Pozole therapy

Henri finds happiness at the bottom of a bowl in Santa Fe, N.M.

Henri had every intention of redeeming his dear sister Colette’s generous if totally inappropriate Christmas present—a gift certificate for two weeks at a Santa Fe, N.M., health spa—and for several days fantasized about the possibility of no longer looking perennially like a “Before” photo. I actually got as far as the resort itself, Colette having driven me to the Sacramento airport and arranged shuttle service—also requesting confirmation of my check-in.

Indeed, Rancho de las Chakras was a charming hillside property just outside of the city with a lovely staff, including Takumi, who performed my welcoming deep-tissue massage.

Actually, I felt sorry for the poor boy, as I had eaten a large carne asada and bean burrito just before arriving and throughout felt rather, well, pinched.

“Relax,” Takumi kept saying, though I was acutely aware that so doing would risk precipitating the most unpleasant of consequences for the both of us.

Afterward, no doubt in response to my admittedly rigid request, Takumi acquiesced to leave the door to my room unlocked after I retired for the evening. By 9 p.m., I was famished and craving a nightcap. A phone call and a taxi ride later I was back in downtown Santa Fe, checked into the Hotel St. Francis, and enjoying a margarita—with blue-corn tortilla chips and green-chile salsa and guacamole—at the bar.

I called Colette the next day to explain and apologize, assuming that she would be notified of my egress—she seemed disappointed but not altogether surprised—and then spent my first two weeks of 2010 in Santa Fe dining at many of the city’s wonderful restaurants and avoiding anything remotely resembling a “treatment” or any kind of “cleansing” whatsoever, save for the green-chile stew that I had with nearly every meal and several bowls of pozole, a traditional hominy and chicken soup, often served to celebrate the New Year and which can in fact border on therapeutic. Merci beaucoups, Colette.

When I returned to Chico, I thanked her by making a huge pot of pozole myself and insisting, perhaps a bit obsequiously, on serving and catering to her every petition. By the time she was done, she had more or less forgiven me, though the pinot grigio with which I paired the soup probably played at least a small role in my redemption.

Henri’s Pozole

This delicious version takes about an hour to cook and serves six as a side dish, four as a main course.

2 large dried chiles—Hatch (New Mexico), anchos or guajillos—stems and seeds removed
1 clove garlic
1 white or yellow onion, sliced
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 (29-ounce) can hominy, drained
4 cups chicken broth
1-2 cups thinly sliced green cabbage
1 lime, cut into wedges
Flour tortillas

Toast the dried chiles, garlic clove and half the onion in griddle or cast-iron skillet until softened and browned, about 12 minutes, tossing occasionally. Remove from heat and place in a small bowl and cover with a cup of boiling water and let stand for about 10 minutes. Pour into in a blender, with half the liquid, and blend until smooth.

Place the chicken, hominy, broth and 2 cups water in a medium stockpot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the chicken is tender and cooked through, 20-30 minutes. Remove chicken from the pot, place on a plate to cool, and cut into bite-sized pieces.

Add the blended chile puree to the pot, simmer, cover and cook for 10 to 20 minutes. Add the chicken back to the pot to reheat, and season to taste with salt and fresh-ground pepper.

Warm the tortillas (on the griddle or in microwave, wrapped in a dish towel), and serve the cabbage, remaining sliced onion and the lime wedges as garnish in separate bowls.

Note: Here in Chico, you can get excellent pozole at El Rey Mexican Grill (465 E. 20th St.), and, when available, at the Tin Roof Bakery & Café (627 Broadway).