, my friends, is also home. Posole, a rich, flavorful stew with deep pre-Columbian roots in Mexico, traveled northward long ago to my childhood home in the desert and has been a beloved staple across the southwestern states ever since. This hearty soup can be made in a multitude of varieties; my favorite always includes tender pork, the sweet autumnal flavors of butternut squash and ground pumpkin seeds, and an uninhibited kick from seasoning with various spices. Share it among friends & loved ones, and don't forget to inhale deeply.
Posole with Butternut Squash and Ground Pepitas
Makes 8-10 servings
Total preparation time: 2 1/2 hours
2 quarts chicken stock
3 cups cold water
2 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
1 lb. boneless pork shoulder, cut into roughly 2-inch cubes
3/4 cup white onion, chopped
4 serrano chilies, seeds and ribs removed, then minced
2 tablespoons ground chipotle (ancho chile powder would also be great here)
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups roasted hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
2 lb. canned hominy or pozole
3 tsp. salt
2 tablespoons vinegar or lime juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 butternut squash, with the hard rind & inner seeds removed, sliced into fat 1/2" matchsticks
small amount of ground chipotle or ancho chile powder
fresh cilantro leaves, hand-torn or roughly chopped
Pour chicken stock and two cups of water (reserving the third for later) into a large pot, heat just to boiling then drop to medium and let simmer.
Dry the cubes of pork shoulder thoroughly by patting them all over with paper towels. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium high heat, then brown the meat on all sides and place in pot with stock. Add remaining tablespoon of oil, onions and minced chilies to skillet (leave all the leftover browned bits in the pan from earlier, they will add flavor), dropping heat to medium and stirring often. Cook until softened and lightly browned, about five minutes, then add spices and continue to stir for another minute.
Transfer onion mixture to the bowl of a food processor or pitcher of a blender, add remaining cup of cold water, pepitas and minced garlic. Blend until a smooth paste forms, then scrape this out of the bowl and directly into the simmering pot. Place a lid on the pot and let this cook over medium heat for at least an hour.
Drain and rinse the hominy kernels, add to pot. Let simmer for another hour.
Taste soup and add salt, vinegar or lime juice and honey in the quantities listed (or to taste, whatever is your preference). Add butternut squash slices and continue to simmer for about fifteen more minutes, until squash is tender. Remove from heat and serve warm; garnishing with a dusting of ground chipotle or ancho chile powder and a scattering of cilantro leaves is optional, but highly recommended.