The founders of El Parasol and El Paragua, Luis and Frances Atencio, were always busy around the holidays, though the focus wasn’t on food being served at their busy restaurant in Española. During the holidays they focused on food preparations at home. Home is next to the restaurant so it isn’t far to travel.
Providing Comfort Through Cooking
Frances Atencio loved to cook for people. It was her way of comforting others, of letting them know that she was thinking about them. Every Christmas she was determined to give back to the community that gave her so much. She made a dozen tamales for every family she knew in the Española valley. From what her children say about the experience, she knew every family in a 50-mile radius. It’s a good thing she had a lot of kids, because that’s a lot of tamales.
They spent weeks making them. On Christmas Eve she dispatched her children and her husband as delivery elves, sending them in different directions to drop off the holiday treats to friends and neighbors. As her daughters reminisced, they remarked that it “almost” ruined Christmas. The look in their eyes suggested it is a cherished memory today.
Posole on Cold Winter Nights
New Mexico has numerous unique dishes associated with the holidays. Christmas in New Mexico smells different. Fireplaces fill the air with the aroma of piñon, cedar and mesquite. It tastes different. Tamales are popular, because making them is a group project. It is helpful to have an assembly line worth of family and friends to make them. Biscochitos, the state cookie, are a holiday favorite. Red chile is used as a condiment to smother mashed potatoes or turkey and posole is a traditional holiday soup.
New Mexicans have been enjoying the spicy corn stew for centuries. It is regional ‘comfort food.’ Posole aka Pozole (pronounced poh-SO-lee) is an inexpensive dish to prepare. It is New Mexico’s version of Matzah Ball soup; served at parties, served at potlucks, presented as an all-around elixir for anything that ails you. It is more potent than chicken noodle and far more flavorful than Matzah Balls.
History of Posole
Posole, like other regional favorites, is an import from further south, brought here by the Spanish settlers in the 1600s. The Spanish got the recipe from the Aztecs. Posole, made from dried corn kernels, was a regular part of their diet. Corn was a staple crop in central America as well as the Southwest. Corn was essential for survival. The Corn Goddess represents life.
Meso-Americans discovered they could soak corn in a mixture of ground limestone and water to preserve it. By soaking it for several days before draining it and drying it, the corn retained a fresh flavor and could be stored, vermin-free, for several years. This was vital at a time when crop failure or a poor harvest induced famine and collapsed civilizations. In New Mexico, ground limestone wasn’t readily available. The indigenous people modified the curing process, using ash from wood fires to ‘cure’ it. They covered the corn in ash for a approximately a week. Different process, same outcome.
Posole is commonly served for special occasions and during the holidays. It is a traditional dish served on New Year’s Day to herald a year of luck and prosperity. Southerners bring out the black eyed peas. New Mexicans whip up a batch of posole.
Pork is a key ingredient in many traditional recipes. Make substitutions as dietary restrictions require; however, if pork is a possibility, there’s no need to mess with a good thing. The recipe customarily uses large kernel white corn, soaked in a solution of lime and dehydrated; however, hominy is frequently used as a substitute for the sake of expediency.
Servings: 6 – 8
El Paragua’s posole recipe is the same one used by Frances Atencio. Frances’ children have mastered the recipe and continue to serve their mom’s comfort food at El Paragua in Espanola and El Parasol locations in Espanola, Santa Fe and Los Alamos.
- 1 ½ pound of posole corn or hominy (dried or frozen)
- 3 ounces dried New Mexico red chile pods (6-7 large chile pods)
- 3 pounds of fresh pork roast
- 1 large onion, peeled and quartered
- 1 whole garlic, minced
- Salt to taste
- Rinse posole corn (hominy) until water runs clear. Drain.
- Place posole (hominy), roast, onion and garlic into a large stock pot and cover with water. Salt to taste.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer.
- Partially cover with a lid and cook until pork is tender and falls apart. Corn should also be soft and tender. This usually take 3-4 hours.
- Transfer the pork to a cutting board, cutting the roast into large pieces and returning them to the pot.
- Add chile pods and cook for another 45 minutes to an hour, until chiles are soft and completely rehydrated. Add water if necessary.
Serve with ground oregano, diced onion and lime.
Please leave your recipe modifications and/or questions in the comments below.