All Photos: Susan Yee, En Pointe Photography
Last Wednesday after work, I whipped up a Southwestern feast for a few friends. Susan the photographer was along for the ride again, as were two native Texans with big appetites.
One of the Texans had, with a bit of probing, recently told me that pozole rojo is among his favorite foods in the whole wide world. Having never tasted (let alone cooked) the dish, I was intrigued. It's a Tex-Mex chile-hominy-pork soup that's similar to Vietnamese pho in that it's served alongside a vast array of fresh condiments, like queso fresco and avocado and sour cream and cilantro and lime wedges and shredded cabbage and radishes, all added to taste by each diner.
I hunted down a few recipes, hit the ethnic market for dried guajillo and ancho chiles, and went to work. The result turned out to be enough pozole to feed 14 people over the course of the next three days.
We rounded out the meal with sweet cornbread muffins and my favorite lowfat, high-flavor wintertime dessert: chile-spiced hot chocolate with sweet potato.
I saw that face you just made.
Oh, yes I did.
I understand, but...you're just going to have to trust me on this one.
Still skeptical, I see.
OK, fine. I'll show you the pozole-making process later.
Right now I want to fast-forward to the hot chocolate. You should seriously consider making this hot, spicy, steamy drink. Tonight. Before Valentine's Day is over. If you know what I mean and I think you do.
Mayan Chile-Spiced Hot Chocolate
Begin with a sweet potato. (You can also use 1-1/2 cups of roasted squash or canned pumpkin; this is more a technique than a hard-and-fast recipe.)
I just forked this one (which arrived in last week's CSA box) all over and threw it into the microwave for a couple of minutes.
When the spud is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and thoroughly puree it with ~1/2 cup of lowfat milk. (I'm specifying lowfat--even skim--because the orgasmic, velvety, mouth-coating richness of this drink comes from the secret ingredient, not from fat. You could use full-fat milk, I suppose, but I will not be responsible for pleasure-induced aneurysms.)
Thank you, Jodi Kasten, for the Tony Bourdain logo'd dishtowel!
Now, I'm lucky enough to live in an area with abundant ethnic markets, so I have a head start on the spiced chocolate.
While you can make this recipe using 7 oz. of plain old semisweet chocolate chips* and doctor it up with additional powdered spice at the end, you'll create a far more complex dessert if you use a combination of two ethnic chocolates as your base: a disc of Abuelita Mexican Cinnamon chocolate, and a bar of Lindt Chili chocolate.
Chop the chocolates (or not--it really doesn't matter, but if you're cooking to impress, it looks good) and place them in a saucepan with 2 1/2 cups of lowfat or skim milk.
Melt the chocolate into the milk over low to medium heat, stirring frequently. (That's the pot of pozole behind the chocolate, by the way. WOW, it was good...)
When the chocolate and milk have dissolved into each other like lovers in red satin sheets, remove the mixture from the heat.
Add the sweet potato puree and whisk to combine.
Finish with a few more pinches of additional spices:
- 1 tsp. chili powder (*2 1/2 if you used plain chocolate chips)
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg (freshly grated if you have the technology)
Whisk a final time. Taste. Adjust spices to your liking.
Reheat if need be (although this shouldn't be necessary) over low heat.
Pour. Serve. Drink.
I learned this technique/recipe from Chef Jesus Gonzalez, executive chef at Rancho La Puerta, who teaches lowfat, healthy, seasonal cooking at the spa's Cocina Que Canta (The Kitchen That Sings). The evening he said, "I like the way you cook!" constitutes a major highlight of my life so far.
So, to recap in more traditional recipe format:
- 1- 1-1/2 cups cooked orange root vegetable
- 1/2 cup lowfat milk
- 2-1/2 cups lowfat milk
- 3.5 oz chili chocolate and 3.5 oz. abuelita chocolate, OR
- 7 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
- chili powder (at least 1 teaspoon, up to 1.5 tablespoons, depending)
- 1/2 tsp. cardamom
- 1/2 tsp. cumin
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 tsp. cinnamon