Christmas is such a magical time or year, no more so than in Mexico, where Christmas time means Las Posadas! Las Posadas is a time-honored tradition in Mexico, actually throughout Latin America, which celebrates the journey of Mary and Joseph as they searched for a place of shelter from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Traditionally, a Posada is arranged throughout a neighborhood, with a different house holding the celebration each night, starting on the 16th of December and finishing on the 24th. My family in Mexico celebrates it amongst the entire extended family, usually assigning a day to each relative. It is typically a 9 day festival, called a novena, which represents the 9 months of Mary’s pregnancy. The hosts of the Posada act as the innkeepers, and the children and adults attending the Posada act as the peregrinos (the pilgrims), who have to request lodging by going up to the house and singing a traditional song asking for shelter. The innkeepers respond to the pilgrims in song as well. either denying, or allowing the pilgrims to enter the house. Once inside a great festival ensues, where there is further singing, some pray the rosary, the children break piñatas, and my favorite part, the eating!
This year we decided to hold our own Posada at the DelGrosso household. So we invited some friends, planned the menu, and started cooking!
In Mexico, the traditional dish for the holidays is Pozole. Pozole is, like most dishes in Mexico, derived from Aztec tradition. The word pozole is Aztec (Nahuatl) in origin and means “foamy” as the Aztecs believed hominy resembled a foamy froth. It had a religious significance in Pre-Colombian Mexico as corn was a sacred plant to the Aztecs; therefore, it was only made on special occasions. After the Spanish conquest, some of the ingredients changed, but the corn and the tradition remained.
So our Posada, being a special occasion, called for Pozole! We planned to serve Pozole Rojo, which is the version of Pozole typically made in my wife’s family. And we also planned to serve Sopes…
Sopes are small antojitos or appetizers which are essentially a slightly thick tortilla with the sides pinched in to form what I call a “boat”. They are then fried and then topped with refried beans and crumbled cheese, lettuce, onions, red or green salsa. There are countless number of different variations to sopes all throughout Mexico. Sometimes other ingredients (mostly meat) are also added to create different tastes and styles of sopes. We have a standard sope we make in our family, which is simply refried black beans garnished with diced onion, shredded lettuce, cheese, and salsa.
The recipes below have been modified a bit for smaller yields. We obviously scaled up our recipe to serve 10 to 12 guests.
Basic Chicken Stock for Pozole
- 1 whole free-range chicken
- 1 medium white onion, quartered
- ½ head of garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoons of salt
- 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- Stems from a bunch of Cilantro
- About 3 quarts water
- Take the stems and tie them together with some butchers twine.
- Place all the ingredients in a large stockpot together with the water.
- Bring to a boil on medium heat then reduce to a simmer.
- Simmer for about an hour, or until the chicken is done and the legs pull from the rest of the chicken.
- Take the chicken from the pot and strain the stock with a medium mesh sieve.
- Once the chicken is cool, shred the meat from the chicken by hand and reserve.
- Use immediately or cool and store in refrigerator for up to 4 days, or freeze.
- 2 cans (2 lbs.) of Pozole (Corn Hominy)
- 10-12 Chile Guajillos
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1/8 of a medium white onion
- Chicken Stock (from recipe above)
- Shredded Chicken reserved from Chicken Stock recipe
- Sliced radish
- Shredded lettuce.
- Diced Onion
- Dried Mexican Oregano
- Rinse and clean the Pozole by hand, removing the “seed” or hard kernel from each piece of hominy.
- Toast the guajillos on a griddle similar to method described in Barbacoa recipe.
- Once the guajillos are roasted, place the chiles in hot water and let sit, covered for 30 minutes.
- While the guajillos soak, place the chicken stock and corn together in a large stockpot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue to boil on medium-low heat until the corn “blooms” or opens up. This should take about 10 or 15 minutes.
- Take the guajillos and clean the chiles by removing the stems, seeds and viens.
- Place the chiles in a blender with a clove of garlic, about 1/8 of the onion, and about 3 cups of chicken stock.
- Puree the chiles and force through a medium mesh sieve once the corn has “bloomed”.
- Continue to simmer the pozole for about 5 minutes to incorporate the flavors of the chile.
- Salt to taste. It is important to salt AFTER the corn has “bloomed”. Salt will inhibit this process.
- Serve with shredded shredded chicken, finely minced onion, sliced radish, shredded lettuce, and a pinch of dried Mexican oregano.
Frijoles de Olla
- 1 cup of beans
- 2 cloves of garlic
- ¼ of a white onion
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 quart of water
- Clean and sort the beans, removing any stones, broken beans, bad beans, etc.
- Place all ingredients in the Olla and bring to a boil over medium heat.
- Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 90 minutes or until beans are very tender, adding more water if necessary.
- 2 cups masa harina
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups warm water
- Pinch of salt
- Mix the masa harina and the salt in a large mixing bowl.
- Add the water to the flour, make sure that the water is warm.
- Press the dough with your fingers and the palms of your hands as if you were kneading bread dough. If at any point through the tortilla making process the dough seems too dry or too wet, add a little more water or masa to the dough.
- Take a piece of the masa dough and shape it into a ball the size of a plum, or slightly large golf ball. Make about 16-18 balls from the dough.
- Take two pieces plastic from a ziploc type plastic bag and cut them to the shape of the surface of the tortilla press. Open the tortilla press and lay one piece on the press. Place the masa ball in the center. Place another piece over the masa ball. Gently close the press and press down lightly, until the dough has spread to a diameter of 4 or 5 inches. You want the circle to be a little bit smaller and thicker than a tortilla, as you will be pinching up the sides.
- Heat a griddle or a large skillet on high heat. Working one at a time, hold a tortilla in your hand, carefully removing the plastic on each side. Allow the tortilla to rest half on your hand, and half hanging down, and gently lay the tortilla down on to the skillet. Cook the tortilla on the hot pan for 30 seconds to a minute on the first side. Gently flip the tortilla over for about 10 seconds.
- After 10 seconds take the tortilla from the griddle and place on your work surface. Place the fully cooked side up.
- Using your thumb, index finger and your middle finger, gently and carefully pinch in the sides all the way around the tortilla to form the “boat”.
- Once your sope is formed, place it back on the griddle to cook a bit more, about 30 seconds on each side.
- Repeat the process with each ball of dough until you have about 16 or 18 boats.
Sopecitos de Frijol
- 16 to 18 Sopes “boats”
- 1 cup of Frijoles de Olla
- Shredded lettuce
- Queso fresco (crumbled)
- Diced White Onion
- Place a medium sauté pan on high heat with about a tablespoon of corn oil.
- Take about a tablespoon of the white onion and cook until onion begins to become translucent.
- Put the beans in the pan with about ¼ cup of the bean broth.
- Cook for a few minutes and bring the beans to a slight boil.
- Begin mashing the beans with a potato masher and mash them until the beans are nice and creamy.
- Remove the beans from the heat.
- Put your skillet or griddle on the stove and put it on high heat.
- Once it comes to temperature. Take some corn oil (I put it in a squeeze bottle) and put about a tablespoon on the cooking surface. Once the oil is hot, but not smoking, work in batches and fry each boat in the oil until they are crisp (but not browned), put a little more oil on the cooking surface when needed.
- Once your boats are all crisped, you start assembling the sopes. Take a rubber spatula and spread some of the beans on each sope and place on a serving platter.
- Then take a pinch of diced onion, a pinch of shredded lettuce, and a pinch of queso freso and place on each sope. When I say a pinch, you can use your own judgment here. Put as much as you want on each sope!
- Finish with dollop of fresh salsa.