The Ultimate Comfort Food: Daddy Bubba’s Chicken Pozole

I want to talk for a minute here about comfort food.

My comfort foods I hold very near and dear to my heart.  For them, I have taken on an increasingly greater appreciation as my time away from home and family continues.  These foods, I find, fill not only a hungry tummy but also that unexplainable void, much like chicken soup for the teenage soul except not teenage, just wounded really.  More so than any prescription meds or that absolutely unnecessary trip to the doctors office (cue that annoying moment when you realize upon waiting two and a half hours that you’re now leaving with a prescription that’s no more effective than an over the counter one, as well as a $350 medical bill), comfort food is the best cure for any common illness.  Plain and simple.

Now, when my culinary revival initially began to take form a few months back, it was of utter importance to me to document the recipes of my family’s greatest comfort foods.  These were the foods that I grew up on and also the ones that I plan to instill in my children’s culinary upbringing, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.  I digress.  The great thing about comfort food, too, is that it can tell a lot about a person’s background.  Many of my most comforting dishes are Jewish in tradition, such as Matzo Ball Soup (both my Grandma Ruthie and Mom’s recipes) and Latkes.  This makes sense because, wouldn’t you know it:  I’m Jewish.  However there’s also this other significant side of my heritage that is distinctly Californian, which culinarily speaking may refer to traditional American cuisine with a latin flare.  When I think about my Dad’s cooking, I think of spicy ingredients such as chilies and other bold flavors and spices and I think that in many ways his cooking is a reflection of our “just north of the border” roots.

One of my most cherished recipes, the one that perfectly encapsulates “soul soothing comfort food” for me is my dad’s chicken pozole, a traditional Mexican soup with his recipe adapted for a more American palate.  My memories of this soup include my dad, mom, sister and I sitting around our old wood burning fireplace, or in the kitchen helping my dad prepare one of my most favorite meals, chicken pozole accompanied by Grandma Steinbeck’s cornbread, a recipe that has been in our family for generations.

I’m getting somewhere here: Two days ago I was awoken by intense stomach cramping accompanied by intense fatigue, complete loss of appetite and an extremely achey body.  Within twenty four hours most of the symptoms of my mysterious illness had subsided except for the achey part and loss of appetite.  By today I was feeling almost back to normal except, of course, for that unexplainable void in my wounded soul.  I knew something had to be done.  Knowing that I was behind on my blog posts and also in need of comfort food, I turned to Dad’s trusty pozole recipe in an attempt to kill two birds with one stone.

Disclaimer: I realize I’ve been on a soup kick lately, but if you people had to endure the cold Aspen winter on a daily basis, you too would be craving the same.  Sue me.

To my utter dismay, I came to learn today that my tiny Village Market doesn’t carry hominy, a key ingredient in traditional pozole.  As if any consolation were possible, I made the last minute decision to swap black beans for the hominy which wasn’t by any means bad.  If you do attempt this delicious recipe, however, it is essential to use hominy, which can be found in most major super markets in either the canned foods or the Mexican ingredient aisles.

Daddy Bubba’s Chicken Pozole

  • Meat of one chicken, shredded.  It is easier (and only a little bit cheating) if you buy the precooked rotisserie chickens from the supermarket, although an uncooked organic chicken breast is best obviously.
  • One yellow or white onion, chopped
  • A few large garlic cloves, minced
  • A few carrots, sliced
  • A few white mushrooms, sliced
  • Two Pasilla or Anaheim chiles, chopped (seeds removed)
  • One bunch of cilantro, de-stemmed and chopped
  • One large can of hominy
  • Juice of 3 or 4 limes
  • Chicken broth
  • Olive oil
  • Pinch of dried oregano
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Optional: Half a sliced avocado for garnish.  Because everything’s better with avocado.  AND THAT IS A SCIENTIFIC FACT.

Cook onions and garlic in olive oil in large pot over medium heat until tender.  Combine the rest of solid ingredients into the pot with increasing heat, stirring for ten or so minutes (if chicken is precooked, add now.  Otherwise, add once liquid has come to a boil and cook thoroughly, remove from heat and shred then add back to soup).  Add equal parts chicken broth to water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat.  let simmer for 45 to an hour.  Add lime juice fifteen minutes before serving.  Season to taste.

So, was the unexplainable void in my wounded soul, the last remnants of a short lived albeit nasty illness, finally healed?!  I can tell the suspense is killing you I won’t leave you waiting….the answer is yes.  Yes, tonight I lay in bed feeling satisfied both in tummy and in soul.  Now, whether this feeling can be attributed to the pozole itself, or the fact that I’ve finally quelled this nagging need to publish this long overdue entry onto my blog, that’s a different story.

(insert adorable bonus photo here)

Finally, a question I pose to you.  Honestly, what are your most beloved comfort foods?

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Kale, Fennel and Sausage Soup

Do you have any tastes or smells that bring you back to a distant (or maybe not so distant) memory of your childhood?  I do, and for me one of these is the distinctly black licorice taste of fennel.  I remember when I was growing up at the Albany Terrace house, my neighbor two doors down had a fennel plant that smelled very strongly of black licorice.  I recall having developed the strange habit of picking stems off of the plant to chew on, much like eating sour grass but without the whole dog pee rumor.   If you’ve ever had fennel, you’ve probably eaten the bulb and not the stem, the latter of which has a much stronger black licorice taste.  A cross between cabbage and onion texturally and visually, fennel has a slightly sweet and refreshing taste to it.  This bulbous vegetable is easily powerful enough to compete for the title of main ingredient in an entree yet delicate enough to compliment any protein as well.  While the stems can serve mainly as a flavoring agent, the bulb is, in my opinion, far more versatile.  It can be sliced thinly and eaten raw in salads, for example, or chopped coarsely and sauteed into entrees, soups, etc.  There is really no limit to one’s experimentation with fennel.

This morning I decided it was about time to get my booty back in the kitchen, but what to make was at that time still a mystery.  So many recipes to choose from, but what was I really in the mood for?  Like a pregnant lady craves pickles, this winter weather has me constantly yearning for a hot and healthy soup.  I’m still super diggin’ on those wintery greens but wanted to incorporate some new flavors and textures this time.  After a bit of grocery store and internet browsing this is what I landed on:

Kale, Fennel and Sausage Soup

Ingredients:

  • Olive Oil
  • Few cloves of garlic, minced
  • About 2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
  • Half a white onion, chopped
  • Half bulb of fennel, chopped
  • 8-10 leaves of kale, stems removed and shredded
  • A green fennel stems, minced
  • Italian Sausages, spicy or sweet
  • One can of black-eyed peas of similar bean
  • Two cups of chicken broth
  • Sea salt
  • a touch of lemon juice/zest or apple cider vinegar
  • Grated parm

In a large saucepan or dutch over, combine garlic, ginger, olive oil and 2 cups of water to a boil.  Add onion and fennel and cook until soft, about ten minutes.  Add kale,minced fennel stems, and sea salt.  Stir until kale is wilted, then add chicken broth and a few cups of water.  Bring to a boil and let simmer for up to an hour.

Meanwhile, saute whole sausages in separate saucepan until fully cooked (about ten minutes), adding water to prevent burning.  Remove from heat, let cool and then slice and add to soup.  Add black-eyed peas and lemon juice or vinegar (it’s important to add in small increments, as too much can ruin the flavor of the soup.  The point here is to bring out the flavors, not mask them).  Season to taste.  Serve in bowl, adding a generous amount of grated parm on top.

Enjoy!

And for now, a bonus recipe:

Braised Fennel

Having bought an entire bulb of fennel, I had time to experiment with the other half while the soup was simmering.

Before

Staying true to the simple yet bold flavors of fennel itself, I chose to cut it into chunks and cook it in a pan with olive oil, some leftover minced garlic and ginger, salt and pepper, bay leaves, and lastly red pepper flakes for heat.

Adding water to the pan allows the fennel pieces to cook and steam at the same time (keeping the pan partially covered helps the steaming process), but once the water has burned off, continue to cook by frequently turning over each piece until fully caramelized on both sides.

After

Just like Lucia’s Kale Salad, the preparation is so simple and yet the flavors are so bold.

Fennel night: Success!  Even my boyfriend, who doesn’t really like soups, greens or beans, enjoyed his bowl so much that he had a second…that is a big step for him, but more on Tim and his increasingly less picky eating habits later.

What I want to emphasize to you here is that fennel is really where it’s at people!  This versatile veg is probably one of the most misunderstood; contrary to popular belief, it’s not a difficult ingredient to cook with at all.  You can find it alongside oranges, in many varieties of sausages, or as an accompaniment to any fish entree.  It goes well with many flavors, can be used in a variety of ways, and is rich in Vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus and potassium.  Lastly if you are averse to the taste of black licorice, please don’t count fennel out.  It may have hints of this flavor, but it is much more subtle and delicate than, say, star anise (strong black licorice flavored spice) and when cooked becomes even lighter than in the raw state.  It is truly an ingredient not to be missed.  As with kale, look for it in more of my future recipes.

Post-Big Gigantic Winter Chicken and Veg Soup

This morning I woke up still in a haze from last night’s Big Gigantic show.  If you don’t know who they are, please do yourself a favor and check ’em out.  This is my second time seeing them live at Belly Up and their shows are simply amazing.  Electronic mixed with instrumentals (drums and saxophone), but more on that later.  Looking out my balcony window, I decided that I wanted to cook a soup that would compliment this dreary winter weather and also soothe my soul.

So this is what I came up with:

Post Big Gigantic Winter Chicken and Veg Soup

Ingredients:

  • Shallots
  • Carrots
  • Corn, preferably fresh and uncooked
  • Small red potatoes
  • Red chard, can use any variety of chard
  • Chicken breast
  • Bay leaf
  • Thyme
  • Olive oil
  • Chicken broth
  • Sea Salt
  • Pepper 
  • Lemon juice
  • Pasta (optional)
  • Parmesan

Saute thinly sliced shallots with a couple bay leaves and sprigs of fresh thyme in a few tablespoons of olive oil for five or so minutes.  Chop carrots, chard stems (not leaves) and potatoes, and stir in with shallot mixture.  Next add the liquid (equal parts chicken stock and water) and heat to a boil, 5-10 minutes. 


Add raw chicken breasts and allow to cook thoroughly in the simmering liquid on med-high heat.  When the chicken is cooked through, remove from soup and allow to cool before shredding and placing back into the soup.  If you would like to add noodles to your soup (in my version I added macaroni noodles), add the raw pasta at this time and simmer at least until noodles are thoroughly cooked.  Shortly before serving, add the corn (sliced off the cob), chopped chard leaves and the juice of half a lemon.  Remove bay leaves and thyme sprigs and season appropriately with salt and pepper.  

Before serving, divide into bowls and top with a generous portion of grated parm.

The beauty of this recipe is that it is more of a template than anything, really.  You can almost use any combination of vegetables; what comes to mind is broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, spinach, whatever.  

Just make sure to sweat the shallots first, then add the firmer vegs first with the liquid, cook the meat, and save the lemon juice and chard (or any other leafy green) for right before you serve.  The parm on top adds saltiness, so keep that in mind when salting the soup.  Lastly, remember to keep the liquid to solid proportion should be correct (in other words, use more liquid than you’d think as there are a lot of solid components to this dish that add up.)

mmmmmmmm.