My German language classes bring people together from all corners of the world; Tibetans, Eritreans, Romanians, and Spanish, to name just a few. We often discuss (in our half intelligible German) what the culture and food is like in our home countries. Outside of German class I also enjoy our group of expat friends that is quickly forming. Remember when I invited the girls over here? Recently we met up again, this time at someone else's house outside of St. Gallen with views of the mountains, and for a potluck where we each brought a dish from our home country.
Since moving to Switzerland, instances like these have really forced me to think about the food culture of my childhood. As an American, I have bucketed my food identity as a melting pot of sorts, as American identity at large so often is regarded. This identity is especially true when compared to the more specific and directed culture and food identity of my expat friends coming from countries spanning Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
But I also like the melting pot that is my country; nothing beats the diversity, the inventiveness, and the entrepreneurial spirit of the people, which is also reflected through the food. The cuisines vary by region and represent the vibrant and dynamic culture behind them, ranging from Baja California on the West coast, a fusion of Mexican flavors and fresh, light California fare, to the seafood centric New England cuisine on the East coast boasting chowders and clam bakes.
Growing up in the Southwest, the predominate food of my childhood inside and outside of my home was a fusion of Mexican and Southwestern cuisines. Think along the lines of tacos, frijoles, enchiladas, chile rellenos, pozole, stuffed peppers, taco salad, salsa, and guacamole. (Even my grandmother would use chili powder in her cabbage stew!) Wikipedia summarizes the root of Southwestern cuisine very well:
"It comprises a fusion of recipes for things that might have been eaten by Spanish colonial settlers, cowboys, Native Americans, and Mexicans throughout the post-Columbian era."
One of my favorite words in the English language is fusion. To me a fusion of cultures and cuisines represents the act of acknowledging gray area; that views and ways of doing things are not rigid, but rather can be blended together to create something far more interesting and unique. Fusion is what my country represents (we are all immigrants after all), my childhood cuisine represents, and what I love to do in the kitchen today.
I chose to bring this pozole to the potluck mentioned earlier. Pozole is a traditional soup or stew from Mexico made of hominy, pork or chicken, chili peppers, and several garnishes. I blended some favorite Mexican and Southwestern flavors to make a vegetarian version that will hopefully appeal to you as well; hominy, chipotles in adobo, ancho tomatillo salsa, and loads of vegetables.
I crave these flavors, they are comfort food to me. I may not be able to find great authentic Mexican restaurants here, but there is one Mexican store called El Sabor, owned and operated by a husband and wife team who imports a lot of familiar Mexican products. The woman, who is herself Mexican, also sells her homemade tamales and locally-made corn tortillas in the store. This store is my saving grace when I want to make something like this pozole.
Hominy is whole dried corn kernels that have been soaked and cooked, a process called nixtamalization. Once cooked, it has a fairly neutral flavor, and the texture is soft but with a slight, but pleasing bite to it, not all that different from the texture of chickpeas. Hominy is sold in dried and cooked forms in large supermarkets or on Amazon, but if you absolutely cannot find it, you could substitute fresh or frozen corn or chickpeas. This would, however, be a wide departure from actual pozole, so I would encourage you to keep your eyes peeled for hominy when traveling!
Red Vegetable Pozole
Notes: This is spicy. If you prefer it less spicy, start with half the amount of chili powder called for and use only the adobo sauce from the canned chipotle in adobo.
The measurements for liquid in this recipe are simple. Once tomatoes are added to the soup, use the empty can to measure the water/vegetable stock and the salsa.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. chili powder (substitute 1/2 of the amount with chipotle chili powder if you have it - it adds a wonderful smoky flavor)
1 Tbsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. cumin
2 carrots, halved and sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 chipotle chili from a can of chipotle in adobo, chopped (or a spoonful of only the adobo sauce)
30 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 1/2 cans (use empty tomato can) water or vegetable stock, or a combination
30 oz can hominy, rinsed and drained (or dried hominy, soaked overnight, then cooked in water for 1-2 hours, until soft)
1/2 can (use empty tomato can) ancho tomatillo salsa (optional)
1-2 tsp. salt
2 firm zucchini, quartered and sliced
Juice of 1 lime (optional)
Handful fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
Heat olive oil in a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add onions and next three spices. Stir to coat with olive oil and saute for a minute. Add carrots, garlic, and season with salt, and saute for a few more minutes. If the pan is looking dry add a touch more olive oil or a splash of water.
Stir in the chipotle, or just adobo sauce if you prefer less heat, and next 5 ingredients (through salt). Simmer covered for 15 minutes. Add zucchini and honey in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Taste and adjust for seasoning, adding another drizzle of honey and/or lime to balance, if necessary. If not using the salsa, you will definitely want to use the juice of 1 lime and handful fresh, chopped cilantro. Ladle into wide bowls and serve with toppings.
Ancho Tomatillo Salsa
Notes: The salsa is optional if you don't have all the ingredients on hand. The ancho chilies add richer, smoky base notes and the tangy tomatillos balance the smoky and spicy notes. But for a quicker version the same flavor profile can be achieved from the chili powder, chipotles in adobo, and an extra addition of lime and cilantro at the end.
With that said, if you do make the salsa you will be rewarded with having the base for several more potential meals already prepared, as this makes much more than what is needed in the soup. I used the salsa along with black beans, guacamole, pickled jalapenos, and feta to top nachos. And later turned the remaining few cups into a mole sauce; simmered with onions, celery, oregano, a cinnamon stick, and unsweetened cocoa powder. Add chicken, black beans, or vegetables to the sauce and serve over rice topped with feta and toasted pepitas (pumkin seeds).
1 package dried ancho chilies (~4-5 chilies)
2 30 oz. can tomatillos, drained (use fresh if you have access to them, ~10 medium tomatillos)
1 tsp. cumin
1 garlic clove
Spoonful honey, or to taste
Salt & pepper to taste
Remove stem and seeds from dried chilies and place in a glass bowl. Cover with boiling water and let soak for 10 minutes.
Remove chilies from the water and add to the food processor or blender along with the remaining ingredients. Add a few splashes of the chili soaking water and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust for seasoning and balance of spice and sweet.
Toppings (these are required!)
Crumbled feta or queso fresco
Crispy tortilla strips (cut corn tortillas in thin strips, drizzle with a small amount olive oil and cook under broiler for 5 minutes, watching carefully so they don't burn; they will get crispier as they cool)
Fresh cilantro, chopped