Ad Hominy

October 6, 2011

Nunca falta un pelo en la sopa (There’s always a fly in the soup).
~Mexican proverb

Served both whole and ground, hominy is simply corn kernels without the germ. In a process called nixtamalización, dried field corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution (often slaked lime) until the outer layers can be hulled. This yields slightly altered flavor and a different texture with enhanced aromas and tenderness. With Mesoamerican roots dating to circa 1500-1200 BCE, hominy is just another culinary extension of the maize culture that was birthed and flourished there.

The English “hominy” is derived from the word maize in the now extinct Powhatan tongue, a subgroup of Algonquin languages. A confederation of tribes, Powhatans lived in tidewater Virginia during pre-colonial days. As became the habit, white colonists rendered the native dialect dormant as well as nearly eradicating the tributary peoples. Eugenics at work.

When whole, hominy can be found in heavenly menudo (hominy and tripe soup) or pozole. It can also be ground coarsely to make hominy grits, or even finer into a dough to make masa for tortillas, tamales, empanadas, arepas y amigos.

Pozole is a classic pork stew with hominy and dried red chiles. A hearty, rich feast which bathes the senses. This recipe has an admitted shortcut. While using canned hominy may not be preferable—the time and effort that need be allotted to preparing the lime mixture, then cooking, cleaning, hulling, washing and deflowering the corn can be a touch daunting. My apologies to purists.

POZOLE ROJO

6 large, plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
8 C water
3 C chicken broth
2 lbs boneless pork shoulder
3 lbs pork neck bones
1/2 t dried cumin seed, toasted, then ground
1 t dried oregano, crumbled

2 1/2 qts canned white hominy, well rinsed and drained

4 large dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and deveined
4 large dried guajillo chiles, stemmed seeded and deveined
2 C water

1 T sea salt

Corn tortillas
Canola or vegetable oil

Garnishes
Cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
White onion, finely chopped
Radishes, thinly sliced
Lime wedges

Corn tortillas
Canola or vegetable oil

In a large heavy kettle or Dutch oven bring water and broth just to a boil with sliced garlic and pork shoulder and neck bones. Skim surface and add oregano. Gently simmer pork, uncovered, until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Add the hominy during the last 45 minutes.

While the pork is simmering, tear the chiles into larger pieces and toast in a heavy large skillet over medium heat, pressing them against the surface some. Once they blister turn and repeat. Boil in water, then soak for about 30 minutes. Drain, place in a blender or food processor and puree, slowly adding some water, until a paste forms. Strain and add to the simmering soup, stirring for awhile until incorporated. Season with salt.

Now while the pozole is simmering, work on the tortillas. First, stack and cut into wedges. Then, spread into a single layer, and cover lightly with a dry towel to keep from curling. Allow to dry or they will be greasy. In a heavy medium non-stick skillet heat 3/4″ oil until hot but not smoking and fry in batches, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden, about 30 seconds per side. Transfer tortilla wedges with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Once drained, carefully place in a bowl.

Remove the neck bones and shoulder from the broth. When cool enough, remove the meat from the neck bones and roughly shred all the meat from the shoulder. Return the meat to the pot. Again season with salt to taste.

Ladle the stew into large bowls and top with the garnishes of choice. Serve with the tortillas.

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This curry was like a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that I’d once heard…..especially the last movement, with everything screaming and banging “Joy.'” It stunned, it made one fear great art. My father could say nothing after the meal.
~Anthony Burgess

Lens culinaris is a bushy annual legume, well adapted to semi-arid, cool conditions and cultivated for its lens-shaped seeds which are usually smaller than an eraser head. Low in fat and protein/iron laden lentils have a mild, nutty, and fairly terrene flavor. Given their nutritive vigor, they form an intergral part of global diets, especially in the Indian subcontinent with its abundant vegetarian populace. Vegan comfort food.

The rainbow coalition of lentil shades is dazzling: black, beluga, brown, green, orange, maroon, crimson, pink, red, tan, yellow, white, black & white. A common red lentil is the Red Chief which is a lovely salmon pink in dried form, but turns golden when cooked. As lentils are rather submissive by nature, they are suited to more dominant, assertive spices, such as sense-evocative curries.

Dried lentils may be stored in an airtight container for up to a year in a cool, dry place…a pantry sine qua nons.

RED OR BROWN LENTIL CURRY

2 t cumin seeds
2 t coriander seeds
1/4 t mustard seeds
1 T black peppercorns

1 t turmeric
1 t red pepper flakes

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 T canola oil oil
1 T fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 fresh jalapeño or serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped
1 T curry paste

1 t sea salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper

2 C vegetable stock
1 1/2 C dried red or brown lentils
1 (14-oz) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 cinnamon stick
Sea salt

Basmati rice, cooked
1 C fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Spread lentils out on a large plate to check for, and remove, small stones or debris. Then, place lentils in a strainer, and rinse thoroughly under cool running water.

In a small heavy skillet, combine the coriander, cumin, mustard seeds and peppercorns. Toast over low medium heat, shaking the pan until very slightly browned but not burned, 2-3 minutes. Cool and then add to a spice grinder or coffee mill and grind to a fine powder. Add the turmeric and red pepper and pulse the grinder a couple of times until well mixed. Set aside the curry spice powder.

Saute onion in oil in a heavy medium sauce pan or Dutch oven over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent and just turning golden, about 6 minutes. Add ginger, garlic and jalapeño or serrano chile and cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes. Add the curry spice powder (above) and curry paste; cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Stir in stock, lentils, coconut milk, cinnamon stick and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, about 25-30 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

Serve over Basmati rice with cilantro scattered on top.

Pourboire: Cauliflower florets can be added for the last 10 minutes of the simmer.