Posole in a Clay Casuela

Beef pozole with condiments

Pozole is a classic Mexican comfort food dating back to Pre-Colombian times. The word Pozole comes from the Natualtl word, Pozolli, meaning foamy and refers to a stew made of maize.
Pozolli was believed to have been consumed during sacred ceremonies as offerings. Pre-Colombian pozole did focus on Maize being the ritualistic ingredient, honoring the belief that man was created from masa, ground corn. The large corn kernels, also known as hominy were particularly valued. It is believed in some interpretations of ancient texts that Pozole was eaten during these scared rituals and made with sacrificial human meat. Not the most appetizing of thoughts but it was a brutal time in Pre-Colombian history when Cannibalism was a religious practiced of domination and respect. On a lighter note, if you were originally made out of a piece of corn, wouldn’t eating corn also be a cannibalistic act?

A Codex image of a ancient pozole cooking clay pot!

A Codex image of a ancient pozole cooking clay pot!

This Codex drawing portrays pozolli being cooked or stored in a Pre-Colombian clay pot. Mexico Cooks.

Modern Pozole is traditionally made in many regions of Mexico and the South West US with pork (particularly a pig head), turkey, beef, chicken, seafood or vegetables offering I wide variety of options and regional specialization. Here is one recipe I have experimented with and find offers a very satisfying and delicious pozole. Enjoy!

Sopapillas Anyone? Can you fry in a clay cazuela?

Nathalie Herling&#039s Sopapillas

Nathalie Herling’s sopapillas.

I am often asked, “Can you frying in a clay pot?” and it’s a complicated answer. Not all stove top safe, clay pots handle high heat and boiling oil to high temperatures well.
Lots of post conquest Mexican foods are fried in vegetable oil or pork lard at high heats so decided to tested one of my Mexico City purchased cazuelas. I selected this pot particularly for its thin walls and light glaze on the inner surface because it would be a bit more resistant to absorbing the oil into the clay walls. This clay pot did the job well with it being able to reach high heats… but did absorb a lot of oil into the clay and the frying process changed the actual coloring of the clay pot permanently which is an interesting but a predictable outcome.*

Flying sopapillas in a clay cazuela

Flying sopapillas in a clay cazuela.

Side by side I compared a clay cazuela to oil frying in a metal pan and the cazuela made as fine a fried sopapilla using the same batter. I did this to see if I noticed any difference in the quality or speed of cooking of oil in metal or clay. I had the same results from both! Of course I always think everything is better tasting cooked in a clay pot and it sure looked prettier and authentic during the preparation. You be the judge and enjoy some yummy sopapillas while you are at it.

Sopapilla recipe and step by step instructions below.

Fried bread sopapillas coated in powder sugar

Powder sugar coated sopapilla.

* More notes on cooking with deep frying oil in a Mexican cazuela clay pot.
If you decide to cook with a lot of oil in a clay pot you will want to carefully select your pot. If this Mexican cazuela had not been glazed on the inside I would have not used this pot to fry. I found the light glaze was a bit light for frying and made me anxious while first using it over the high gas flame. I only filled the 5 inch tall cazuela with 1.5 to 2 inches of oil which was sufficient for frying the sopapillas just perfectly at a good high heat. I usually do not use much soap when washing out my clay pots but in this case used a little soap when cleaning particularly on the unglazed bottom of the pan to make sure oil was not remaining on the bottom next time I cooked with the pot. The pot now has a more dense feeling over all and is a lot slicker for cooking other items so it has been seasoned with oil more than most of the clay cookware I use. Every clay pot can have a special use due to the way you season and treat that vessel. This pot is now one I use for cooking items that like oil for brazing and when I fry tortillas, potatoes and other oil related cooking. Looking forward to trying other clay pots with oil to test their properties and will keep you posted. Please share your experiences!

TIPS:  Don’t make your sopapillas too thin, and put them in pre-heated oil. Start flipping them as soon as you put them in the oil. They will puff up higher. I also store extra dough in the fridge for up to a week and make sopapillas whenever the mood strikes.

Purple beans in a Magic Mexican Bean Pot

Purple Frijoles Ayocote cooked in a Magic Mexican Bean Pot

Digging around in a Mexican Market in Staten Island, NY called Frutas y Abarrotes Mexico, I found some curiously large Purple dried beans. The only package on the shelves seemed destine for one of my magic Mexican clay cooking pot. These charming purple beans are also featured on Rancho Gordo as Ayocote Morado Beans (Purple Runners) are meaty, plump and produce a lovely bean broth and very easy to prepare.

purple or morado beans

Morado beans from Mexico

In our family we believe in the cooking properties of the Magic Bean Pot. This is the name one of my children gave an old Mexican clay bean pot in my kitchen. “Oh… we are going to use the Magic Bean Pot today”… gets the whole family excited and involved.

It’s not a myth, over the years my favorite bean pot has developed wonderful seasoning and it is like cooking with an old friend everytime I use it… yes, its a positively magical bean pot.

I had just gotten a new shaped Mexican clay bean pot from El Metezo in Chicago. I nick named it “The Pretty Lady”, since the bean pot shape seems like a pretty lady with a narrow top and two hand-les resting on a bulbus bottom. This traditional design was created to keep beans very moist and plump while cooking. These purple bean were definitely very unusual and would bring some interesting flavors to my new clay pot. Since it was new, I boiled some water in the pot first on low heat for about thirty minutes to prepare it for its maiden bean cooking voyage.

Traditional mexican bean pot

“Pretty Lady” traditional Mexican bean pot.

Place in the bean pot, 1 lb of Frijoes Ayocote and enough water to cover the beans with an extra 2 inches of water. Remove and clean to look for any twigs, stones or leaves. Boil for about an hour and turned off for a couple hours or skip the first boil and soak the beans overnight. When ready to cook, again add additional water to cover at least two inches over the top of the bean. Do not add any seasonings. Cook the beans until tender about 2 hours.

Purple beans cooked in a magic bean pot

Cooked purple beans served in a clay bowl

In a separate small pan or stove top clay pot saute

1 chopped onion in

1 Tablespoon of olive oil until golden.

Add 2 dried Avocado leaves crumbled,

2 dried hot peppers of you choice crumbpled,

2 cloves of chopped garlic,

1 teaspoon of cumin and saute for 1 minute.

Add one cup of the cooked purple beans and cook a minute more. Let cool a little then using caution place the small pans contents in blender until lightly blended. Then pour the mashed bean and seasoning mixture in to the main pot of beans. Simmer 10 mins and add salt and pepper to taste.

The beans will lose a little of their purple brilliance and become a purplish brown but they are a lovely meaty bean.

plump purple beans made in a clay pot Cooked plump purple beans ready for serving.[/caption

Two holidays I like to particularly find significant to use these purple beans are for the Day of the Dead and for an Indigenous Thanksgiving.
For the Day of the Dead, purple is a traditional color used in altars for the celebration to signify morning for the loss of loved ones. A delicious bowl of purple beans seems like a nice poetic touch.
For a New World Indigenous Thanksgiving, beans are one of many nutritious food contributions originating in the new world. I like to have at least one bean dish as part of the Thanksgiving feast. These unusual heirloom beans definitely stand out and are very tasty.

Sinkers or Floaters… A Matzah Ball Soup Challenge!

Matzah ball soup

Sinker and Floater Matzah Balls together.

As with all great cooking adventures you just can’t make one recipe of anything. Matzo Balls may seem simple but like a fine ballerina that make dancing look easy, a perfectly weighted and flavored matzah ball can be heaven. From selecting which classic brand of of Matzo meal to use or how to making a rich broth, each component makes for one of the best all time favorite comfort foods. Hard to imagine a good Jewish deli or attending a Passover Seder without a delish bowl of matzah ball soup. Here I have included three different tried and true recipes along with some of the ingredient and technique tips I discovered.

The big personal distinction in Matzah Ball soups seems to be what type of Matzah ball one prefers, light and fluffy floaters or satisfying and chewy sinkers. Broadway Panhandler in New York City had invited me to do a demonstration of making Matza Ball Soup in earthenware Chicken Pot from Colombia and it offered a great opportunity to have a large group express which type of Matzah balls was their favorite. I made two different types of Matzah balls for each public judge to try, all served in the same homemade Chicken broth (except for the vegetarian matzo balls). It was a very close between Nathalie’s Floaters and Rich’s Sinkers… out of 70 judges the winner by 4 votes was the floaters. So it was close to a tie and I recommend doing both types of matzah balls to do your own taste test, since both types are marvelous. This is also a very fun project for children too. I included a recipe for vegetarian Matzah balls, which is really satisfying option in a vegetable broth.

Nathalie’s Floating Matzo Balls

Type: Floaters

Flavor: Parsley, Onion powder

Lightening agent: Seltzer

Matzoh Brand: Streits


4 eggs, beaten

¼ cup chicken fat

¼ cup Seltzer

1 Tbl chopped fresh parsley

2 tsp salt

1/8 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp onion powder

1 cup matzo meal

Refrigerate for 1 hour. Roll into eight or nine 2″ tight balls and drop into boiling UNsalted water and cook for 45 minutes. Simmer in chicken soup before serving.

Rich’s Flavorful Matzo Balls

Special thanks to Rich for sharing his Matzo Ball making tips and recipe. He has perfected some of the most tasty Matzo Balls I have ever enjoyed!

Type: Sinkers

Flavor: Parsley, Onion powder, Chicken Stock

Matzoh Brand: Streits


4 eggs, beaten

¼ cup chicken fat

¼ cup Chicken Broth

1 Tbl chopped fresh parsley

2 tsp salt

1/8 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp onion powder

1 cup matzo meal

Refrigerate for 1 hour. Roll into eight or nine 2″ tight balls and drop into boiling UNsalted water and cook for 45 minutes. Simmer in chicken soup before serving.

Vegetarian Matzo Balls

Type: Sinkers

Flavor: Dill, Onion

Matzoh Brand: Manischewitz


4 eggs, beaten

¼ cup Olive Oil

¼ cup Vegetarian Broth (vegeta)

1 Tbl chopped fresh dill

1 tsp salt

1/8 tsp black pepper

1 T minced onion

1 cup matzo meal

Refrigerate for 1 hour. Roll into eight or nine 2″ tight balls and drop into boiling UNsalted water and cook for 45 minutes. Simmer in chicken soup before serving.

I did try the recipe found on the web for the classic Second Ave Matzah Ball Soup and I found all three of the above recipes far superior.


1. Rendered your own Chicken fat. I collected fat from chickens I prepared by saving the scraps in the freezer just to use for this purpose. It is a hard to beat flavor enhancer.

2. Make the chicken broth from scratch and you will have a world class Matzah Ball experience.

3. Use the freshest Matzah meal you can find. I like buying my Matzah in Jewish neighborhoods delis in Brooklyn right particularly around Passover and freezing a couple of extra boxes.

A cute Matzah Video about 20 things to do with Matzah Bread after Passover… I suggest a 21st thing to do… grind fine or coarse and make some Matzah Balls!

A post-Passover musical greeting!
Song composed by William Levin
Lyrics by William Levin and Michelle Citrin
Performed by Michelle Citrin and William Levin.

Iranian Yellow Lentil Soup – “Pomegranate Soup”

Iranian Lentil Soup

Iranian Lentil Soup

My love of fresh pomegranate made it impossible for me to resist a book named Pomegranate Soup: A Novel by Marsha Mehran.

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran

Pomegranate Soup, book by Marsha Mehran

A sensitively presented book, with recipes, about three women leaving Iran to start a new life in a Ireland. The tale could be located in many countries but Marsha’s story rings the sounds of telling a difficult story in a thoughtful positive light. Of course I loved all the cooking references and what each sister brought to this loving kitchen. An easy quick read, with some difficult heart wrenching chapters. Each chapter begins with a recipe. I find great pleasure and special warmth in recreating her lovely recipes as if you are present in the storytelling and living her sharing of a culture heritage she wants to preserve.

Ingredients for Iranian Lentil Soup

Here I am making the Red Lentil Soup from Chapter two. I used Yellow Lentils and searched out the Nigella Seeds from a local spice store. Nigella Seeds are now a new favorite in my spice rack so I recommend experimenting with them if you can find them. Pepper can be substituted but not the same.

2 Cup dry (red) or yellow lentils

7 large onions, chopped

7 garlic cloves, crushed

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

4 teaspoons ground cumin

Olive oil

7 Cups chicken broth (vegetable broth can be substituted)

3 Cups water


2 teaspoons nigella seeds

I found the author, Marsha Mehran’s directions worked perfectly and there is not anything I would do differently to this delightful soup.

“Place lentils in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cook uncovered, for 9 min. Drain and place aside.”

Cooked yellow lentils.

In a large stockpot, fry 6 of the chopped onions, garlic, turmeric, and cumin in olive oil until golden.

broth for the Iranian Lentil Soup

Lentil Soup Broth

Transfer lentils, broth, and water to the pot. Add salt, nigella seeds or pepper to taste. Bring soup to a boil. Lower heat, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes.

Cooked lentil soup

Cooked lentil soup.

Fry the remaining onion in olive oil until crisp but not blackened. Add as a garnish…”

Fried Crisp Onions

Recipe adapted from Chapter 2 recipe Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran, Random House.

Clay pots I used were from La Chamba Colombia for the chicken broth and serving bowel. The soup was prepared using a lidded clay Pomaire Chilean pot.

Paula Wolfert’s Foods of Morocco Prune & Almond Chicken Tagine

Indonesian Tagine using Paula Wolfert’s Chicken Prune and Almond Recipe

Found this very unusual earthenware etched tagine in Boulder Colorado at a Fair Trade Store. It is from the island of Lombok in Indonesia. When I purchased it I was given very little information so hopefully this will be helpful for others who are considering one of these lovely tagines.

The finish on this tagine was nicely burnished but felt like an oil had been applied so I washed it thoroughly and placed milk in the bowl and slowly seasoned for an hour at 325 degrees. After washing it again (no soap) I let it dry thoroughly. Being terrible spoiled by my other earthenware from Chamba, Colombia (a clay comal pictured here where I toasted almonds) , I wanted to be able to use this Lombok tagine on the gas stove top as well as the oven.

Indonesian Clay Tagine on Gas Stove Top

I didn’t have a defuser and decided to go for the direct flame feeling that this clay cooking pot seemed highly fired enough, didn’t have any glaze and was thick and sturdy. Carefully I heating the pot with a little oil on very low flame, preparing to start braising chicken for making Paula Wolfert’s delicious prune and almond chicken dish from her extensive new Foods of Morocco cookbook. Gradually I raised the heat, building it up to a low high heat. It handled the flame very well and evenly. After such a successful beginning I ended up cooking the whole dish on the stove top for an hour and didn’t even put it in the oven. A great first adventure for this beautiful Indonesian tagine. This tagine is imported by and available at Ten Thousand Villages in the US and Canada through their supportive Fair Trade work with Lombok Pottery Cooperative.

La Chamba, Colombia Cookware

Chamba woman starting clay pot

The village of La Chamba sits on the banks of the Magdalena river, in the shadow of the active Ruiz volcano, Colombia’s tallest mountain.

Since as far back as collective memory, this area has been producing one of the world’s finest cookware. The village sits on large deposits of sandy volcanic clay that, once fired, offers a superb even heating cooking surface with excellent thermal shock properties.

In ancient times, the people of the village, who also fished the mighty river, would cross over to the other side in their dugouts. There they found large deposits of very fine and pure red sedimentary clay. They brought it back to the village and made a slurry with it that they coated their unfired vessels with, giving them a smooth finish. Then, with agates and other semi precious stones rolled smooth by the river, they burnished their pots to a shine before firing them in their ancient teepee shaped kilns.  

It is unclear when pre-Columbian cultures in the Americas started “smoking” their pots, as the practice is called in the American South West. In La Chamba the pots to be smoked are placed in large vessels and these placed into the kiln. When the kiln reaches its top temperature and the pieces are thoroughly fired, the large vessel is pulled with hooks from the kiln, the white hot contents smothered with dry leaves and the holding vessel covered. The carbon in the leaves coming into contact with the white hot clay starts to combust but finding no oxygen to complete its combustion in the sealed environment of the covered holding vessel, it pulls oxygen from the iron oxide in the red surface clay of the pots, turning them black.

This is how the art of making the very distinctive cookware from La Chamba developed in the very earliest epochs of pre-Columbian America. Handed down from mother to daughter, this tradition has continued uninterrupted. Now it can continue to flourish and be appreciated throughout the world as a truly remarkable non reactive cookware, made from nothing more than a few lumps of very special local clay.

Ying Yang Grits – Huitlacoche and Cheese Grits

Ying Yang Grits – Blue Corn Huitlacoche and Garlic Cheese Grits

A fun and unusual way to present a traditional cheese grits and introduce the musty indigenous flavor of huitlacoche. Corn fungus and corn grits are a natural compliment. Everyone will wonder what is that unique flavors and how did you get the dark blue color. This dish can add an international philosophical twist as a side dish at Thanksgiving with its  indigenous corn ingredients.

I like making the grits in a lidded clay pot because I find the moisture seems seems to plump up the grits and cook them slowly to offer a very creamy texture. I used a chamba olla.

You can do a similar dish presentation with Purple and White Mash potatoes too.

Vegetarian friendly.

For vegans you could omit the cheese and butter and have a tasty dish as well.


Polish Pickle Soup recipe made in a clay pot

Polish pickle and potato sour soup recipe

Wild Boar Sausage Gravy & Organic Stone Ground Blue Grits

blue corn grits with boar sausage gravy

D’Artagnan Wild Boar Sausage Gravy and Organic Stone Ground Blue Grits Recipe

This is an homage to my very French mother raising her family in Texas. She was never a fan of grits and of southern style pan gravy so I did a twist on this recipe that would have made her a convert to this classic southern combination of grits and gravy.

First I searched out the best pork sausage I could find. Wild Boar sausage appealed to my love of using indigenous New World ingredients and hearing that D’Artagnan uses Texas wild boars it seem like a local (if in Texas) wild boar sausage to try.

D’Artangnan Wild Boar Sausage

I found this sausage to have a softer and less black musky flavor than others I have found using more expensive boar sausages at butcher counters such as Dean & Deluca. Interesting as these other Boar sausages were they seem too rugged for this rendition of a classic breakfast dish but could be substituted if you desire a more gamy flavor.I also liked that Wild Boar D’Artagnan sausage is made with meat from feral swine raised without hormones and antibiotics. And in the manufacturing process D’Artangnan used sage (another New World ingredient) shallots, sherry, dry mustard and garlic to add a continental gentleness to the flavor. These seasonings became the inspiration for this sausage gravy recipe. Hence I highly recommend ordering online or seeking out this D’Artagnan’s sausages. If you do not eat pork there are some gently flavored sausages with apple and chicken that would work well with this simple recipe and be less greasy than main stream sausage brands.

As for Grits… I love my grits…  I am grit picky southern girl.

McEwen & Sons grits
If you are in the mood for classic and gourmet stone ground grits first stop would be McEwen & Sons of Wilsonville, AL. Every flavor I have tried is fabulous. I love the Organic Blue Grits for it’s stone ground texture, unusual color, and taste. The blue corn grits also adds a little exotica using this rare variation of this new world food and looks interesting on the plate and generates conversation. Any slow cooking grits could be used and both the gravy and grits can be made simultaneously.

I highly recommend watching the Stan Woodward’s documentary “It’s Grits” particularly the new anniversary addition. Fascinating and very sensitive (brought tears to my eyes)…

the little clips on the web do not do it justice, get the DVD at http://www.stanwoodward.com/itsgrits.htm  An American Classic!

Clay pots!!! I really like cooking both these dishes in Clay for the following reasons. I think it makes the grits creamer as it plumps and softens the grits. Plus the clay holds the warmth making a great stove to table way of serving the grits.  As for the gravy. The gentle even heat of the stove top safe clay pot offers a method to make a velvety sauce that if monitored will not boil much and minimize lumps. The gentle warmth is great for serving at the table as well. I used my La Chamba chicken pot skillet because it is great size for the sauce and has a fun chicken theme for breakfast if you chose to serve eggs on the side of these dishes for a brunch and a nice round small lidded Olla pot for the grits.

Great ancestral la chamba olla for grits

Recommended timing. First step… put the water for the grits to boil and sauté the sausage. Once boiling put the grits in the boiling water and crumble the cooked sausage (can be done ahead as long as you save the sausage drippings). Then make the gravy.

Quick option tip – You can alway remove the casings and crumble the uncooked sausage first and start cooking the crumpled sausage and jump into making the gravy with the pieces of sausage in the pan, quicker and a makes a bit more rustic style, equally tasty, but not as velvety a sauce.

Serves 3 to 4

Wild Boar Sausage Gravy Recipe

4 links of D’Artangnan Wild Boar Sausage

1 Tablespoon of Olive oil
3 Tablespoons of Flour
1 1/4 Cups of organic whole milk
1/4 Cup of dry sherry
2 Tables of fresh roughly chopped sage (save additional full leaves of sage for garnish)
1/2 t of salt
1/2 t of fresh ground white or black pepper

Sauté and cook throughly 4 links of sausage in 1 T of olive oil.

D’Artangnan wild boar sausage in a La Chamba chicken pot

This D’Artangnan sausage is very lean if you are using another sausage you might be able to omit the olive oil. Remove the sausage and the pan from the heat, save the sausage drippings. we will be using this same pan and the dripping for making the gravy.  After the sausage has cooled a little remove what of the outer casing you can easily remove and crumble or chop up the sausage meat and put aside for adding to the gravy later.

Take the milk and flour and put in a plastic bag and shake well (a Texas cooks trick)… or you can put the flour and milk in a bowl and mix well, set aside.

Here comes the cooking, stirring part, which is easy just don’t try to use to high a heat, stir constantly and have all your ingredients handy.

Return the pan with the dripping back to the stove on medium heat for about 20 seconds and add the dry sherry to deglaze the pan, stir constantly. Once deglazed (sherry and pan drippings blended) add the milk flour mixture and keep stirring over medium low heat, approx another thirty seconds, until it starts to thicken, reduce heat to low.

Cream gravy with sausage in a clay pot

The thickening happens quickly so be prepared to keep stiring while quickly adding the crumbled sausage and sage. before it gets too close to your desired thickness.

Sausage mixed in the cream gravy made in a chamba clay pot

The clay pot will hold the heat and continue to thicken the velvety sauce so you don’t have to make it super thick. You can thin the gravy by adding a little extra milk at this point over the heat if necessary. Seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Blue corn grits with sausage gravy

Serve immediately with the grits.  Garnish with the full sage leaves.

Cooking the grits

1 Cup of uncooked stone ground blue corn grits
4 Cup of water
2 Tablespoon of butter
3/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder

Bring the water, salt, garlic powder and butter to a boil add the grits. Stir well and return to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling again, cover and reduce the heat to low for 25 mins. Check the grits periodically and stir to minimize sticking and loosen grits from bottom of the pot. Add pepper when done and serve.

Thanks to Matt Timm’s Grit Cookoff  at the NYC Food Film Festival, 2010 for allowing this grit recipe, one of a series of three – All American Grit Trilogy – Red White (more recipes to follow) and Blue Grits with Wild Boar Sausage to be a part of the competition.  A shoot out by Sam Woodward at the awards, as to the originality of my grit combo, made my year!

Please share your favorite recipes and experience cooking with clay cookware from around the world.