Pazole Verde

I have a special interest in soups that represent hundreds of years of cultural history and remain primary in a national cuisine. Something about the dish captures signature flavors and the technique has been tried and refined over long periods of time. Such dishes often require hunting for new ingredients and learning about unusual flavor combinations.  Learning international dishes is also one of the best ways to expand my understanding of ingredients and the lovely possibilities of unexpected combinations.

The Mexican stew pazole is built around stewed meat and hominy. I first read about hominy in America’s Test Kitchen Stews and Soups. I had to hunt for the few cans that can be found in a mainstream market (the local King Super keeps it on an odd shelf of canned vegetables – not in the ethnic food aisle). Hominy are dried corn kernels that are soaked in mineral lime bath. The process softens the kernels and they bloat to double the size. The calcium also changes the corn so that they are prime for masa – a maize flour that is essential for tortillas, tacos, tamales. Usually the hominy is ground for these other purposes but the original form of bloated and softened corn kernels is lovely for soups. It has a bit of a soft bite and absorbs the flavors of the soup while holding onto some of the corn flavor.

Hominy also helps preserve the corn and increases its nutritional value. It is a bit of food chemistry magic that dates back to mesoamerica around 1500 BC. Here is a lovely primer on hominy. I am curious about such forms of food transformation that date centuries. How was this discovered? How was it trusted? How long was the technique refined? How many people groups did this migrate to and was this simple technique a saving grace during any portion of their history? This simple process also directly connects us to a people group from 3500 years ago. And I’m guessing that little of its tradition has been written down until the last couple hundred years. This bit of food magic has been transported from one person to another without the aid of a super market, cooking book, or web search.

Pazole is cooked red, white, or green. They represent the primary ingredients added which change the overall color. Pazole Verde involves a mixture of tomatillos, green jalapeños, and cilantro which is blended and added at the end of the cooking process. This mixture is bright and spicy at the same time. The stew already tastes magnificent but the addition of this vibrant concoction adds exciting new layers of flavor. The soup is then served with an array of garnishes and warm tortillas. The garnishes – lime wedges, avocado, onion, jalapeños, cabbage strips – interestingly overlap with several garnishes for Vietnamese Pho.

The core process of making pazole is like many world stews. Chunks of meat (usually pork) are browned in batches, onions and garlic are sautéed, add some sort of bone broth, and the whole thing simmers for hours. Make it a day ahead and the flavors will be even richer.

I almost always make Pazole Verde because I love the process of husking tomatillos, rough chopping, and blending them into a vibrant sauce. This time I served this stew to a group of students from my First Year Seminar. They offered nice comments but I could not tell if the stew pushed their comfort zone. I loved it and heaped on avocado, sliced jalapeños, and squeezed lime.


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