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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Grandma's posole

Buena dia de los muertos! November 1 and 2 are both day of the dead. I'm not sure why I never see it written as "dias de los muertos," since the holiday covers two days. But who am I to judge, Americanized chicana that I am. The first day is for people who died as children, while the second day is for people who died as adults.

This is the year I decided to finally get it together and celebrate the holiday. Dia de los muertos is a holiday to celebrate one's deceased loved ones. It is a joyous holiday, rather than a mournful or macabre one. I was particularly moved to celebrate this year because my paternal grandmother died in January. Typically celebrants create an altar for their dead with offerings including fruit and sweets. There is also a special day of the dead bread, often baked in the shape of a skeleton, or with a skeleton baked inside. People decorate with candied skulls and skeleton figurines. Before Mexico became Christianized, the indigenous people created sculptures of their gods out of amaranth and honey.

This year I remembered my grandmother by making her posole. (Next year I'll get more organized and bake the bread. Also, Jasper will be older so I'll be able to build an altar.) Maria Guadalupe was born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, and married at the age of fifteen. She went on to have fourteen children with my grandfather, Jose: Gloria, Jose, Maria, Ramon, Francisco, Judy, Esther, Efrain, Umberto, George, Olga, Lupe, Eva, and one who died as a baby. Grandma had to raise many of these children alone, since Grandpa worked many years alone in the U.S. before he could send for his family. The eldest sisters helped raise the youngsters. In fact, by the time Grandma joined Grandpa my father was in college in Mexico. He immigrated at the age of 21 when Grandpa was injured on the job (he was an electroplater at NASA). With all the grandchildren Maria Guadalupe had, she still managed to send Christmas gifts to us. I still remember the sweater she knit for my Barbie doll. She spelled the name "Barby" across the front, and even then I found her spelling mistake endearing.

Grandma and I were separated by distance and language. She eventually learned about as much English as I learned Spanish, so our communication was always awkward. Most of my cousins either lived in Mexico or in Houston (where my grandparents lived), while we were a lone satellite family in Colorado. But she still made it out for my baptism, wedding, and other important events.

I'm not sure how I came by this recipe -- maybe my sister got it from my aunt? At any rate, it was extremely vague on all necessary details. In fact, it made my recipes look almost professional. So I had to improvise a little. The recipe calls for "a little pork" and "some chicken." All of the pork at the Coop today was boneless, so I used a lamb shank. Is it still posole if you use lamb? For the chicken I used four thighs (bone in, though I did remove the skin). You really do want to use meat on the bone for soups, especially when you are creating your own stock, rather than using pre-made stock. Most of the posole recipes I've seen call for just pork shoulder. I guess my family likes to mix it up a bit.

I started out by browning the lamb shank in a little oil. When it was browned I removed it and cooked one chopped onion and about five roughly chopped cloves of garlic, scraping up the browned bits. Then I removed the garlic and onion, put the lamb shank back in, and covered the lamb with six cups of water. I added two avocado leaves (you could just use a bay leaf) and some Mexican oregano. While this simmered lightly I deveined and de-seeded two dried mulato chiles (Grandma's recipe calls for pasilla, but the Coop didn't have any). Then I heated the chilies with a little oil in a separate pan until soft. I combined the chilies with the onion and garlic in a blender and mixed until smooth. I saved the combination for later.

Once I had a flavorful broth (about 45 minutes) I added the chicken and three (drained) cans of hominy. I simmered this for about half an hour, until just before I was ready to serve. Then I removed the lamb shank and thighs, removed the meat from the bone, shredded it, and returned it to the pot. Just before serving I added the chile mixture, added salt, and cooked for another five minutes. For a garnish I chopped one small, beautiful, purple cabbage, four radishes, about 1/4 cup red onion, and a few lemons. Now I wonder if the lemon was a mistranslation. You hardly ever see lemons in Mexico -- only limes. I think limes would taste better.

Grandma serves the posole with tostadas, or crisp-fried corn tortillas. These are easy to make. Heat corn oil in a wide saucepan on high. When the oil is very hot cook each tortilla one by one. Cook on both sides until golden and crispy. Drain on paper towels. I had some (canned, oh the shame of it, though at least it was Amy's Organic) refried black beans so I smeared the tostadas with that. Lane grated some pepper jack on his. You can dress the tostadas with the meat from the posole and the garnishes.

I was very happy with how this turned out -- not too spicy, just aromatic and flavorful. If only I hadn't accidentally added too much salt. But these things happen when you see a moth fly out of your cupboard while you're pouring in the salt. There wasn't time for a homemade dessert so I served dulce de leche ice cream, one of Lane's all-time favorite flavors.

Happy afterlife, Grandma!

On a completely different note -- a shout out to Shar, who was mentioned in yesterday's Washington Post. Our mutual friend, Janet, reports in her blog, DC Rush Hour.

1 comment:

Co said...

What a great post! I love it when foods have personal significance. I have been cataloguing my much-less-impressive cooking feats recently, and it's made me a little more self-reflective about food. I made a side of broccoli sauteed in garlic and olive oil last week that I realized, while eating it, was extraordinarily comforting because it tasted like something my grandmom would have made. She used to buy extra-virgin olive oil by the gallon.