Butternut Squash Pozole

Telling people that I studied abroad in Mexico almost always leads to an interesting conversation. Some people respond with a simple, but almost skeptical, “Oh cool”, and then launch into details about their study abroad experience in Buenos Aires or Florence. Now don’t get me wrong, there is incredible value in any study abroad experience and all cultures are worth diving into head on. I’ve got a trip planned to Italy for Pete’s sake, so I’m not knocking anyone’s experience in Italian cities or anywhere else for that matter. But I have the deepest love for Mexico, and might be a little biased when I say my study abroad experience kicked the butt of yours.

Why am I bringing up Mexico? Well, it’s because this recipe was very much inspired by the people and food of my dear Oaxaca. When I was cooking up this spicy pozole the smells instantly brought me back to my host family’s kitchen, where my mother Magdalena and abuelita would be stewing a mole for a family party or simmering black beans with epazote for our afternoon comida.

Learning to make tamales from our host mother, Magdalena

Learning to make tamales from our host mother, Magdalena

Simple ingredients, turned into amazing meals. Not all meals were great- I never figured out what the gelatinous being was wading in a bowl of salsa verde- but the majority were outstanding. I regret not writing down more recipes and notes, and so some of my most memorable meals can only be recalled through my senses. Pozole is one of those meals.

Not only does the word pozole (or sometimes spelled posole) mean stew, but it defines the main ingredient in the dish- hominy. Hominy is simply dried, mature corn kernels that have gone through an alkaline lye bath, a process called nixtamalization. In the states, this product is usually cooked and canned, but in Mexico it’s most commonly turned into masa, or dough, for the best tortillas in the world. Side note- NYCers need to check out Tortilleria Nixtamal for, you guessed it, super traditional and delicious corn tortillas. When I stayed in the village of Teotitlan del Valle, I would wake at dawn with my host mother, Patronea, walk to the mill to grind our corn kernels, come home to boil them in a lye bath, and then Patronea- who is about a foot shorter than I- would break out her guns to grind the hominy into masa for tortillas by hand. We did this EVERY day during my week stay and it was amazing to see each time.

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Not in the mood to grind out your hominy? Add it to pozole like I did. I could walk down Mexico memory lane for days, so let’s get to the recipe before I trail off again…

Butternut Squash Pozole- serves 5, or 1 for many meals…

Ingredients

  • 1 28oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 large red onion, chopped- about 2 cups
  • 2 Tbsp oil of choice
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups cubed butternut squash- about 1 small squash or the “neck” of 1 medium squash
    • I left the skin on because I’m lazy and knew it would soften as it cooked in the stew. Peel away if you don’t like a little extra chew. How to handle a butternut:
      1. With a sharp knife, separate the “neck” from the “butt”- the Mexican women at the farmers market in Corona looooved when I described it this way during a cooking demo. Slice discs or flats from the neck, then cube into desired size. Smaller cubes for faster cooking, especially if keeping the skin.

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  • 2 Tbsp chile powder
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth, no salt added
  • 1 can hominy, drained and rinsed well
  • For garnish- avocado cubes, cilantro, scallions, lime wedges, sliced radishes, crispy tortilla strips- the possibilities are endless!

Preparation

  1. Over a large bowl, break apart canned tomatoes with your hands to “squish” them into broken pieces for the stew. Reserve the sauce from the can as well.
  2. In a large pot, heat oil and add onions and garlic. Let cook five minutes or until lightly browned. Add chile powder and cook 30 seconds. Add squash, tomatoes and juice, hominy, and broth. Bring to a simmer and cover.
  3. Cook 25-30 minutes until squash is tender and stew is slightly reduced. Like a thicker stew? Use an immersion blender for a few seconds, or add a pinch of flour to thicken. Like it even thicker? I like to blend a half cup of black beans with some water or stock and then add that to the pot.
  4. Serve with desired garnishes. Buen provecho!

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