NEWTON — New England cooks know that thick, hearty soups, especially the filled-to-the-brim with vegetables, meat, pasta, or grains kinds of bowls, can be satisfying one-dish meals.
Posole (pronounced poh-SOH-lay), a soup from Mexico, made with pork (or chicken) and hominy, cooked dried corn, is one such meal. Plentiful spices and seasonings flavor the broth and, by tradition, bowls are garnished with fresh, crisp vegetables such as shredded lettuce and radishes.
At 51 Lincoln, chef-owner Jeffrey Fournier makes pozole verde, or green posole, spiked with fresh chilies, garlic, and oregano, and full of hominy and bits of pork. Fournier relies on canned hominy instead of starting with dried corn kernels because it’s a good product and huge timesaver (see right).
The chef learned to make the soup early in his career during the five years he spent in Santa Monica, Calif., restaurants. “I cooked with a lot of Mexican cooks,” he says, and they taught him about the regional cuisines of Mexico. Green posole is popular in Guerrero, along the country’s southern Pacific coast. “I’m French-Canadian-Armenian,” says Fournier, “but I’ve always been into Central and South American food.”
Posole comes in green, white, and red, the colors of the Mexican flag. Fresh green chilies, tomatillos, and herbs like cilantro and oregano will tint the soup green; sometimes toasted green pepitas, pumpkin seeds, are ground and used as a thickener. Soup made with dried chilies takes on a reddish hue and becomes pozole rojo. White posole (pozole blanco) is seasoned pork broth, pork, and hominy.
What they all have in common, aside from a meaty, garlicky broth, and hominy, are the garnishes. Toppings vary by region but generally include chopped greens, thinly sliced radishes, onion, fresh cilantro, avocado, and chicharron (fried pork rind) or tortilla chips. At some restaurants, the soup comes to the table garnished; at others the toppings are offered on the side for diners to add what they like.
At Angela’s Cafe in East Boston, posole is white. Matriarch Angela Atenco Lopez, who’s been cooking for over 50 years, makes the traditional recipe of her native Puebla, an inland state near Mexico City. She simmers pork ribs in water with bay leaves, garlic, and Mexican oregano. “The bones add flavor,” says Luis Garcia, the cafe manager. Hominy and chunks of pork loin are added to the broth and bowls are topped with shredded lettuce, radishes, and onion. Without chilies in the soup, its flavor is mild, but they serve chili powder on the side for anyone craving heat. Garcia, speaking for Lopez (who speaks Spanish), says they use canned hominy for convenience. “The soup is really popular; imagine if we had to cook [the hominy] from scratch,” he says.
About a mile away, also in East Boston, is Taqueria Jalisco, which serves red posole. “Ours is the same style you would find in Jalisco,” says chef and owner Ramiro Gonzalez. His recipes come from his mother, who was raised in the Pacific coast state. Pork butt and pigs’ feet flavor the broth and dried guajillo peppers not only color the soup red but give it a subtle smoky-sweet warmth. Toppings of shredded cabbage, onion, radishes, lime, and dried oregano come with a few housemade sauces.
The soup contains garlic, but no oregano, and “a few little secret touches,” says Gonzalez, who grew up in California. He prefers canned hominy, which “has a softer, smoother feel to it.”
Bowls of soup made with a sparse amount of meat and plentiful vegetables in broth are found in many cuisines. Garbure is a favorite in France, the pot thick with cabbage, beans, potatoes, and pork; familiar minestrone is served in Italy; caldo verde, with kale, potatoes, and sausage, in Portugal; Vietnamese pho, and more. Posole is Mexico’s tradition. Unlike the others, you get to pick the color.
51 Lincoln, 51 Lincoln St., Newton Highlands, 617-965-3100.
Angela’s Cafe, 131 Lexington St., East Boston, 617-567-4972.
Taqueria Jalisco, 291 Bennington St., East Boston, 617-567-6367 (posole on weekends).