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Bootstrapping Mexican Posole

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Oh yeah, Klaus and Florian singing up there to stay warm in the FREEZING Zurich weather. These days I am doing a lot of commuting back and forth to Switzerland for the latest project. Thankfully it’s just a couple days a week, but often it really limits my ability to leisurely shop over the course of the week for random, hard to find ingredients. Not that there are SOOOO many of them, but sometimes, you have a recipe that requires you to go to three shops in town to find what you need.

That happened last Saturday evening when I had 8 people over for dinner. It’s still quite cold here in MUC as well, although warming up, thankfully, and I thought that a perfect foil for the weather would be some nice warm SOUP. Soup sounds boring. Like a first course, no? Well, not this soup. It’s Mexican Posole, a celebratory dish I think I’ve even blogged about here on this blog before. But it’s such a lovely perfect winter soup, that you can’t help but make it every winter a couple times.

It’s great because it’s a soup you can PERSONALIZE. You take the basic soup – a rich blend of charred and pureed peppers and garlic and onions, studded with chunks of chicken and hominy (dried and reconstituted corn) and perhaps some cabbage or zucchini. And you top it with what you want: cheese, cabbage, cilantro, lime squeezes, tortilla strips, slices of avocado, generous dashes of hot habanero salsa.

So what starts out looking like this:

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In the end looks like this:

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A delicious meal in a bowl. As a basis for the recipe I made, I used this recipe. And during the dinner, my guests asked me to send them the recipe.

Which I did the next day. Along with some notes. After I lectured them, I had to laugh a bit and realized that what I wrote made the recipe sound way too daunting. But it’s really really not. The substitutions below make things much easier to cook in a country that doesn’t frequently stock things like tomatillos and poblanos.

From my notes to my guests:

“A couple notes: 1) I substituted green tomatoes for the tomatillos. I looked for them, but they are HARD to find in MUC. Green tomatoes approximate the flavor. 2) I substituted green peppers for Poblanos. You can find poblanos in Muc in a can at a Mexican market. But I wanted a fresher taste. Poblanos are spicier in flavor, and green peppers are much bigger, so you will need to adjust a bit on the amount and the spicy factor. 3) I substituted cabbage for zucchini. I like cabbage in this soup better. 4) I left the fresh corn out and instead used double the amount of hominy called for (the dry corn). 5) I substituted feta cheese for the Mexican cotija cheese…because (yes, it’s like a broken record)…I can’t find cotija cheese in MUC. Feta is much sharper in flavor, and there are better substitutions – also available in MUC, but I didn’t have time to source them yesterday.

A few more notes: I don’t like chicken breast in this soup. I feel like it dries out much faster and gets stringy, because you are cooking it a long time. In a crock pot, that might be different, but for a regular pot – I ended up cooking the soup for about 2 hours in total – I would really recommend chicken thighs. After about an hour and a half of cooking, you take them out and remove all the skin and bone and put the meat back in the soup.

Fresh oregano rather than dried would also be very good, but you won’t need much of it. I added one more spice, a bit of chili chipotle. Chipotle IS find-able in MUC, or just ask me for a few teaspoons, you don’t need much. Go to any good spice store and you’ll find it right away. Chipotle is spicy, although not killer, but adds a really nice smoky zing to Mexican food, so I like it in this in moderation. I put in perhaps a teaspoon. (for the quantity in the recipe.)

Don’t skip the step of charring the peppers, tomatoes, garlic and onions. The tomatoes will be done first, then the garlic (just wait till they are soft, not black), then onion and peppers. The charring step brings in depth of flavor as well.

Lastly, the tortillas we ate are corn tortillas, quite hard to find here. But…if you go to the taco shop, Condesa, in Münchener Freiheit, they sell homemade corn tortillas – 5 euros for 30 of them – a great deal! You can buy a package, use what you need and freeze the rest. They freeze beautifully.

It sounds like a pain in the ass if I describe all this, but the nice thing about this soup is that it’s flexible in a way. You can add and subtract vegetables and still get something quite tasty. Except for a couple ingredients, everything is standard in your grocery store. I will look for a source for the hominy here in MUC. In the meantime, fresh corn will also be great. You can put in white beans as a substitute for the hominy too – the texture is about the same as the hominy – soft and mealy – but you will lose the “perfume” of the hominy, which Itzik pointed out last night. Fresh corn will bring a lot of perfume back in, however.

Oh, and frozen corn is MUCH BETTER than the shit corn they sell wrapped up in plastic in the vegetable section. Do not buy that. And no canned corn. Please.”

Off to Zurich in the morning for the rest of the week. Might have to just go with a spaghetti this weekend. 😉

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