We had a thoroughly New Mexican set of days last weekend. That perfectly pellucid sky. Those finger-nipping morning temps, which burn into bright sun-lit afternoons. Sandhill cranes chortling overhead. Enormous balloons. And posole.
Last weekend marked the tail end of the 2009 International Balloon Fiesta, and this year marked our first chance to witness the extravaganza (in years past, we’d been sweating in Asia by now). So we took full advantage of every opportunity, rising at 4:45 on Saturday to catch a (free!) Rail Runner ride to Los Ranchos, where a shuttle bus drove us straight to the Balloon Fiesta Park. No traffic. No parking hassles. Simply amazing.
And there, we watched the morning sun crest Sandia Peak, slowly turning the sky from black to pink to that lovely watermelon color for which those mountains presumably are named.
And then it happened. One by one they rose, painting the sky in every conceivable shape and color, casting shadows upon thousands of humans below. Have a look at Jerry’s photo gallery and you’ll get a feel for what happens during Balloon Fiesta time. My favorite (sorry, no photo: I spotted it while in line for the restroom) had an intricate batik-y sort of pattern that reminded me much of a Kelantan kite. That was my favorite. But Creamland certainly gets top honors for ingenuity, with its flying cow:
Something about the crisp fall air that morning made me think of posole. I called Rosi’s parents and made a date. That evening, I soaked a package of beautiful purple-red hominy, which I had picked up at our local fruteria. All Sunday morning, a hot pot of posole simmered on the stove. We took it to Rosi’s house that evening and enjoyed a warm-your-soul sort of stew. In truth, this dish became a mutt of a recipe. For starters, I had a pound of ground buffalo from this delicious farm and several strips of uncured apple-smoked baconâ€”not the usual meat combination for posole. But I figured it would work. I started with a recipe from Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations by Lois Ellen Frank. Then I added a dash of the Santa Fe School of Cooking Cookbook by Susan Curtis. Finally, I consulted Sabor! A Guide to Tropical Fruits and Vegetables and Central American Foods by Carolina Avila and Marilyn Root. We ended up with this:
(Inspired by many)
2 cups dried Indian hominy
6 quarts water
1 lb ground buffalo
3 strips uncured apple-smoked bacon
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 head garlic, minced
7 dried red New Mexican chiles, seeded and stemmed, torn into small pieces
1 dried, smoked Naga chile*
2 T butter or ghee
1 T ground, dried marjoram
3 bay leaves
1 tsp azafran
several sprigs fresh oregano
dash of red wine
salt & cracked black pepper for taste
sour cream for garnish
fresh lime, cut into wedges
Cover the hominy with water and soak overnight in large pot. The next day, discard the water, rinse the hominy, return to pot and cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil on high heat, then simmer until kernels are puffy and tender (2-4 hours).
Add more water if necessary. Add buffalo, chiles, butter or ghee, onion, garlic, marjoram, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Fry the bacon until crispy; crumble into the stew, adding a bit of the drippings. Cook for another hour or more. Add half of the fresh oregano; cook a while longer. Stir, taste; add the red wine, azafran and remaining oregano. Cook a few minutes longer. Serve with warm tortillas and garnish with sour cream, tomatoes and lime.
*I used a single dried, smoked Naga chile, the hottest in the world, for an added complexity of heat and flavor. These chiles came from a village in Nagaland in northeastern India. The chiles are extremely hard to find elsewhere. Substitute chipotles or your favorite hot chile with a smoky aroma.