Una Pozoliza--A Pozole Birthday Party!
By Victoria Challancin
Nixtamalization--an Ancient Process
The word pozole simply denotes hominy, or dried field corn which has been treated by soaking it in a solution of lye, slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) or wood ash and then cooked. Called "nixtamalization," this process of soaking hard field corn in an alkaline solution has multiple benefits: it makes the corn easier to grind and transport, increases the flavor and smell, reduces mycotoxins, and releases niacin which helps prevent the often fatal pellagra disease. And the ancient Mayans and Aztecs knew and utilized this important process thousands of years ago! When Europeans eventually integrated New World corn into their diets and introduced it into Africa, they failed to understand the importance of nixtamalizing the corn, resulting in serious niacin deficiency and death to many who came to depend on corn as a staple. Yet the ancients in the Americas fully understood its importance. Even my grandmother from Georgia slaked her corn in a large bucket with wood ash before making her hominy grits!
Have you ever smelled a really fresh corn tortilla or a tamal? Well, it is the slaked corn that gives it its heady aroma. In fact, I smilingly recall a Mexican friend who was helping me cook for a fiesta sighing when I brought in a bucket of tortilla dough (masa) I had bought at a local tortilleria and saying, "Ahhhhhh.....nixtamal!" Indeed, it is a smell that warms the heart of all Mexicans and those who love its cuisine.
The difference in the end product of nixtamalized corn is the difference between a corn tortilla and Southern cornbread made from untreated ground corn: both delicious, but one significantly more healthy than the other.
So if the word pozole simply means "hominy," why, you ask, am I so ecstatic about such a humble food? Because although simple hominy is delicious on its own--and don't get me started on my love of grits-- the pozole that I am referring to is that incomparable Mexican soup of the same name which makes me weak in the knees. So weak, in fact, that wherever I travel in Mexico, I seek out the pozolerias that serve it.
Served at quinceañeras, weddings, birthdays, and New Year celebrations, pozole is a soup typically made with rich pork broth and hominy, although countless regional variations exist (my good friend Alfredo Castrejón, who is from the state of Guerrero, tells me that sardines are popular in one local version). Traditionally, pozole comes in one of three colors: red, white, or green. And while red is the most typical type found here in the Bajio of Mexico, where I live, white (or green even) is my favorite.
Although the basic hominy/meat or chicken soup base is delicious on its own, it is the accompaniments that make the dish come to life. These, too, vary a bit from region to region, but the most common are shredded lettuce or cabbage, avocado, radishes, Mexican limes, and dried oregano (a must!). I have most commonly eaten (and made) it using chicharron, or fried pork skins, as one of the garnishes, but the version I will show you here was made by Alfredo, who serves his chicken version with corn tostadas, black beans, sour cream, and fresh farmer's cheese (queso fresco or queso ranchero)--delicious!
On my son's 26th birthday on January 19th, his girlfriend and her family hosted a pozoliza, or posole party for him--and my mouth is still watering. As far as I am concerned, this is a perfect party dish. Or maybe just a perfect dish in general!
Thinly sliced lettuce
Chopped white onion (the sharp-tasting variety--the only one to use in Mexican cooking!)
Chile, of course!
Limes...never lemons here!
The obligatory Mexican oregano
The Black Bean Tostadas
A tostada is simply a fried, crispy corn tortilla used as a base on which to pile other layers of deliciousness. Notice that there is no grease!
Mexican sour cream or crema (much like crème fraîche) and queso fresco (also called queso ranchero--fresh farmer's cheese)
More tostadas...beautiful tostadas
The Finished Soup with Tostada
I loved eating pozole with a black bean tostada--a nice change from using chicharron, or fried pork skin, which is often served with the pork version of this dish. Here I have a corn tostada smeared with refried black beans, a dollop of Mexican sour cream, and a sprinkle of farmer's cheese and chile
The naked, unadorned soup (unfortunately the hominy has sunk to the bottom!)
My dish of pozole...ready to eat
The Birthday Boy with his Mum