Pozole verde, the pre-Columbian chilli-laden stew, starts with corn. A symbol of life and prosperity in ancient cultures, corn is “undoubtedly the most defining food crop in the history of the Americas”, chef and baker Roxana Jullapat writes in her new cookbook, Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution.
“There is this idea, I think, in a lot of people’s heads in this country, that all corn is bad,” Jullapat, a co-owner of the Los Angeles cafe and bakery Friends & Family, says. “But like every food, you have to go back to the source. You have to go back to the grain, to the farm, to the grower.”
It’s true that most commodity corn, subsidised, modified and fortified, is a far cry from the nutritious cobs that sustained Mayan, Inca and Aztec civilizations for centuries. But it’s also true that you can still find the good stuff. “And it’s important to go looking for it,” Jullapat says, “because if cooks ask stores, stores will ask purveyors, who will ask growers. It starts a chain of demand that can keep these grains alive.”
Mother Grains is far more than a book of recipes for cooking and baking. It’s a call to action.
It’s also a primer on barley, buckwheat, corn, oats, rice, rye, sorghum and wheat – all of which are ancient grains. If unaltered by certain modern farming practices, these eight grains support biodiversity. They also thrive in enough areas to support local communities. Mother Grains is a resource not only telling you how to use these grains – it’s also a guide to the growers, their practices and where to find ancient grains in your area.
Hominy is dried field corn that, when soaked or cooked in an alkaline solution, turns soft and pudgy. In its nixtamalised form, it’s most often used to make masa for tortillas. But the whole kernels are a key ingredient in pozole.
For Jullapat’s version, a riff on a recipe her husband, Daniel Mattern, made for her one rainy night, she starts with dried hominy. It’s soaked overnight in cool water. The next day, it’s simmered for an hour until tender. Refreshed hominy is especially toothsome, with a sweet fragrance and an al dente-like chew. To speed up the process, I adapted the recipe, below, to use canned hominy, but Jullapat recommends you seek out cans labelled organic to avoid those containing “the nightmarish commodity corn that has given corn a bad rap”.
Substitutions, alterations, preferences and more:
Fresh, charred poblano peppers give pozole its body and a distinctly smoky, lightly spicy and almost fruity flavour. In a pinch, you can use a 115g can of green chillis instead.
Don’t want to use hominy? Fresh corn off two or three cobs, a cup of cooked rice or a (drained) 425g can of white beans would work instead.
Full of flavour, texture and nutrition, this pozole needs neither pork nor chicken – but you could certainly add a few hundred grams of cubed meat in with the onions, allowing the stew to simmer until the meat is cooked through and tender.
The only step you shouldn’t skip? Toasting cumin seeds and then grinding them in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. “The flavour and aroma of freshly toasted cumin seeds is central to this dish,” Jullapat writes.
A bevy of toppings offer the option of contrasting textures and flavours: shredded cabbage, sliced radishes, fresh coriander and cubes of avocado are a good start. Also good? Tortilla chips, pickled cauliflower, minced chives, crumbled cotija or feta (vegan or not), your favorite hot sauce, a dollop of crema or sour cream or Greek yogurt. Plus, always, lots of lime.
Other than that, fortified with centuries of technique and a balance of nourishing grains and vegetables, this pozole is pretty much perfect.
Vegan pozole verde
Active time: 40 minutes | Total time: 50 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
Smoky and spicy with the flavours of charred green peppers and freshly toasted cumin, this vegan take on pozole is fresh and filling. From Mother Grains, a cookbook by Los Angeles-based chef Roxana Jullapat, the dish highlights the lightly sweet flavour of hominy, a nixtamalised corn. Jullapat prefers to cook her hominy from dried, but in this version, we’re calling for canned hominy, organic if you can find it, which shaves a day off the prep time. Charring the green peppers and toasting whole cumin seeds gives this soup an incredible depth of flavour. In a pinch, you can use one, 115g can of green chillis in place of the poblanos and jalapeños, and 1½ teaspoons ground cumin, if you don’t want to toast and then grind the whole seeds.
Make ahead: Soup, without garnish, may be made up to 5 days in advance and reheated. You may need to add more water to thin it out.
Storage notes: Leftover soup can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.
Where to buy: Canned organic hominy and canned tomatillos may be found at well-stocked supermarkets, Hispanic shops or online.
2 poblano peppers
1 small jalapeño chilli peppers
2 tsp cumin seeds
3 tbsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion (about 115g), sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
½ cup chopped fresh coriander leaves and stems
One (400g) can tomatillos, drained
3 cups water, plus more as needed
One (700g) can hominy, drained
Salt, to taste
Shredded cabbage, diced avocado, sliced radishes, coriander sprigs and lime wedges, for garnish and serving
Char the peppers: if using a grill, position a rack 5 to 6 inches from the grill and turn it on. Place the poblanos and jalapeños on a baking tray; grill until they blister and brown, watching them carefully and turning them with tongs until they are charred all over, but still firm, about 5 minutes on each side. To char them over a gas stove, place them on the stove grates and use long tongs to turn them frequently, until each pepper has charred. Immediately transfer them to a paper bag and fold it up tight – or to a bowl, covered tightly with a plate or with plastic wrap – and allow them to steam for 10 to 15 minutes. Peel and seed the peppers, then roughly chop them.
While the peppers are charring, in a small frying pan over medium heat, lightly toast cumin seeds until fragrant, swirling the pan to prevent them from burning, about 1 minute. Allow them to cool for about 1 minute and then, using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, grind them into a fine powder.
In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the onion, garlic, coriander and chopped charred peppers and cook until the onion appears translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the tomatillos and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the water and cumin, lower the heat to medium and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Using a stick blender, puree until smooth (if using a standing blender, puree in batches as needed to avoid overflow). Return the pot to medium-high heat and add the drained hominy. Simmer for another 10 minutes, then adjust the consistency with more water, if desired, and taste and season with salt, if desired. Serve in bowls and top with shredded cabbage, diced avocado, sliced radishes, coriander sprigs and lime wedges.
Nutrition | Calories: 228; total fat: 8g; saturated fat: 1g; cholesterol: 0mg; sodium: 257mg; carbohydrates: 34g; dietary fibre: 9g; sugars: 13g; protein: 7g.
Adapted from Mother Grains: Recipes for the Grain Revolution (Norton, 2021).
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