German Poetry and New Mexican Stew


Margarethe Gerhardt, 1873-1958. Woodblock Print. Date unknown. Probably a north German scene, but the warmth of the colors and style of architecture and mood make me think Latin America. Veracruz on the Elbe?


July 5th at midday and it’s a typical foggy 56 degrees Fahrenheit here in San Francisco. Low here this morning was 52 degrees, high expected of 59. Generally here, especially on our cloudy mountaintop, the fog sets in sometime early in June and remains, in a good year when we actually have autumn sunshine, until about mid-September. That’s because the fog which forms over the Pacific is pulled in with great force, even visible violence, by the ferociously hot temperatures inland. Since I pretty much live, in weather terms at least, for those few weeks in springtime and again in autumn when there’s sun, the summer fogstorms, as I call them, can get to me. That’s when I start thinking Arizona, Latin American villages, Mediterranean beaches and the ruins of Palmyra in the searing sands of the Syrian desert. And when I make my corn stew, of a type which New Mexicans call ‘pozole’, a generic word for stew in the Americas. The fragrance of spicy chile powder and dried hominy cooking in the pot never fails to warm me up and helps me to forget the gloom. Then often, as today, I engage in the idiosyncratic practice of translating German poetry while periodically consuming bowls full of New Mexican stew with all the toppings. It’s not a bad prescription for what ails. A really good combination of activities, actually. Here’s how I do the food part.

New Mexican Pozole

1 12 oz. package dried hominy (I get mine from Los Chileros de Nuevo Mexico in Santa Fé)

Rinse hominy. Add double the amount of water you need to cover it in a large heavy pot. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low simmer, cover and cook, stirring corn off bottom every hour or so until soft. This will take two or three hours.

2 large onions, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped

Add onions and carrots, cover and cook another 30 to 40 minutes.

1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped (optional)
2 tsp. red chile powder (Los Chileros de Nuevo Mexico has various fine options)
1 tbs. brown sugar
1 tbs. bouillon powder (I use Marigold brand Swiss Vegetable Bouillon, a superior product)
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce

Add the above items, adjusting amounts of each to taste. Your vegetable bouillon may take the place of salt, as it does for me. I tend to go very heavy on the chile powder, but you might want to be careful about that. 

Cook and adjust seasonings until you like the taste. In parts of Mexico, New and Old alike, this soup is served on festive occasions with various toppings arranged in small bowls for people to choose from. Here are some of the usual suspects:

finely chopped onion
finely chopped radish
chopped lettuce
hot salsa
wedges of lime
sour cream

A good crumbly Mexican cheese, such as cotija, is a very fine addition when sprinkled on top at serving time. I find this soup so rich and filling that anything else is really almost too much, but you could have a plate of simple quesadillas (a thin torte made from tortillas layered with melted cheese) or fried tortilla chips.  Avocados sliced and laid atop the soup just before serving are a really tasty and appropriate garnish.

Canned, pre-cooked hominy can be used for this recipe, and it works fairly well. Blue corn hominy, which would often be used in New Mexico, makes for an extremely agreeable variation. Most people would make this soup with pork, simmering various cuts of it along with the dried hominy in the initial stages of preparation, to which they would add dried roasted chiles and omit most of the vegetables. But I like my version far better. 

It’s a bit difficult to eat this dish without splashing and slurping just a little, so finish your bowl before retiring to your reading or work space with your volumes of Georg Trakl and Rainer Maria Rilke. Or whatever other German or other writers you’re currently spending time with. They will demand all the attention and devotion you can muster.


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