The Sacred Soups of Sunday

Sunday is a sacred day, for different reasons for different people. My wife was raised in church, she likes to dress up and go to a service. For some people, it’s a football game and maybe a tailgate party. (I understand the appeal of both these traditions.) I like to take it slow — make a rich pot of smooth Hawaiian coffee, read the paper. And sometimes, I like to make soup.

Soup isn’t a breakfast in America the way it is in other countries. America is missing out. There’s nothing as spiritually nourishing on a Sunday morning, particularly if it’s chilly out or you’ve happened to have drank a bit too much on Saturday night, as a rich steaming bowl of soup. Sometimes when I’m in a clean mood, I like miso soup with crispy bits of tempura batter (tenkasu) sprinkled on top. As part of a traditional Japanese breakfast with pickles and fish and rice, it’s dynamite. But the Sacred Sunday Soups I’m talking about are the heartier kind — where you can eat them in the late morning and want nothing else until dinner time. Throughout the world there are examples, but the two I fall back on the most come from Mexico and China, respectively. I’m talking about pozolé and congee.

Pozolé is the name of the large corn kernals (hominy) you’ll find floating in the soup. It’s also the name of the soup. It means “foamy” in the Nahualt language. Don’t be intimidated. It is a typical dish of various Mexican states across the country, and corn being sacred in traditional Mexican culture, it is often served on holidays. You begin with one of those cheap pork shoulders I often talk about in this blog. You cook it for hours in water, then make carnitas with the meat. The broth becomes this rich, spicy soup with the corn kernels and meat and condiments. I’ll tell you how to make it after I tell you about the other soup.

The other soup is congee, which you may have had before if you like going to those big dim sum palaces where they wheel the carts around. Congee is a rice porridge with condiments — it’s ridiculously easy to make, requiring nothing more than rice, a good chicken broth, a hunk of ginger and some bits of pieces of stuff to put into it. I’ll tell you how to make it after I tell you how to make pozolé.

Both these soups soothe the soul, make great leftovers, and can feed a whole bunch of people impressively. Next time you want to see some friends, instead of having a dinner party, have a Sunday brunch and serve pozolé or congee. It’s the sacred thing to do.

Pozolé

1 pork shoulder, 3-5 lbs, with bone
2 onions
1 bay leaf
salt
1 small can hominy
2 dried chili pasilla
2 cloves garlic
1 small bunch cilantro
3 fresh jalapeño or serrano chilies
4 radishes, sliced thinly
3 tbsp dried oregano
lime wedges

THE DAY BEFORE: Cook the pork shoulder in a pot of water with the onion and bay leaf and salt to taste. Cook for a couple hours, until the water has reduced by about half and the pork is fork tender. Strain the broth into another pot. When cool, place in the fridge overnight. Take the pork shoulder when cool, cut the meat off into cubes and place in the fridge.

The next morning, take the broth out, and skim the fat from the top. Place the pork chunks in a baking dish, toss with the skimmed fat and some salt, and roast in a 400-degree oven, tossing the meat occasionally, until it’s golden (or about 45 minutes). This will be your carnitas, which you can eat with salsa in flour tortillas for tacos. You can store in a tupperware in the fridge or freeze and save for later.

Reheat the broth, setting aside 1 cup. Drain can of hominy and add to broth. Place the pasilla chilies in the broth to reconstitute. Once the chilies are soft, remove stems and seeds and puree in a blender with half an onion and garlic cloves. Add puree to the broth. Shred up some of the carnitas meat and add that to the soup. Simmer on low heat until ready to eat. Once you are ready (soup can be made a day or two ahead, and gets even better sitting in the fridge), serve in bowls with other listed ingredients as condiments for each diner to add at his or her discretion — half onion chopped with cilantro, chopped fresh chilies, dried oregano, sliced radishes and lime wedges for squeezing over soup.

Congee

(The following is for two people. For more, multiply the recipe according to numbers)

1 quart good chicken stock (preferably homemade)
1/4 cup long-grain rice
thumb-size nub of fresh ginger, crushed with the flat side of a knife
2 eggs
2 tbsp chopped peanuts
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
2 dried arbol chilies, toasted
2 tbsp chopped pork or chicken meat
soy sauce

Heat chicken stock in a pot with ginger. Add rice and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes until porridgey. Remove ginger. Crack two eggs gently into the soup, turn off heat, and cover for five minutes.

Serve with other listed ingredients as condiments in small bowls, for each diner to add at his or her discretion. Toast the chilies over the flame of a stove until they begin to blacken, and crush into a small bowl. (Note: I’ve done variations on this recipe, using duck stock instead of chicken, with chunks of duck meat. I’ve used Szechuan peppercorns as a condiment, and slices of ginger. You can experiment and add your own inspired additions.)

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