Fork in the Road: Santa Fe Posole

Tuesday, July 6, 2010 43 comments
I hope you'll enjoy Fork in the Road, a series of posts in which I recount the places we've been, recreate the most memorable meals we've enjoyed, and rehabilitate the ones we'd otherwise rather forget. The Roadtrip Dinner Redux kicked off in North Platte, Nebraska with a dish of Shichimi-Spiced Soba Noodles; now, we head south to New Mexico to revisit a simple side dish that stole the spotlight . . .

Santa Fe-inspired Posole

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way.
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright, bright
Sunshiny day.
-- "I Can See Clearly Now" by Johnny Nash

It was going to be a wonderful day.

How could it have been anything else? After all, it was heralded by a lovely vision: a double rainbow that glowed softly in the still-stormy skies above the highway, inviting us to pass beneath its archway as we began a long day's drive toward new adventures.

Mr. Noodle and I left North Platte, Nebraska early that morning, well-fortified from an enormous pancake breakfast that helped dim the memory of the previous night's microwaveable noodle dinner. Ahead of us lay over 600 miles and 10 hours of driving through the length of Colorado before we would reach our destination in Santa Fe, New Mexico. No worries, though - we had our omnipresent bag of Goldfish for snacking, some old-school tunes (Beastie Boys for him, Guns 'n' Roses for me) to keep up the tempo, passing scenery more beautiful with each mile, and enough excited energy to keep either of us from dozing off in the passenger seat and thereby depriving the driver of some chatty company.

As the Big Maroon made steady progress down the interstate, we were entranced as the landscape changed from green Nebraska farm fields to the desolate, rolling grasslands of northern Colorado and the distant snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains. This was no foreign land filled with unfamiliar exotica, yet there was always something new to experience with each mile. Far from a stranger to strange sights from his global travels, Mr. Noodle was nonetheless utterly fascinated by the cacti that dotted a random hillside behind a rest stop near Pueblo, Colorado; in the meantime, I was alarmed by signs urging caution for poisonous snakes and scorpions that were regular denizens of the area. These were not the pine trees and mosquitoes that we had left behind in Minnesota.

How much we miss by flying to our destinations! From the air, we can see the vastness of our beautiful land, but only on the ground can all of our senses fully revel in it. Noisome fumes from roadside cattle pens were soon dissipated by a fresh, cool breeze across the open prairie, while the muted roar of water cascading through a river gorge was accompanied by the steady hum of tires on asphalt. The smoothness of an interesting pebble found along a riverbank radiated the captured warmth of sunshine and was tucked away as a remembrance, but the rough grumbling of my stomach soon reminded me that the best souvenir would be a plate of Southwestern food.

Ristras: Old Tradition in New Mexico

Garlands of dried chili peppers. Mexican-influenced cuisine. Maize. Arid landscape. Artists. Adobes.

These were some of the images that came to mind when Mr. Noodle put New Mexico on our itinerary and were formed secondhand through travel guidebooks, websites and photos of this Land of Enchantment. Sure enough, we marveled at the landscape of vibrant red rock outcroppings, but were also delighted by surprisingly verdant scenery as we drove through Cimarron Canyon State Park on our way to the town of Taos. For over a century, the area has attracted artists of every medium, from painters to sculptors to weavers, but it was a traditional culinary form, borne of necessity and practicality, that caught our eye and made real the essence of New Mexico.

Chile and garlic ristras, New Mexico

Inside a small, non-descript kiosk in the middle of a municipal parking lot, we found Isabelle Duran of Ristras de Taos, sitting at a table and nimbly assembling dozens of ristras (Spanish for "bunch") - the strands and wreaths of sundried chile peppers that have become an instantly recognizable motif of the American Southwest. Although ristras are popular today as decorations signifying hospitality and good luck, stringing together chiles, along with garlic bulbs and ears of Indian corn, and hanging them to dry outdoors is a long-standing method of preserving these pods, which are so intrinsic to New Mexican cuisine:
"It is said that the length of a ristra was traditionally related to the height of the person stringing it: Supposedly, a ristra as long as a person was tall would meet his or her chile needs for a year . . . Pods are pulled off as needed and added whole to a pot of posole (hominy stew) or beans, crumbled to make the red flakes called caribe, or ground into molido for the red chile sauce (chile colorado) that's eaten on a daily basis all over the state."
-- Deborah Madison, "Chimayó's Chile Culture"
The thought of savory, chile-spiced food quickly set us back on the road from Taos' charming shops and galleries toward the day's true destination - Santa Fe. World-renowned as a cultural and artistic center, this state capital is also home to some of the very best in Southwestern cuisine, drawing from Mexican and Native American culinary traditions as well as leading the way in innovative and uniquely New Mexican cookery. Among the most popular food destinations are the small town of Chimayó, just north of Santa Fe and best known for its namesake heirloom chile, and the Santa Fe School of Cooking, which draws some of the city's best chefs as instructors, including Oliver Ridgeway, Executive Chef of the Anasazi Restaurant & Bar. With its contemporary New Mexican menu, the Anasazi joins other critically-acclaimed dining rooms such as the Coyote Café and Ristra, a French-Southwestern fusion restaurant, in excelling at modern interpretations of local/regional ingredients and traditional cooking styles.

(Photo credit: Edith Han at Travelust)
As much as Mr. Noodle and I would have loved to dine at these establishments, a tight schedule and an even tighter budget wouldn't allow. Instead, we went to Café Castro, a well-Yelped, single-dollar-sign, family-owned-and-staffed little restaurant adjacent to a strip club with the cheeky name of Cheeks. If you manage to walk through the correct doorway, the only saucy sights you'll see are the plates of enchiladas smothered in chile verde (made with roasted green chiles), chile colorado (made with ground dried red chiles), or Christmas (one of each).

We were seated and served in short order with Mr. Noodle diving into a chile relleno while I made quick work of an enchilada. Both were quite good, but it was the side dish that grabbed my attention. Instead of the usual blob of refried beans, Café Castro served posole (also spelled pozole*); however, this was not the the steaming bowlful of spicy broth, fragrant herbs, tender pork and pleasantly chewy hominy that I so enjoy ordering at Mexican restaurants.
(*Spelling with 's' is most commonly used in New Mexico.)

Posole Primer

Think you know posole? I certainly thought so, but it turns out, I didn't know the half of it - or two-thirds, as the case may be:
(Photo credit:
Posole the Ingredient refers to dried corn that has been nixtamalized, a process dating back to ancient Mesoamerica in which kernels are soaked in a lime solution then dried. The word posole is derived from the Nahuatl pozolli (or posolli), meaning 'foamy', which may refer to the foam that forms when the corn is boiled. The cans of big, puffy-looking corn with which you may be familiar are hominy - essentially cooked posole.

Posole the Soup traces its origins to a pre-Hispanic Mexican foodstuff of ground maize called keyem by the Mayans and pozolli by the Aztecs. Today, it is a mainstay of Mexican cuisine, popular as a fiesta food and readily available at restaurants devoted solely to serving countless variations of the stew (pozoleros). The central traditional ingredients are pork and, of course, posole, but regional renditions abound: pozole blanco is simply stewed with herbs and various pig parts while pozole rojo gets its red hue from dried red chiles that are either ground or softened and puréed, and pozole verde recipes use tomatillos and/or green chilies for its coloration. This was what I was most familiar with as posole.

Posole the Side Dish, from what I gather, is more common in New Mexico than anywhere else:
"[Posole is] served at the restaurant generally as a starchy accompaniment . . . " (from The Rancho de Chimayo Cookbook, p129)
"You'll often see posole as a side dish along with pinto beans (frijoles)." (from Santa Fe Flavors, p10)
The side dish served at Café Castro appeared to be a blanco version that had a mild, almost bland flavor. In fact, I may have been more enamored by the idea of posole as a side dish than overly impressed by its taste, which is why I decided on a redux of this particular dinner element in the hopes of cooking up a simple, savory accompaniment to put on the Noodle house menu.

Browning-Blas, Kristen. "Ancient Stew, Modern Style", 1/27/10
Garber, Karen H. "Red, White or Green: Warm Up the Winter with Pozole", 1/1/06

Santa Fe-inspired Posole

Posole blanco is often the base upon which other ingredients are layered to create the even deeper flavored rojo and verde soups. Although there are countless variations of this 'basic' recipe, most use pork, oregano and onion in their preparations. For this dish, I omitted the pork meat, opting instead to use chicken broth, and I added zucchini and tomato for more color and texture. Finally, even if it has absolutely no precedent in any known posole recipe, I couldn't resist adding cheese ... 


1 medium zucchini, leave unpeeled, washed and diced small (about 1 cup)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced small (about 1/2 cup)
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 tsp ground chile powder (such as ancho or chipotle)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
29 oz can hominy, drained and rinsed
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
optional: 1 tequila-soaked chipotle

Queso blanco (crumbled)

To make:

1. Sprinkle diced zucchini with salt, toss well and place in a colander. Set aside for 20 minutes to draw out moisture from the squash, then pat dry;
2. Heat oil in a small Dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until softened but not browned;
3. Add diced zucchini and cook until softened, then add broth, chile, cumin and oregano (and chipotle, if using), and bring to a gentle simmer;
4. Add hominy and tomato and stir to heat through, about 5 minutes.
5. Top with fresh chopped cilantro and queso blanco and serve as an accompaniment to your favorite main dishes, such as roast chicken.


  • Juliana said...

    Oh! First the pictures are awesome, very pretty...second, the posole looks yummie, I love hominy, we used to eat lots of them back in Brazil :-)

  • Jenn said...

    Keep these posts coming. One day I'll eventually plan a road trip. Really cool. That's been on my list of things to do for quite a while. Literally at the top.

  • Forager @ The Gourmet Forager said...

    Ah! I was thinking, I've made posole but it was a soup and so different looking to yours - then I read your notes - so mine was hominy!

    It's sad, we Aussies know so very little about proper Mexican food. Sadly we only know Tex Mex style food and label that Mexican.

    Keep these posts coming! I learn so much about the intricacies of American food and culture through them!

  • kat said...

    When we moved here we drove from San Francisco over 4 days & it was the best trip getting to see the US. I just discover pisole this year when we bought some hominy, its so good!

  • lisaiscooking said...

    I didn't know Chimayo was the name of a town, but I do love that chile. Great idea to add zucchini and tomatoes to the posole, and the cheese sounds delicious too!

  • Lori said...

    I am loving this series. You know me, if it involves food and travel - I'm there! I just love seeing all those dried peppers and the recipe looks delicious.

    Honestly, aside from a chili recipe I never used hominy until we moved to Brazil. I had no idea it even existed dried. Ha, ha! We are starting to get the craving to explore the Southwest. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Posole hits the spot! Thanks for your comments . . .

    Juliana - Thank you! Is it also called posole in Brazil and how was it prepared? I love the taste and texture of it so I'd love to get more and different recipes. 8-)

    Gera - Many thanks! The landscape was so new & different for us, and the food was wonderful, too!

    Jenn - I've got quite a few posts from this road trip on tap, but I also hope to revisit earlier trips to other places. Road trips rock!

    Forager - The soup is so much better known but as a side dish, posole is perfect! I noticed that Mexican cuisine is under-represented outside of the Western Hemisphere. The Philippines has a direct, strong historical connection with Mexico and yet we found few offerings in Manila (except for Cal-Mex). Hope that someone will rectify it! 8-)

    Kat - I would honestly do it all over again! We drove through such beautiful countryside; I'm just sorry we couldn't stay longer in each spot. I recall that you get a lot of beans from Rancho Gordo - is that where you get your posole? I'll have to give them a try.

    Lisa - I had heard of Hatch chiles but didn't know that another town and type was also well-regarded. I brought back 3 bags of dried chiles and can't wait to use them. I hope that the cheese on posole wasn't too sacreligious!

    Beancounter - [LOL] Confession: I didn't recognize 'binatog' and had to look it up! But from what I saw in photos, the corn looks very similar. In fact, I found a recipe at Panlasang Pinoy that calls for hominy as a substitute! So it seems that they are very similar, notwithstanding the sweet vs. savory. 8-)

    Spryte - Thank you! I'm excited to share the next stop and the next dish. 8-D

    Lori - I do wish we could travel even more but it's great to be able to revisit them in the blog. I seriously thought posole was just the soup and also had no idea that it was sold as dried kernels. When you get the chance, definitely hit the Southwest region. It was my favorite part of our road trip . . . !

    Vanillasugar - Please do try it! Posole is one of my favorite dishes, side or soup, and now I hope to work with the dried ingredient. 8-)

    Pam - Thanks so much! There's more to come . . .

    Daily Freebies - Thank you!

    Doggybloggy - I now fully understand why New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment: it was wonderful! I really appreciate your approval of my version of posole. 8-D

    Momgateway - Posole as a side dish pairs so well with grilled or roasted meat. It's definitely going to be a staple in our house! 8-)

  • ValleyWriter said...

    Wow - your pics are amazing! You're right - we do miss so much by flying, or sometimes even when driving if we are too focused on the destination. I love taking road trips for road trips' sake - just stumbling upon whatever piques our interest along the way. Such fun!

    And this dish does look amazingly fresh and wonderful. The colors & lightness really pop off the screen in your photos!

  • Liren said...

    Wow, it turns out I did not really know posole after all! What a fascinating dish, in terms of flavors AND backgrounds! I really like your version - it is very bright and light, it would complement many dishes so well!

    Loved this post, Tracey. So entertaining - it's fun to "travel" with you!

  • sophia said...

    I'm in LOVE with these series! You are amazing to take us along with your journey...I've never been much for road trips (car sickness), but now I just wanna cruise along the country in a car, too! And I'd LOVE to try that posole, as well! They sound so interesting!

  • Debi (Table Talk) said...

    I had never heard that story about the ristra. I always pick up a new piece of trivia visiting here.
    Tequila soaked chipotle---optional? I'd say required!
    Terrific job with this post; full of info for the Sante Fe foodie traveler.

  • Anh said...

    This recipe makes me angry! I have not been anle to find hominy in Australia :( So sad since I love them and this recipe sounds GOOD!

  • hungrygirl said...

    Hello! Im from NM. Glad you enjoyed the food in Santa Fe! I thought you would like to know that we call squash made like that "calabacitas" which means little squash. My grandma would add in corn! yummm! Also, authentic new mexicans never use tomatillos! We are one of the only states to grow and harvest green chile! Here everyone uses Hatch green chile which is the BEST!!! I hope you can make your way back to NM! Wed love to see ya again. If you get a change to make it to Las Vegas, NM theres a place on Grand ave call spic~n~span. i think you would enjoy it very much :)

  • hungrygirl said...

    Reading these posts make me realize that we New Mexicans live in a cultural bubble of delicious food! I feel like I should create a blog just to help people get a real feel for something that is AMERICAN and not mexican. We New Mexicans have our own tastes and styles that are reminiscent of Mexico but have a style and taste all their own :) Anyone that reads this- visit NM and eat as much as you can!!! lol Chile relleno, green chile enchiladas, calabacitas, tamales, arroz con pollo, burritos, indian tacos, papitas con chile! my mouth is watering.

  • Anonymous said...

    Great post and posole! I agree 100% about road trips and there is nowhere in the world better suited to it than the US. I used to drive back and forth between Seattle and New Orleans every year. After the Pacific coast, the Southwest was my favourite bit - thanks for bringing back great memories. :-)

  • Mardi Michels said...

    I love that you are coming home and recreating the foods you ate on your road trip! Congrats on Top 9 and I look forward to following along the rest of your trips down culinary memory lane!

  • Magdalena said...

    Santa father in the early eighties was giving some lectures there...I still remember pictures that he brought from the U.S, into the poor communist country - so different planet at that time !
    I have to ask him, if he tried this dish...I hope that he remembers, as he is a foodie person and has a great memory ! Your plate dish looks very refreshing.

  • Judy said...

    What a wonderful post! I enjoyed reading about your drive to Santa Fe. I've never cooked with posole and found your post very educational. Thank you for sharing.

  • Unplanned Cooking said...

    I love this - we are traveling, and what I find hardest while traveling with kids is to get real food. Because you can't take them into a nice restaurant, so I feel like we keep ending up in a pizzeria or a diner, so what we eat is crap.

  • Anonymous said...

    Great well-written information about posole, which we love! In fact, we prefer it to the blob of refries that grace so many plates of New Mexican food. And on the subject of chile, if you cannot afford Chimayo-grown (yes, it IS more expensive due to the limited quantities), we prefer the chile grown in Socorro to the Hatch version. You can buy it on Cerrillos Road every fall at Fred's booth outside of Office Depot! And you should know that a branch of the Castro family has an outpost in downtown Santa Fe called Mucho Gusto, next door to the Inn on the Alameda, where you can also get yummy food and friendly service.

  • Daily Spud said...

    See, the thing is, I don't know posole at all - but having read this, I want to get to know it and soon. I also have a hankering to go on a big ol' roadtrip. Unfortunately, I suspect that neither of these things are in my near future!

  • SKIP TO MALOU said...

    As Beancounter said, it reminds me of binatog. It's a street food, sold by a vendor who walks through villages with his tin cans which he carries over his shoulder with a pole.

    Thank you for taking us with your tour. Very interesting post as always!
    Happy Summer... cheers!

  • Heather S-G said...

    Look at us...both waxing poetic on some Posole ;). Great info...a lot of which I did not know...I love the fact about the length of the person indicating the length of the chile string...and it would supposedly last one cool!! This is a posole like I've never the side dish application. Completely gorgeous...and I want some, of course!

  • gowns said...

    I have never seen a posole made this way. But I am kind of intrigued by your version. The only thing I would change would be to serve it in broth and top it with cilantro. The color is beautifull.

  • Brenda said...

    I love pozole - but I grew up eating the brothy oregano sprinkled deliciousness which you mentioned. Hominy is not something I would ever have thought of as a side-dish on its own, but with your accompaniments I think it works a treat.

    Also, I am still a big fan of the blob of refried beans :)

  • Phyllis said...

    Thanks for the posole primer! I've never tried it before but now you've got me curious.
    ps. I could hang out with both you and Mr. Noodle since i love GNR AND the Beastie Boys!

  • Conor @ Hold the Beef said...

    I was already pretty sure that I'd missed a lot of the greatness of Santa Fe and its surrounds by not having a car to go and look at anything outside the city centre, and you have truly confirmed this! I was lucky enough to have dinner at Coyote Cafe though, and can attest to the quality of the chow! (lil review here if you're interested :) )

    Thanks for the posole lesson! Definitely looks worth learning about. Learning with my stomach.


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