Pozole verde, the pre-Columbian chile-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 North American-grown commodity corn, subsidized, 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 across the United States 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 nixtamalized 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 labeled 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 flavor. In a pinch, you can use a 4-ounce can of green chiles instead.
Don’t want to use hominy? Fresh corn off two or three cobs, a cup of cooked rice or a (drained) 15-ounce can of white beans would work instead.
Full of flavor, texture and nutrition, this pozole needs neither pork nor chicken — but you could certainly add a few ounces 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 flavor 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 flavors: Shredded cabbage, sliced radishes, fresh cilantro 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
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 grocery stores, Hispanic markets or online.
2 poblano peppers
1 small jalapeño chile peppers
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion (about 4 ounces), sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves and stems
One (14-ounce) can tomatillos, drained
3 cups water, plus more as needed
One (25-ounce) can hominy, drained
Kosher salt, to taste
Shredded cabbage, diced avocado, sliced radishes, cilantro sprigs and lime wedges, for garnish and serving
Char the peppers: If using a broiler, position a rack 5 to 6 inches from the broiler and turn it on. Place the poblanos and jalapeños on a baking sheet; broil 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 skillet 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, cilantro 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, cilantro sprigs and lime wedges.