When Pipo, the protagonist of my children’s book, Every Night is Pizza Night, asks the local grocer, Mr. Gonzales, what the best food in the world is, she learns that what’s “best” often depends on context. For Mr. Gonzales, the spicy pozole verde that his mother still makes for him is always the best. Pozole, which comes from Mexico’s mountainous state of Guerrero, also happens to be one of my favorite soups of all time.
Like its red and white cousins, pozole verde is a hearty soup that features hominy corn, oftentimes pork or chicken (although you can easily make a vegetarian version), and a bunch of aromatic garnishes that you can add tableside (I find that tableside customization is a surefire way to get Alicia excited about eating a meal). The “verde” part comes in the form of a slew of green vegetables and aromatics, typically tomatillos, green chiles and peppers, dried oregano, epazote, cilantro, and toasted pepitas.
Traditional recipes for pozole verde vary in complexity, but some are arduous multi-day, multi-pot affairs. I prefer to take a simplified approach. My standard pozole verde recipe is simple enough as-is, but it includes a step where you strain, purée, and sear the vegetables—a little tedious and potentially dangerous, as dumping puréed vegetables into a smoking hot Dutch oven causes major splattering. For this more kid- (and parent-with-kid-) friendly version, I skip the searing step, instead just puréeing the soup directly in the pot with a hand blender.
Kids can help at nearly every stage of the process. Toasting pepitas in a Dutch oven (with parental guidance) is great, because it allows kids to practice sautéing skills without any oil involved, which means no danger of hot fat spitting up out of the Dutch oven onto their arms. When my daughter stirs pots, I remind her to hold the handle of the pot using a folded kitchen towel (oven mitts are more unwieldy, especially for small hands).
Because all of the vegetables end up getting puréed, precision knife skills are not a concern. You can let little ones hack away (or, better yet, slice carefully while holding the vegetables with a claw grip) at the tomatillos, onions, and peppers however they’d like. The only rules are that the roots of the onions, the stems of the peppers, and the husks of the tomatillos should be removed. (Removing tomatillo husks is a great task for pre-knife-skill toddlers.)
Once chopped, the vegetables go directly into a Dutch oven with some chicken legs, oregano, salt, and chicken broth, and are simmered until the chicken is tender and shreddable. This takes about 40 minutes, or about as long as it takes to look at some tomatillo skins and oregano leaves under a microscope and draw them. Once the chicken is cooked and cool enough to handle, shredding by hand is a perfect kid’s job, while parents can take care of puréeing the soup, along with the pepitas, either with an immersion blender or in a standing blender. The chicken and canned hominy go directly into the soup, while garnishes of avocado, radish, cilantro, raw onion, and jalapeño or serrano chiles can all be served at the table.
I don’t know your kids, but my daughter Alicia’s relationship with spicy foods is complicated. Our general approach to feeding her spicy foods is the same as our approach to serving spicy foods to adult guests: We ask before we start cooking if they are okay with heat, and if the answer is no (as it almost always is with Alicia), we leave the heat out and offer ways to add it at the table in case they change their mind (as Alicia almost always does). In this case, that’s as simple as swapping out the fresh Anaheim or Poblano chiles, which can vary in heat and are hard to predict before tasting them, with canned mild green chiles, which work just fine in a simmered and puréed dish like this.