Across the United States, it’s common to see little ghosts and goblins trick-or-treating on October 31st, Halloween. The name “Halloween” comes from All Hallow’s Eve (translated as “All Saints Eve”), the evening before November 1st, which is celebrated by Catholics as All Saints Day. In other countries such as Mexico, the focus is on November 2nd – celebrated as the public holiday “Dia de Muertos” (Day of the Dead) also known in the United States as All Soul’s Day. Mexican tradition calls for families to gather at cemeteries to honor their deceased loved ones. There are many specialty foods associated with the festivities, including sugar cookies in the shape of skulls.
I decided to celebrate Dia de Muertos by making a Mexican Chile Verde, a stew made up of chunks of pork cooked in a roasted tomatillo and jalapeño green sauce. Notice that while the dish we know as “Chili con Carne” has a red sauce base, this variation is known as “chile.” It’s said that the Spanish who immigrated into New Mexico in the 1500’s converted the Nahuatl word for peppers “chilli” to “chile.”
I take a very lazy approach to making chile verde. Although you can certainly start with a fresh pork shoulder and simmer the stew for 2 to 3 hours until the pork is tender, I usually like to use leftover pork roast (shoulder or loin). I make a pork roast for dinner, then take the leftovers and cut them into small cubes and add them to a sauce made from roasted tomatillos, garlic, onions and yes, “chili peppers ” – ¡Arriba, Arriba! Chile Verde!
It makes sense that chile verde is a Mexican dish as the star ingredient, tomatillos, originated in Mexico. Also known as the Mexican husk tomato, tomatillos look like a green tomato surrounded by an inedible paper-like husk. The papery coating looks just like that of a cape gooseberry, a relative of the tomatillo. Peel away the husks and rinse the sticky coating before using.
1 1/2 pounds tomatillos
5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 jalapeno peppers, stemmed and halved, seeds and ribs removed
1 large sweet Spanish onion, chopped
2 ½ cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
3 pounds cooked pork shoulder cut into bite-size cubes
1 small can pozole blanco (hominy), drained and rinsed
1 small can black beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper
Chopped fresh cilantro and sour cream, for serving
Preheat oven to broil.
Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos and rinse well. Slice in half and place cut side down on a foiled lined baking sheet. Arrange the 5 unpeeled garlic cloves and jalapenos on the baking sheet interspersed with the tomatillos. Broil for about 7 minutes until the tomatillo skins are lightly blackened. Set aside to cool.
In a large soup pot, sauté the chopped onions in a little olive oil until soft and translucent.
Squeeze the broiled garlic cloves out of the skins and place the garlic, jalapenos and tomatillos into the soup pot. Be sure to add any of the juices that have accumulated on the foil during broiling. Add the chicken stock and purée with an immersion blender until smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can purée the vegetables in a small food processor or stand up blender.
To the soup pot add the cumin, oregano, bay leaves, hominy, black beans and pork and simmer for about 15 minutes until the chile verde is hot and the flavors are incorporated throughout. Season to taste with a little salt and pepper.
Remove the bay leaves before serving. Top each bowlful with a little sour cream and chopped cilantro.
If you don’t have a cooked pork roast, you can begin with a trimmed pork shoulder cut into cubes. After sautéing the onion (step 3 above) set the onion aside and sauté the pork in a little olive oil until browned on all sides. Continue with the recipe above, but simmer the chile verde uncovered for about 2 to 3 hours until the pork is fork tender.