The Mixing Bowl: Ancient green chili stew

(Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

Here’s an authentic Native American stew made from green chilis, lamb, hominy and juniper berries from Marcia Keegan’s “Pueblo and Navajo Cookery.” Stews are one-dish meals that can feed a large group, and are probably one of the earliest examples of cuisine. All that is needed is a big pot, a heat source, water and ingredients.

Wild chilis, according to the National Academy of Sciences, came from the Valley of Tehuacan in Mexico around 9,500 years ago and may be one of the oldest cultivated crops in the Americas. Now, chilis are grown all over the world with China being the largest producer at 17.4 million tonnes (metric tons) in 2016, followed by the second largest producer, Mexico, at 2.7 million tonnes.

8,000 years ago, the native Puebloans in central New Mexico developed their personal variety with a full-bodied flavor, only slightly hot and eaten in both its green and red forms. Although different communities in that area cultivated their own unique varieties, those basic characteristics tend to define most New Mexico chilis from the famous Hatch chili grown in a bend in the Rio Grande River, to many other versions from areas like Chimayo, Española, Isleta and more. Ortega, a common canned brand of green chilis, are made from Anaheim chilis, developed by Emilio Ortega who brought the seeds from New Mexicio to Anaheim, California in 1894. Canned chilis are a real time saver since they are already roasted and the skin and most seeds are removed.

Pozole, commonly eaten all over Latin America, is a dried corn that has been treated first through being soaked in water and then cooked in a lye solution. Lye can come from ash from burning wood or limestone. Also called hominy in the U.S., that word comes from a Powhatan word, Chickahominy, spoken in what is now the state of Virginia.

Although not a berry but resembling them, juniper berries – Juniperus communis - have long been used as a spice in European cooking. A sweeter and less resinous North American variety, Juniperus californica, has been used by native people as a spice, medicine and in jewelry making. When crushed, they add a pine-like flavor and give this stew an unusual flavor that makes it special.

A few columns ago, I said that Staff of Life, who carries Hatch brand chilis and bulk juniper berries, would open in Watsonville at the end of the summer. That date has been moved up to later in the fall.

Green chili stew

1 ½ pounds boned lamb cut into 1” square pieces

¾ cup flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoon lard or oil

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 dried juniper berries crushed

1 medium sliced onion

2 ½ cups canned pozole or hominy

1 ½ tablespoons red chili powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 clove garlic, peeled and mashed

1 teaspoon oregano

3 green chili peppers, peeled, seeded and chopped

2 cups water

Coat squares of lamb in flour, salt. Heat in oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium-to-medium high heat. When oil or lard shimmers, add lamb. Adjust heat and brown slowly on all sides. While meat is browning, add black pepper and juniper berries.

Transfer meat to plate. Sauté onion in pan until slightly wilted. Return meat to the pan. Add remaining ingredients and simmer covered for 1 ½ hours stirring occasionally. Makes 6 servings.

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