Thanksgiving meals

Today is the U.S. national food-and-family holiday, known as Thanksgiving (or, sometimes, the Day Before Black Friday). I’ve already posted about Adam Gopnik’s suggestion that the centerpiece dish for the holiday should be turkey with pesto and Calvin Trillin’s opinion that it should be spaghetti carbonara.

For some years, Ann Daingerfield Zwicky and I usually had some kind of roast for Thanksgiving (but mostly chicken, lamb, pork, beef, or veal, rather than turkey, which we cooked at other times of the year). Then when it was just Jacques and me, I branched out — a couple years, a smoked turkey by mail, then a variety of experiments, eventually settling on my new favorite, posole (pork and hominy stew — more on this below). Then it was just me and cooking was physically very difficult for me, so I took to celebrating the holiday at the excellent local Hong Kong restaurant, Tai Pan, with its dim sum lunch and substantial menu in addition. Sometimes by myself, sometimes (as today) with a friend (or two). (Tai Pan is also my place for Christmas Day, when the local Chinese, many Jews, and a few oddballs like me gather to celebrate the occasion.) My new tradition.

On to the recipe, adapted from the one here (my comments in square brackets):


2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 pounds pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
[In some recipes, the pork is shredded rather than cut into pieces. I’m all for pieces.]
[Some recipes also have ham, bacon, chicken, and/or beans. I’m a purist in this regard.]

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided (2 teaspoons + 1 teaspoon)

2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
[Some recipes also have a chopped carrot or two.]

2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 (28-ounce) can hominy, drained

1(14.5-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained [I omit this.]


1. Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; set 1 1/2 teaspoons spice mixture aside. Add pork to remaining spice mixture in bowl, tossing well to coat.

2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pork mixture to pan; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Remove pork from pan; set aside. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic; sauté 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Return pork to pan. Add reserved 1 1/2 teaspoons spice mixture, broth, hominy, and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Partially cover, reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes.

[Garnish with sections of lime, shredded lettuce or cabbage, cilantro, chopped white or green onion, sour cream, and/or avocado.]

[Serve with warm corn bread or spoon over steamed rice.]

The result looks something like this:

Very satisfying, especially on a brisk fall day.

OED3 (Dec. 2006) has an informative entry for posole, which begins:

< Mexican Spanish pozole (1775–6 or earlier; also in forms posol, posole, pozol) and its etymon Nahuatl pozolli stew or drink based on maize …

In quot. 1699 at sense 1 perhaps directly < Nahuatl, although the Anglicized form poorsoul mentioned in it suggests an intermediate disyllabic form such as is found in Spanish. This form is probably unconnected with later (rare) U.S. regional poor soul in sense ‘corn dumpling’.

1. In Mexican and Central American cooking: maize prepared by boiling and steeping in an alkaline solution and grinding, for use in food or drink, hominy; (also) maize stew or soup made with this as the principal ingredient, typically also containing pork, beans, and red chilli.

1699    W. Dampier Voy. & Descr. ii. iv. 113   If they travel for two or three Days from Home, they carry some of this Grown’d Maiz in a Plantain Leaf, and a Callabash at their Girdles to make their drink, and take no farther care for Victuals, till they come Home again. This is called Posole: And by the English Poorsoul. It is so much esteemed by the Indians, that they are never without some of it in their Houses.

The next cite is from 1850.

What about hominy? Here Wikipedia is brief and useful:

Hominy or nixtamal is dried maize kernels which have been treated with an alkali [lye, in particular] in a process called nixtamalization.

… Some recipes using hominy include menudo (a spicy tripe and hominy soup), pozole or posole (a stew of hominy and pork, chicken, or other meat), hominy bread, hominy chili, hog n’ hominy, casseroles and fried dishes. Hominy can be ground coarsely to make hominy grits [the famous grits of Southern cooking], or into a fine mash (dough) to make masa, a dough used regularly in Latin American cuisine [notably, to make tortillas; the dried flour is masa harina]. Many islands in the West Indies, most notably Jamaica, also use hominy to make a sort of porridge with corn starch or flour to harden the mixture and condensed milk, vanilla and nutmeg to taste.

On the origin of the word hominy, here’s OED2:

The actual origin seems unsettled. J. H. Trumbull, in Note to Roger Williams’s Key into Lang. of America (1643), Narragansett Club ed., 1866, has ‘Appuminnéonash , “parched corn”. From appωn , apwóon , “he bakes or roasts”, and min plural minneash , “fruit, grain, berry”. In this and other compounds of minneash we discover the origin of the much-corrupted modern name hominy ’.

Hominy comes in two varieties, white (from white corn) and the sweeter yellow (from yellow corn). Some people are partial to one or the other, and some people mix the two. I’m a white hominy guy.

3 Responses to “Thanksgiving meals”

  1. Turkey improvisations « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Arnold Zwicky's Blog A blog mostly about language « Thanksgiving meals […]

  2. Chris Waigl Says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to you! The holiday suddenly was upon us after some frantic times (and several days in a row that broke low-temperature records up here), so we’re happily just spending a quiet day and end it with some Copper River Sockeye smoked by myself, a rack of lamb and various roast vegetables, pumpkin pie from our favourite lesbian bakery and mulled wine with spices from the UK.

    I haven’t cooked with hominy yet, and the posole looks amazing. Thanks for posting it.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Posole satisfies the Native American theme for Thanksgiving, since it’s long been distributed from Central America, Mexico, the Southwest, through the South, and up to the Northeast. (Surely not to Alaska, since not much corn grows up there.)

      But smoked fish is *excellent* for the holiday.

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