Pozole is a traditional Mexican stew that has its origins in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica. It is made with hominy (dried maize kernels that have been treated with an alkali), meat, and various seasonings and garnishes. There are two main types of pozole that are most commonly found: pozole rojo (red pozole) and pozole verde (green pozole). These are differentiated by the chiles and other ingredients used in their broths. Pozole is popularly eaten on Thursdays in Mexico, and it is frequently served around the holidays as part of traditional celebrations.
What is Pozole Rojo?
Pozole rojo, also sometimes simply called red pozole, gets its name from the red chiles used to flavor and color the broth. This type of pozole is made with guajillo, ancho, and/or cascabel chiles, which give it both a rich red color and a depth of chili flavor. The dried chiles are soaked and blended to form a spice paste known as ‘recado rojo’. In addition to the chiles, the recado rojo usually contains garlic, oregano, cumin, clove, cinnamon, and salt.
Once the recado rojo is prepared, it is stirred into a pot along with water or broth and chunks of meat to make the pozole base. The meat traditionally used can include pork, beef, chicken or turkey, or even chorizo sausage. The pot is left to simmer until the meat is very tender and has imparted flavor throughout the broth. Finally, cooked hominy is added and cooked briefly more to meld the flavors before serving.
Beyond the chiles and meats, pozole rojo also sometimes contains sliced radishes, shredded cabbage, avocado, limes, and Mexican oregano (also called yerba buena) as garnishes that each diner can add to their individual bowl according to taste. When all added together, these ingredients make pozole rojo a hearty and quintessentially Mexican comfort food.
What is Pozole Verde?
As its name reveals, pozole verde (green pozole) gets its distinctive green color and flavor from green chiles and herbs. While it shares the same basics of hominy, meat and garnishes as pozole rojo, the broth has its own unique chile taste.
The recado for pozole verde relies mainly on green tomatillos and serrano chiles for flavor. Cilantro, garlic, epazote, and salt are also typically added when making the green chile sauce. The tomatillos are boiled, blended raw, or roasted to bring out their tangy acidity before combining them with the other ingredients to form the signature green coloring and taste.
Much as with the red variety, the green chile sauce is mixed into a pot with meat and broth before adding the cooked hominy. Pork is considered the most traditional meat for pozole verde, but chicken and turkey may also be used. While they share some garnishes in common like cabbage, radishes and avocado, pozole verde is often finished with garnishes that echo its green chile profile such as cilantro, lime wedges, jalapeños, and tomatillo slices or diced raw onion.
Both the red and green varieties of pozole may also sometimes be served with tostadas or tortilla chips on the side to crumble into the bowl and add crunch. Oaxacan-style pozole verde is especially known for incorporating crunchy fried corn kernels known as trocitos de masa. With all of their added garnishes, the two types of pozole make for a satisfy
History of Pozole
The roots of pozole stretch back hundreds of years in Pre-Columbian Mexico. One of the earliest forms of hominy-based stew is thought to have originated with the ancient Toltec civilization around 900-1100 CE. The Nahuatl word for the dish was “pozolli,” derived from “pozol” meaning foamy or frothy – describing the look of hominy when mixed with water. Besides maize, some of the earliest pozole recipes incorporated beans, chili peppers, and meat flavored with epazote.
Pozole continued to evolve over the centuries within Mesoamerican culture. When the Aztecs came to power, they made the dish their own by adding their sacred seasoning combinations called “recado” chiles, garlic, salt, and herbs. The name pozole also became more common than pozolli during the Aztec empire. There is some debate about whether the Aztecs served it only on special occasions or regularly as a staple food.
Either way, pozole remained an integral part of Indigenous Mexican food culture when the Spanish arrived in the 1500’s. The Spanish adapted it by substituting pork and other meats for human flesh, which the Aztecs had reputedly sometimes added to pozole for ritual purposes. They also added new seasonings learned from Europe including cumin, thyme, bay leaf, and oregano. Pozole began to spread beyond Central Mexico and become popular in Jalisco and other western regions.
Over the centuries since, pozole has continued to evolve within Mexican cuisine while maintaining its status as a comfort food and special occasion staple. Adding cabbage and radish garnishes became popular sometime during the 19th century. More recently, Mexican immigrants have shared pozole’s appeal with Americans of all backgrounds. Both red and green pozole can be found on menus across the U.S. as this satisfying soup remains beloved on both sides of the border.
Red Pozole Ingredients
These are the main ingredients that go into a traditional pozole rojo recipe:
– Dried Guajillo and/or ancho and/or cascabel chiles – These provide both the red color and the depth of chili flavor. Guajillo chiles have a rich, tangy fruitiness; anchos have raisiny notes; and cascabels are nutty and slightly spicy.
– Garlic – Cloves of garlic are toasted to mellow their bite and add nutty undertones to the broth.
– Mexican oregano – With hints of citrus and licorice, oregano adds subtle complexity.
– Cumin – Earthy, nutty cumin balances the chiles’ fruitiness.
– Salt – Added both to the recado and the broth, salt makes all the flavors pop.
– Chicken, beef or pork – Classic meats that impart hearty, savory notes to the pozole. Can use bone-in cuts for extra flavor.
– Onion – Either diced onion or slivers lend a crunchy bite and allium sweetness.
– Hominy – Dried, treated corn kernels that plump up and contribute cornmeal thickness.
– Garnishes like cabbage, radish, avocado, lime – Bright acid and cool crunch to contrast the rich broth.
– Tortilla chips or tostadas – More crunch and corn flavor from crispy fried shells.
By combining these ingredients through careful layering and long simmering, all the elements meld together into the satisfying and soul-warming taste that is pozole rojo.
Green Pozole Ingredients
The core ingredients that give pozole verde its distinctive color and flavor include:
– Tomatillos – Their tart, fruity juice creates the base of the green broth when boiled and pureed.
– Serrano chiles – Bright, crisp heat complements the tomatillos.jalapeños can sub for less heat.
– Cilantro – Fresh, herbaceous coriander leaf balances the richness of the meats.
– Epazote – This aromatic Mexican herb has notes of citrus, licorice and mint.
– Garlic – Lends an earthy punch and savory undertones.
– Pork shoulder or ribs – The rich, fatty meat adds succulent texture and flavor.
– Chicken or turkey – Lean white meat soaks up the chile flavors.
– Hominy – Dried corn kernels contribute cornmeal body and sweetness.
– Garnishes like radish, onion, lime – Add crunch and acidity to cut the richness.
– Tortilla chips – Crisp, fried shells provide textural contrast.
These components combine through simmering into a lively and refreshing spin on classic pozole that highlights green chile flavors.
Steps to Make Red Pozole
Making authentic pozole rojo from scratch is a labor of love, but the following steps will yield incredible depth of flavor:
1. Remove stems and seeds from dried guajillo, ancho and/or cascabel chiles and toast lightly for flavor. Boil chiles in water until softened and rehydrated.
2. Blend the rehydrated chiles with garlic, oregano, cumin and salt to form a thick red recado paste.
3. In a large pot, combine chicken, beef, or pork bones/meat with onion, garlic, and water or broth. Cook until meat is fall-apart tender.
4. Stir the red recado paste into the cooked meat and broth. Simmer for 1 hour to meld flavors.
5. Add canned or rehydrated dried hominy and continue simmering 30 minutes to an hour until hominy is heated through.
6. Adjust final seasoning with more salt, cumin or oregano if desired.
7. Serve pozole rojo piping hot in deep bowls topped with desired garnishes like cabbage, radishes, avocado, lime, onion, oregano, and tortilla chips.
This method results in a rich, silky and robust pozole rojo that has diners looking forward to Pozole Thursdays!
Steps to Make Green Pozole
While quicker than red to come together, green pozole still requires some time to let the lively flavors develop fully:
1. Boil and blend tomatillos and serrano chiles into a bright green sauce.
2. In a separate pot, cook pork shoulder or ribs until very tender and falling off the bone.
3. Remove meat from bones if using ribs. Shred or chop meat into bite-size chunks.
4. Add green tomatillo-chile puree to pot with cooked meat and pork broth. Stir in epazote and garlic.
5. Mix in canned or rehydrated hominy and simmer 30 minutes to an hour.
6. Pull off heat and stir in a generous bunch of chopped cilantro just before serving.
7. Ladle hot pozole verde into bowls and let guests top with desired garnishes like radish, onion, cabbage, avocado, lime, jalapeño, and crunchy tortilla chips.
The lively taste of green chiles and herbs makes this pozole verde a fun, fresh take on the classic soup!
Beyond the major categories of pozole rojo and pozole verde, there are some regional variations on the soup throughout Mexico:
– Jalisco – Often uses white hominy and thickens it into a stew-like consistency. Garnished simply with onion, lime and oregano.
– Michoacán – Made with pork rib meat instead of shredded pork shoulder. Cooks with fewer herbs for a simpler, purer flavor.
– Oaxaca – Characterized by adding fried corn masa or potatoes to provide extra texture. Uses both green and red chile recados.
– Guerrero – Features banana leaf-wrapped pork placed right in the pot to steam and add flavor. Uses peanuts as a protein boost.
– Nayarit – Adds marinated chicken chunks instead of boiled meats. Garnishes cooked pozole with pickled chiles like jalapeños or serranos.
– Sinaloa – Uses lots of garlic in the chile sauce and chops veggies like carrots for texture. Often made with chicken.
These are just a few examples of how cooks put their own spin on pozole based on local tastes and ingredients. But no matter the regional touches, pozole remains the consummate Mexican comfort food.
Pozole for Vegetarians
While traditionally a meat-based dish, pozole can also be enjoyed by vegetarians with a few modifications:
– Substitute vegetarian meat crumbles or seared mushrooms/eggplant for the pork or chicken in the recipe. This provides a satisfying hearty texture.
– Use vegetable broth instead of meat broth for the base. An umami-rich mushroom or kombu broth works very well.
– Add extra hominy and beans like pinto or black beans to up the protein.
– Saute veggies like peppers, onions and zucchini to increase flavor complexity.
– Adjust seasonings like cumin, oregano, garlic and chiles to reinforce savory depth.
– Top with lots of chunky garnishes like avocado, cabbage, radish and pumpkin seeds.
– For vegans, omit cheese or sour cream toppings, or find vegan substitutes.
With a few simple tweaks, vegetarians can enjoy all the nourishing comfort of pozole! Meatless interpretations allow everyone to appreciate this iconic Mexican dish.
With its ancient roots and soul-warming flavors, pozole remains a staple of Mexican cuisine hundreds of years after its origins. It comes in two main varieties – deep red pozole rojo and verdant green pozole verde – that showcase distinctive chile flavors. Though preparation takes time and care, the satisfaction of sharing piping hot bowls of pozole is well worth the effort. This celebratory soup continues to nourish body and spirit as a quintessential comfort food. Whether traditional or meatless, pozole always brings people together through its rich and lively flavors.