Food for Thought: Power and pozole

El Paso News

This March 31, 2018 photo shows green pozole in New York. This dish is from a recipe by Sara Moulton. (Sara Moulton via AP)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The power of pozole spans generations and cultures as a comfort food for the ill, hangover cure for the overserved and special dish for holidays such as Christmas.

Pozole is a meat and hominy stew bathed in either red, clear or green broth that corresponds to the colors of the Mexican flag. 

The stew pre-dates Hispanic Mexico and originated in Mesoamerica by Aztec and other indigenous tribes. There were no pigs prior to the arrival of the Spanish, so early recipes were made with the human flesh of conquered peoples.

Makers of pozole — the victors — gained nourishment from the flesh and bone soup of their defeated, which led to the dish being exalted. Eating the soup meant you were powerful, literally higher on the food chain and social hierarchies.

Cannibalism is a notion that’s been written about for millennia, starting with Greek historian Herodotus who studied anthropophagy, or man-eating. It wasn’t until Europeans came to the Americas that the association between anthropophagy and “savages” was created, and the term “cannibal” entered the lexicon in 1492.

Scholar Kelly L. Watson writes that, “As European empires conquered, converted, enslaved, and killed indigenous Americas over the next five centuries, cannibalism remained a prominent discursive thread,” that perpetuated tropes of savagery, but archeological and textual evidence suggests that acts of cannibalism have occurred in cultures around the world.

Watson says that contemporary scholarly inquiry into cannibalism questions how the practice functioned within imperial cultures. Once the Spanish conquered current-day Mexico and introduced pigs to the Americas, pork replaced prisoners of war as the preferred protein in the meat and hominy stew.

Despite the change in ingredients, pozole maintained a sacred reputation because of the mythology of corn across cultures. In Heart of Corn, Luis Cardoza y Aragon argues, “The heart of America is made of corn. The first people were made of corn. The wellspring of song flows from the indigenous world.”

Indigenous peoples in present-day Mexico called corn “the plant of the gods” and worshipped Xilonem, the god of young corn, and Tlazoteotl, the god of mature corn, and others related to agricultural fertility.

“Corn established the tribes, and civilizations emerged because of it. In order to cultivate corn, men studied the skies, the seasons and the planets. This was the origin of the calendar, of religion, and rituals. This was the origin of art, the expression of a culture’s awareness. Man and corn appeared together, as a mandatory condition for life,” asserts Cardoza y Aragon.

The combination of meat, corn and broth in a bowl creates a dish that’s as nourishing as it is representative of a universe in which man conquers and cultivates.

Preparing pozole is an exercise in patience, time management and taste. From trimming and skimming bubbles of fat from the pork, to simmering and wedding spices in broth for hours on end, then chopping up garnishes, the act requires expertise.

Today, there are three traditional forms of pozole that can be made with pork, chicken or vegan-friendly proteins.

Pozole blanco is prepared without salsa, while pozoles rojo and verde take their names from the color of the salsa added to the broth (red chiles and green tomatillos). Regardless of the type, broth is characterized for its richness and heat consistency.

Garnishes range by region and season that include thinly sliced crunchy cabbage, chopped avocado, sliced radishes, handfuls of cilantro and lime.

Additionally, the stew is usually served with either tostada chips or toasted and buttered bolillo rolls.

In El Paso, the buttered roll is served predominantly on the Eastside, while most Westside restaurants serve tostadas.

For some of the best pork, chicken and vegan pozole in the Borderland, checkout the guide below:

Where’s your favorite posole served in the Borderland? Email us at ecoulehan@ktsm.com.

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