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Hearty posole stew offers a December warm-up.

Byline: David Tanis

Gathering during the winter holidays is a universal rite for most people, no matter what our religious or secular persuasion.

There is a celebratory feeling practically everywhere throughout the month of December and into the New Year. We catch up with old friends at house parties, sipping on a cousin's near-lethal punch and noshing, if we're lucky, on some delectable morsel (not just cheese and crackers). I have friends who make a giant pot of stew but serve it only when most of their guests have left. The reward for staying till the bitter end is a piping hot bowl of holiday warmth.

In New Mexico, where I lived for a number of years, there is abundance and generosity and plenty of comfort food at holiday parties. Though it seems impossibly romantic, folks in Santa Fe still wander out on foot over snow-covered streets to drop in at a gathering or two. Bonfires light the way, as do the little paper-bag lanterns called farolitos. The scent of pinon pine smoke fills the air.

You may be greeted by a steaming basket of hot tamales when you step inside a neighbor's house after a walk in that brisk wintry air. Tamales are the quintessential party food. Eaten straight from their cornhusk wrapping, fragrant with good corn masa, pork and chilies, they immediately hit the spot. But you need a lot of tamales to feed a crowd, so it is traditional to get a little team together to help assemble them before the party.

Just as traditional but far easier to prepare is posole, the savory and hearty, rather soupy stew made from dried large white corn kernels simmered for hours. The corn kernels themselves are conveniently called posole, too. (When you go to the store, that's what it says on the bag.)

Most Latino groceries sell posole that is ready to cook. After an overnight soak, put the posole to simmer just as you would dried beans. Then add pork belly and shoulder and a few aromatics, and let it go for several hours. (If you make posole a day ahead, it's even better.)

Finally, stir in a ruddy red puree of dried New Mexico chilies to give the stew its requisite kick. This is satisfying, nourishing, fortifying fare. The corn stays a little bit chewy in a wonderful way (canned hominy never does), and the spicy broth is beguiling.

The New Mexican version of posole doesn't require much in the way of garnishes -- just a little chopped onion and a pinch of oregano. A big bowlful warms the spirit. And a cold beer helps wash it down, even on a cold winter's night.

Holiday Posole

11/2 pounds dried hominy (posole), available in Latino groceries, soaked overnight in cold water

3 ounces dried red New Mexico chilies (about 10 large chilies)

2 pounds fresh pork belly, cut in 2-inch cubes

2 pounds pork shoulder, not too lean, cut in 2-inch chunks

Salt and pepper

1 large yellow onion, peeled, halved and stuck with 2 cloves

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted until fragrant and coarsely ground

2 cups finely diced white onion, soaked in ice water and drained, for garnish

Lime wedges, for garnish

Roughly chopped cilantro, for garnish

Toasted Mexican oregano, for garnish

Time: 3 to 4 hours; yield: 10 to 12 servings.

1. Drain soaked hominy and put in large soup pot. Cover with water and bring to boil. Let simmer briskly for 1 hour.

2. While hominy is cooking, make red chili puree: Toast dried chilies lightly in cast-iron skillet or stovetop grill, just until fragrant. Wearing gloves, slit chilies lengthwise with paring knife. Remove and discard stems and seeds. Put chilies in saucepan and cover with 4 cups water. Simmer 30 minutes and let cool. In blender, puree chilies to a smooth paste using some cooking water as necessary. Puree should be of milkshake consistency.

3. Season pork belly and pork shoulder generously with salt and pepper. After posole has cooked 1 hour, add pork shoulder, pork belly, onion stuck with cloves, bay leaf, garlic and cumin. Add enough water to cover by 2 inches, then return to a brisk simmer. While adding water occasionally and tasting broth for salt, simmer for about 21/2 hours more, until meat is tender and posole grains have softened and burst. Skim fat from surface of broth.

4. Stir in 1 cup chili puree and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning. (At this point, posole can be cooled completely and reheated later. Refrigerate for up to 3 days.)

5. To serve, ladle posole, meat and broth into wide bowls. Pass bowls of diced onion, lime wedges, cilantro and oregano, and let guests garnish to taste.
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Title Annotation:Living
Author:Tanis, David
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Dec 8, 2013
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