Rich, comforting Mexican pozole didn’t enter our lives until we moved back to the Midwest. Despite our zeal for all things Mexican (did I mention we love tacos?), living in Denver meant we were in green chili country and so pozole wasn’t really on our radar.
Our first fall back in Kansas City, when the leaves started to change, we noticed something was missing from autumn. We realized that we had lived in Denver so long that the smoky, spicy aroma of roasting hatch chilies on every corner was as much a harbinger of fall as changing leaves and hoodies. Looking for a spicy, warming substitute to our favorite green chili stew, we discovered, and quickly became obsessed with, pozole.
Pozole is a rich stew that is usually made with pork shoulder, lots of dried arbol chilies, onion, and starchy hominy. Pozole is awesome because it’s served with a colorful array of garnishes so everyone can make their bowl just right. I love to top mine with avocado, garden fresh radishes, and a few of those spicy pickled onions.
Recreating the meaty, richly colored essence of pozole in a vegan dish is tough, but jackfruit, the latest darling of the meat substitute circuit, adds just the right texture. It takes a little extra spice and some olive oil to recreate the depth of traditional pozole, but, other than that, pulled jackfruit vegan pozole comes together easily enough.
Pozole takes awhile to make, and some recipes really add a lot of steps. While I simplified the recipe as much as possible, it still takes awhile, so I suggest making a huge batch and freezing some. Feel free to half this recipe if you don’t have a lot of room in the freezer or a family to feed. Also, please don’t let the long list of ingredients deter you from making this dish. It’s really just a lot of sprinkling and simmering, and, like everything I make, you can substitute freely. Pulled jackfruit vegan pozole is a perfect recipe for one of those beautiful weekends in early autumn when all the windows are open and there is just the slightest chill drifting through the house.
Jackfruit is a staple of Southeast Asian cuisine that recently started popping up at barbecue restaurants as a vegan pulled pork substitute. You can definitely find it at Whole Foods or a similar shop, but I always buy it at the Asian market because there are multiple brands available and it is so much cheaper. I can usually get it for about $1.25 a can. Make sure you buy jackfruit packaged in brine or water. It comes in syrup, too, but that’s too sweet for this dish.
I like to smoke the jackfruit on the grill, which is why I make such a massive quantity at once. You could easily saute the fruit on the stove, too, and save a little time. Sometimes it’s nice to spend all day slowly building flavor in a dish, though. It’s an exercise in mindfulness and living in the moment, I think.
So, the first step is to coat the jackfruit in aromatic spices and let it slowly smoke on a charcoal fire.
After about 20 minutes, the jackfruit will start to pull apart like meat. You can keep cooking as long as you like…the longer it’s on the grill, the smokier and tastier it gets! Just be careful that it doesn’t stick too much. Keep some water for deglazing nearby just in case.
While the jackfruit is smoking, saute the onions, garlic, and aromatics in the biggest stock pot you have. Achiote, which is dried annatto, isn’t a typical ingredient in pozole. I add it here to really give the stew a rich, red color. It has a bit of a bitter, earthy taste that enriches the soup, too. If you love spicy food, you can play around with the arbol to achiote ratio.
After the aromatics are really fragrant, add the pulled jackfruit and enough oil to make everything a little shiny. I really can’t believe how much this looks like pulled pork…
After you add the jackfruit, add the stock and let everything simmer for about 30 minutes. I like mixing some homemade corn stock in with the vegetable stock, but all vegetable stock is fine, too. Once the stew has simmered and thickened, add the huge can of hominy and salt to taste. Simmer just a bit longer and then freeze or serve.
The best part of pozole is the beautiful array of garnishes. Top with onions, salsas, radishes, lettuce…anything! I plucked a few peppery nasturtium for this bowl, and it tasted so perfect.
Vegan Pozole with Pulled Jackfruit:
(this recipe makes enough to serve 12 or more)
For the smoked pulled jackfruit:
- 5 cans of jackfruit in brine (not syrup!)
- 1 T chopped garlic
- 3 T dried oregano
- 2 T olive oil
Enough of the following spices to liberally coat the fruit:
- smoked paprika
- smoked salt
For the stew:
- 3 T olive oil
- 3 diced white onions
- 3 T chopped garlic
- 2 T ground arbol
- 3 T achiote
- 2 T dried oregano
- 2 T cumin
- 1 T smoked paprika
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 T smoked salt
- 6 c corn stock
- 8 c vegetable stock
- economy size can of pozole (96 oz)
- salt to taste
Some delicious garnishes to consider:
- chopped greens
- diced onions
- green onion
- pickled spicy onions
- sour cream (vegan or regular)
For the smoked jackfruit:
- Mix jackfruit, garlic, and olive oil, then coat with the spices and let marinate while you start the grill. I like to use a heavy enameled cast iron pan.
- Slowly smoke the jackfruit on the grill. If you aren’t a charcoal grill master, the easiest way to do this is to keep the lid closed and slightly vented so there isn’t too much oxygen to make the grill really hot. The goal is a slow, low fire to impart lots of flavor without burning the fruit.
- Occasionally check the jackfruit to see if it is sticking. Sticking a bit is good, those crispy bits will add extra flavor, but if it really starts to stick or burn, add some water to deglaze.
- Once the jackfruit starts to fall apart and has a nice smokiness, it’s ready!
- Note that you can saute your jackfruit, too, if you don’t want to bother with the grill. If you do this, add a little extra smoked paprika to get that nice smoky flavor. Grilling isn’t a critical step; it just adds a nice element to the dish.
For the vegan pozole:
- In the biggest heavy bottomed pan you have, saute the onion and garlic until they start to sweat.
- Add all the dried herbs and spices and cook until their aromas are released and the color is a rich reddish hue.
- Add the smoked jackfruit and enough olive oil to make everything glossy. Saute just a bit longer.
- Add the corn stock and vegetable stock. You can skip the corn stock and use all vegetable stock, but please don’t make more than 1/4 of your total liquid water.
- Simmer until the jackfruit falls apart even more, and then add the hominy.
- Add salt to taste, bring to a boil, and simmer about 20 minutes.
- Serve with a buffet of garnishes! Pozole freezes so well, too, so make sure you make a nice, big batch!
I’m so excited about jackfruit, and I’d love to hear how you use this wonderful ingredient! It’s just so versatile, and it adds a really unique texture to dishes that are traditionally made with meat.
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