Posole in New Mexico is like clam chowder in New England. The basic recipe is simple. And the variations are, too. But every cook is an expert, with his own special way of making this Southwestern dish of pork, chili, and white corn kernels.
Posole is but one specialty in this state where visitors are often interested mainly in eating. Especially in Santa Fe. Most people arriving in this city head immediately for one of the local restaurants - and there are 213 to choose from.
Tourists usually look for true Southwestern food, based on a dedication to indigenous ingredients - though later additions, like avocados, jicama, hot sauce, and sour cream are common.
Southwestern food has an intimate, homemade quality that's particularly noticeable in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
It's a quality that prompts the people of this state to proclaim their food is not ``Tex-Mex,'' or ``pioneer,'' or ``settler cooking.'' All of that the New Mexicans lump under the title ``Anglo food.''
Noteworthy, too, is price.
Even the best native food in Santa Fe comes with a reasonable bill. It's hard to spend more than $10 a person on a meal, including beverages and dessert. It's easy to be satisfied for $5. There may be waiting lines in summer, but no matter.
If you're interested in tasting the character of a place, you'll head for the places serving native foods. Only a few have become standardized, with the typical ``combination plate'' of blue-corn enchiladas with posole and beans on the side.
Here are some recipe ideas and some restaurant suggestions.
Even without the sparkling New Mexican sun overhead, and a backdrop of the the Sangre de Cristo mountains, it is possible to capture the special quality of this food in your own kitchen.
Sopaipillas are a kind of puffy bread, often served with the main meal. Sopaipillas 2 cups flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening 1/2 cup lukewarm water Shortening for frying
Sift dry ingredients together. Blend with shortening until crumbly and add water to make soft dough. Chill in refrigerator. Roll out on floured board to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut in 3-inch squares.
Deep fry at 400 degrees F. a few at a time until brown on each side. Drain on paper towels and serve hot with honey or butter or both.
Aniseed cookies, called biscochitos, are said to be a traditional Christmas cookie in the Southwest, but you will see them year-round at the pueblos and in many homes. Something like a sugar cookie, they are often cut in a fleur-de-lis shape, but you will also see them round. Biscochitos 1/2 cup vegetable shortening 2/3 cup sugar 1 egg 1 1/2 cups flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon aniseed or 1/8 teaspoon anise extract 1/4 cup sugar mixed with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream or blend shortening and sugar. Beat in egg. Add and mix in flour and baking powder and seasonings. Pat out dough into 2 1/2-inch rounds, or chill dough in refrigerator, then roll out on floured board. Sprinkle top of cookies with cinnamon mixture and arrange close together on greased cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes until cookies are light tan, or bake for 15 minutes for a crisper, browner cookie.
In New Mexican restaurants, posole is sometimes like a stew of hominy in red chili sauce, perhaps with onion and pork to flavor. From this simple base, many things are added. To improvise at home, use frozen posole or canned hominy. Posole With Pork 1 onion, chopped 2 cloves garlic, chopped 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1/2 teaspoon each black pepper, ground cumin, cloves, and cayenne 1 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, cooked and cubed 2 or 3 cups frozen, precooked posole or canned hominy, drained 3 to 5 cups pork broth, degreased, strained 1 cup canned green chilies, chopped 2 whole jalapenos, canned or fresh, seeded, chopped (optional) Salt, if needed Garnishes: red or green salsa, shredded lettuce, thinly sliced radishes, sliced avocado, lime wedges
Saut'e onion and garlic in oil until soft. Add spices and stir for a minute, then add precooked posole and cooked pork, pork broth, chilies, and jalapenos. Simmer, covered, 45 to 60 minutes until meat and hominy are tender and chilies and onions well cooked up in broth. If the posole seems not done, continue cooking up to an hour longer. Add water if needed to keep pork well covered during the last of the cooking.
Serve in wide soup plates with broth in each serving, with warm flour tortillas and salsa. Each person can add garnishes. Salsa Fresca 2 large ripe tomatoes, seeded 1 clove garlic, peeled 1 Anaheim or California green chili, seeded in thirds 3 green onions, in 1-inch pieces 4 cups canned, chopped green chilies 1 teaspoon olive oil 1 tablespoon lime juice or wine vinegar Salt and pepper to taste 1/4 cup ice water (optional) Handful fresh green coriander (cilantro), chopped 1 to 3 jalapenos, fresh or canned (optional)
Using blender or food processor or large chef's knife, chop vegetables and seasonings until desired consistency is reached. Let salsa ripen at room temperature an hour or longer. Add ice water for desired consistency.
Here are some Santa Fe restaurants known for their native food:
Josie's Casa de Comida. This is great for lunch and a favorite of the locals. Regional dishes are superb, especially the posole. Also - the best desserts in the city. 225 East Marcy, no reservations, no credit cards, inexpensive.
Tecolote Caf'e. Food here is mainly New Mexican, but the Tecolote is also known for its breakfasts, with wonderful omelets filled with green chile and cheese, and huevos rancheros, fried eggs on a corn tortilla covered with chile. 1203 Cerillos, no reservations, inexpensive.
Maria Ysabel Restaurant has mostly a local clientele. A New Mexican dinner might include chile con queso, chicarones, carne adovada, frijoles, papas con chile verde, and two kinds of enchiladas. 2821 Cerillos, reservations, moderate.
Coyote Caf'e. Regional food, but with very imaginative cooking by California chef Mark Miller. 132 West Water, reservations necessary, expensive.
Desert Caf'e. Handsome contemporary decor and a California chef-owner, Larry Vito, who serves vegetarian foods with a Southwestern twist. There's also chicken, meat, and fish on the menu. 540 Montezuma, reservations, expensive.
Rancho de Chimayo. In a lovely adobe hacienda, one of the best-known restaurants in the state with traditional foods. In Chimayo village, 25 miles north of Santa Fe. Specialty is carne adovada; reservations necessary, moderate.