Posole in Seattle, Posole in San Diego

Invariably, whenever I stand in the checkout line with my three cans of hominy, among other things, the person next to me starts chatting. This never happens with any other item – just hominy. Are you making posole? You’re making posole, right? Let me guess, you’re making menudo. I guess gringos in Southern California generally don’t eat hominy—so my three requisite 25-ounce cans tend to stand out.

I used to try to track down dried hominy – widely sold in New Mexico – in San Diego. People around here must not have a use for it—I can’t locate it anywhere. I’ve been forced to switch to the canned variety, and this has made me lazy.

If you are whipping up a batch of posole with dried hominy, you need to let it soak overnight before you boil it for three hours before you add the final seasonings for the final 30 minutes of boiling. With canned hominy, you just dump the contents into the pot along with some pork, juice of lime, and red chile powder, My recipe actually calls for dried red chiles, preferably grown in New Mexico, but I’ve begun using New Mexican chile powder instead. In any event, one hour of simmering usually does the trick (that is, before the final 30 minutes of boiling with the final seasonings—garlic, oregano, and salt).

I actually fell in love with posole when I lived in Seattle. The city once took pride in a restaurant that cooked up some genuine New Mexican cooking. This dimly lit place, known as The Santa Fe Café, brought a little bit of New Mexico into the Pacific Northwest. Sadly, the restaurant recently closed after 30 years of fine meals.

For those not in the know, New Mexican cuisine differs from Tex-Mex cooking, not to mention American varieties of Mexican food. It is indigenous to the longstanding tri-cultural region of New Mexico (Native American, Spanish, and Anglo) and has been around for roughly 500 years. What sets it apart is their creative use of red and green chiles.

For example, my favorite dish at the Sante Fe Cafe was the Christmas enchilada plate (stacked Santa Fe style, not rolled), served with posole and pinto beans. It also came with these ultra thick flour tortillas that helped to mitigate the heat. By the way, Christmas in this context means half the stack is slathered in green chile sauce—the other half in red chile sauce.

Years ago, I came to understand the Santa Fe Café did a pretty good job of delivering the sort of meal that is mainly available in New Mexico. This was during the early 90s, when I toured New Mexico and sampled fare in a number of restaurants there. During that trip, I purchased Santa Fe Recipe: A Cookbook of Recipes from Favorite Local Restaurants by Joan and Carl Stromquist. I have been making posole at home ever since (I could actually buy dried hominy in Seattle—I believe at Fred Meyer).

It sure is sad to watch my some of my favorite places leave the planet. The city of Seattle I once knew so well has been slowly morphing into a new realm. Favorite haunts, like Elliott Bay Books, have moved. Others, like the Harvard Exit Theatre, have closed. The movie industry has been changing, so more Seattle moviegoers now watch streaming flicks at home. Strange to remember how Seattleites once loudly boasted their surprising range of independent, if not downright cool, cinemas.

No doubt new haunts are currently capturing the hearts and minds of the generations that have followed mine. No doubt new favorites in Seattle have emerged, places that will be missed ten or twenty years from now when some sentimental aging writer sits down to think about life as a new adult in the Emerald City.

Fortunately, a few of my favorite restaurants in the Santa Fe area are still open, including The Shed, Café Pasqual’s, the Santacafe, not to mention Rancho de Chimayó Restaurante, which is situated along the high road to Taos. I’ll have to get back there if I get a hankering to order something Christmas style.