Growing up Mexican I ate tacos, tamales, and gorditas—always at a restaurant. At home, my mom kept cut fruit in the fridge, the crisper full of greens, and protein consisted of boiled chicken or fish. Food at home was nutritious but bland to say the least.
Part of it had to do with my mom’s interest in clean eating. The other factor was that she didn’t have much time to spend in the kitchen. As a single mother, she kept the fridge stocked, but rarely were my sister and I am accustomed to eating something that took more than 15 minutes to make. Her schedule didn’t allow for it.
That is, until the weather began to turn and my mom’s gigantic 12-quart pot—the one with the two handles on the side that required both hands to lift—came out.
Winter marked the start of the holiday season and it was the only time she made traditional Mexican food. From Thanksgiving until New Year bacalao, ponche and pozole took up all the space in our refrigerator and it was the latter that caused me stomach pains because I often gorged myself on it.
How could I not? Plump balls of hominy and tender pieces of chicken (no pork in our home) lay hidden in a hot, thin pool of red. The savory mix of lime, salt, and Tajin—commonly used to season my mango, cucumber, and jicama in the summer—had found a new home and swam in the broth. It was the perfect meal during Chicago’s blistering winters.
“Nowadays we use [pozole] to celebrate the holidays,” says Sofia Sada, Latin Cuisines Program Chef at The Culinary Institute of America. “The dish’s origin goes back to the pre-Hispanic era of the Aztecs. Back then, pozole was only allowed to be consumed on special occasions by people of higher ranks like priests and the emperor.”
Today, pozole comes in a red, green and white liquid. Some serve it with pork, others prefer chicken. It is frequently topped with lime and lettuce, but don’t be surprised if someone serves it with oregano, radishes, and onions.
How the dish is served varies from household to household. However, one thing that’s unlikely to change is a Mexican mom who makes the soup because one of her children asks her to. At least, that’s the reason my mom continues to make it year after year. And at 32, I finally sat down to learn how to make one of my favorite foods of all time. —Ximena Larkin
Rinse hominy under running water, drain, then place into a large pot. Add chicken breasts, 1 onion half, 6 garlic cloves, bay leaves, salt, and pepper and fill pot with water until covers the ingredients.
Place pot over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Set heat to low and leave on the stove to slow-cook for 40 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.
In a smaller pot, place chile guajillo, tomatoes, 1 garlic clove, and the remaining onion half. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the ingredients. Place on stove over medium heat, bring to a boil, and cook for 5 more minutes. Set aside until the mixture cools.
Once cool, place ingredients from the smaller pot into a blender. If you prefer a less spicy mix, pull tops off of chiles and devein (using the water as a rinse to loosen seeds). Use a strainer to filter out these spicy seeds, pour into a blender, and liquefy.
Pour blender mix into the first large pot and mix to combine. Allow to sit over low heat for 20 minutes. Remove onion half and chicken, and pull apart chicken. Add chicken back to pot. (Eat the onion.)
Serve pozole to taste. Common toppings include lime wedges, shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped white onion, sliced radishes, dried oregano, hot sauce, and Tajín.