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The Power of Posole, The Bowl of Many Blessings

By Jane Butel  April 7, 2020

With nearly everything turned upside down and side ways these days due to the Coronavirus--perhaps turning to some old fashioned cures might be a help.  Native Mexicans and their Curanderas have long believed in the curative properties of posole.  Posole is the Chicken Noodle soup of Mexico and is quite different than hominy, which even some food magazine writers have been confused about. Hominy is made with corosive chemicals that dissolve the outer or cellulosic coating of corn.  Posole is made by soaking corn kernels in powdered limestone.  Because of the difference in preparation, the nutritive values are quite different, meaning that posole is much healthier and more fibrous.  

The history of posole is quite interesting.  Corn or maize as you probably know, evolved in Mexico--many thinking it came after the major astroid hit the earth.  As corn was developed, the ancients revered it, due to corn being such a major staple of their diet.  They believed in the power of numerology.  One of the major numbers was 7.  The rule of 7 as it is applied to agriculture is that every 7 years on average there will be a bumper crop.  With corn being such a staple, they were highly motivated to find a way to preserve it for the lean years.

They discovered that when they stored the corn in the limestone caves in the Isthmus of Mexico that the corn stayed fresh and good and was not destroyed by vermin.  Carrying the corn to the caves was difficult.  So they discovered that if they powdered the limestone, they could carry it easily for long distances.  That is how posole is made.  Powdered limestone is scattered on corn kernels, then covered with water for a few days, then dried out.  The dried kernels are then called posole, which is the Mother process for all corn based foods from Mexico, such as tortillas, corn chips, tamales, etc.   

The most popular color of posole is white, which in Mexico IS the color of corn--not yellow.  Blue corn evolved in the North where limestone was too difficult to obtain, so they used wood ash, making Pinon wood very popular to use, because it burns to a complete light colored ash.

We have both the white and blue corn posole.  Blue corn requires more cooking time and is more chewy due to the kernels having a much thicker cellulosic coating.

You see the limestone caves were originally coral and were under the sea until the plate shifts caused the underwater land to be raised above sea level. 

Another interesting fact is that if corn was never developed, the earth's population would be a lot less.  This is due to the fact that corn will grow almost anywhere, making it much more versatile than other grains.

Posole as it is served in Mexico is usually topped with garni of thinly sliced radishes and cabbage, sprigs of cilantro and lime wedges.  Some also serve avocado chunks.

The secret to superbly flavored posole is to boil it in unseasoned water--tap water is fine. Simmer the kernels untll they expand and pop open--it usually takes 3 to 4 hours depending on the altitude and boiling point.  Often it is a good idea to boil the posole one day and finish it the next or start it early in the day.  For maximum flavor, brown pork shoulder cubes in  a heavy skillet, using no shortening.  After browning the pork--deglaze the pan.  I have a You Tube video on Posole cooking if you are interested.  Posole freezes quite well, which is great due to the fact that one pound of posole kernels makes several servings.  It can be either a side dish or a main dish. 

NOTE:  Until the social isolation and lock down is lifted, our classes  are on hold and will be rescheduled as soon as possible. 

Following is my favorite recipe--


You may serve this either as a side dish or main dish. I like to layer toppings such as fresh shredded cabbage, fresh lime wedges, avocado cubes and cilantro sprigs.

Yield: 15 to 16 servings

1 pound dried posole

1 quart water or more

2 pounds pork, steak or roast, cut into ½” cubes

1 Tablespoon salt or to taste

2 garlic cloves, minced

pinch of Mexican oregano

1 Tablespoon cumin, or to taste

¼ cup caribe chile or to taste

       1. Simmer the posole in unseasoned water until it becomes soft and the kernels have burst open; it usually requires 3 to 4 hours.

       2. Brown the pork cubes in a cold, well-seasoned frying pan; adding no fat or oil to the pan. Saute until very browned, then add to the posole. Deglaze the frying pan with 1 cup water, stirring to loosen the brownies sticking to the pan.  Add this liquid to the posole.

       3. Add remaining ingredients, using one-half the cumin and cook the stew for 1 or more hours, to blend the flavors. Just before serving, add the remaining half of cumin. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Ideally, this dish should be started the morning before it is to be served, to allow the flavors to develop.

Notes: In Old Mexico the following toppings are often served and posole is a main dish:

2 cups thinly shredded fresh cabbage

2 limes, cut into wedges

1 avocado, pitted, peeled and cut into cubes

1 bunch cilantro sprigs

In Mexico, posole is often spelled with a  "z" instead of an s.

This recipe reprinted with permission from Jane Butel's Chili Madness, 2nd edition.



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