Growing up in San Diego and raised with a Texas grandma, it's no surprise that hominy played a significant role in my culinary education as a child.
Hominy is made from whole corn kernels, soaked in a lye or lime solution to soften the tough outer hulls. Those hulls are then removed, leaving a puffy, chewy kernel that has a toasty, nutty flavor.
You may have enjoyed them in the form of grits, which are made from ground, dried hominy, but my grandma, who taught me so much about food and cooking, would serve them whole, tossed with butter and salt, as a side dish to, well, everything.
My Mexican neighbors, on the other hand, would serve it in pozole: big bowls of soupy stew made sometimes with dried red chile peppers, and sometimes with fresh, green chile peppers and tomatillos. It usually included tender pork or chicken, sometimes both, and always a generous amount of hominy.
I never failed to find an excuse to knock on their door whenever a pot of pozole was on the stove, and a seat at their table was always offered.
Thinking back, I loved both uses of hominy equally, and even though I now live in Minnesota, my pantry is always stocked with a can or two.
I serve it all year long, in casseroles, soups, polenta, or, as my grandma did, simply, with butter and salt.
This time of year, though, I find myself craving pozole, especially red pozole, with its deep, layered flavors and dried chile heat. There's no better dish to stave off the deep freeze we often experience during a Minnesota winter.
Chicken was the protein of choice this week, stewed until fall-apart tender in an ancho and guajillo chile broth.
Every step in making this stew builds more and more flavor and texture. From browning the chicken, to toasting the chiles, to adding the hominy and garnishing with crunchy cabbage, radishes and tortilla chips, every bowl is a celebration.
For me, every bowl is also brimming with the kind of memories only familiar flavors can bring, and nothing will warm a soul, from the inside out, more, no matter how cold it gets outside.
Serves 6 to 8.
Note: While pozole is a beloved Mexican dish, here in the frozen North this deeply flavorful, warming bowl, with tender chicken and hominy swimming in a red chile-infused broth, hits all the right notes. From Meredith Deeds.
• 1 3/4 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped, divided
• 1 tsp. dried oregano (Mexican oregano, if available)
• 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
• 6 c. low-sodium or homemade chicken broth, divided
• 2 bay leaves
• 2 dried guajillo chiles
• 3 dried ancho chiles
• 3 (15.5-oz) cans white hominy, drained and rinsed
Garnishes, as desired:
• Thinly sliced cabbage
• Cilantro leaves
• Chopped sweet onion
• Chopped avocado
• Thinly sliced radishes
• Tortilla chips
• Lime wedges
Season chicken with salt and pepper. In a 5-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, turning halfway through, for 3 to 4 minutes, until browned. Transfer to a plate. Reduce heat to medium, add onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add half of garlic, oregano and cumin and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Return chicken to the pot with 4 cups broth and bay leaves and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut a slit into each dried chile pepper so they can be opened up and flattened. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Lay them skin-side up in the skillet. Press flat for a few seconds with a metal spatula, then flip them (they may turn a lighter color on this side). Press down again to toast the other side. This process will only take about 20 to 30 seconds per side. The toasted peppers should be fragrant, but not smell burned. If the peppers burn, discard and start again.
Transfer the toasted chiles to a bowl, cover with hot water and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure all parts of the chiles are soaking. Transfer to a blender with remaining 2 cups broth and remaining garlic and purée until smooth.
Strain the chile purée (to remove any bits of tough skin and seeds) directly into the pot with the chicken. Bring back to a simmer and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the chicken is very tender. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and shred into bite-size pieces. Remove bay leaves. Add chicken and hominy to the pot and simmer for 10 minutes, until hot. Taste and reseason with salt and pepper, if necessary. Ladle into serving bowls and garnish with cabbage, cilantro, onion, avocado, radishes, tortilla chips and lime wedges, as desired.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Instagram at @meredithdeeds.