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Chillies, Nuts, Seeds, Fruits and Savory

There are said to be seven classic moles, each distinctly different in ingredients and usually color. They are typically attributed to a few Mexican states, namely Puebla and Oaxaca but in reality, there are infinite varieties derived from these seven found all over Mexico and Oaxaca is probably most closely associated with the mole most of us are familiar – mole negro. The one common denominator in moles? Chilies. Fresh, dried and usually a combination of the two.

According to Rick Bayless, our local Chicago authority of all things Mexican, mole ingredients can be grouped into five distinct classes: Chiles, sour (tomatillos), sweet (dried fruits and sugar), spices, and thickeners (nuts and tortillas).

The ingredients are all roasted, usually on a comal or flat griddle, and then ground into a fine powder or paste. The process can be rather laborious if done by hand, however, I take full advantage of modern technology and break out the food processor. Traditionally, this work was shared by several generations of women in the family for a very celebratory meal, and I love the idea of several generations of women gathered around the kitchen working to produce this special dish.



1 cup sunflower oil or lard 8 dried mulato chillies, stemmed, seeds and membranes removed 6 dried pasilla chillies, stemmed, seeds and membranes removed 5 dried ancho chillies, stemmed, seeds and membranes removed 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth 1 large yellow onion, peeled, cut into 8 wedges 12 large garlic cloves, unpeeled

Nuts and seeds

½ cup whole almonds, raw ¼ cup pecans, raw 1 tablespoon unsalted roasted peanuts ¼ cup shelled pepitas (pumpkin seeds), raw 3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted 1 cup vegetable broth


¼ cup sunflower oil 2 large ripe dark-skinned plantain, peeled, thickly sliced ¹/³ cup pitted prunes 1 pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed, coarsely chopped 1 pound plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth ²/³ cup raisins


5 whole cloves 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns 5 whole allspice berries 1 teaspoon cumin seeds ½ teaspoon aniseed 1 1-inch piece cinnamon stick, Ceylon preferable 1 teaspoon dried Mexican Oregano ½ teaspoon dried thyme 1 teaspoon sea salt, fine grade


9 ounces Red Fire Exotic Candy Bar (ancho & chipotle chillies, Ceylon cinnamon dark chocolate), chopped ¼ cup cocoa powder, unsweetened, Dutch style ½ cup chopped piloncillo** or (packed) dark brown sugar 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth, low sodium (if necessary)

CHILI PREPARATION: After you seed the chillies, your hands may have spicy capsicum oil on them. To rid yourself of the oil, cut a tomato in half and rub your fingers in the center pulp and rinse.

Heat ½ cup sunflower oil or lard in large skillet over medium-high heat. Wipe the chillies clean with a damp cloth. Fry chillies 5–6 at a time until they begin to blister and deepen in color. Press down on the chillies to fry all parts. This should take about 15 seconds per side, be careful not to burn. Using tongs and shaking off excess fat, transfer chillies to a large pot filled with 5 cups broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered until chillies are very soft, about 35 minutes. Reserve any oil remaining on the side to sprinkle on homemade pizza or pasta dishes.

Dry roast onion and garlic cloves in dry, heavy, medium skillet over medium-high heat until they begin to blacken, blister and soften, turning often, about 10 minutes. Cool slightly. Coarsely chop onion; peel garlic and place in a blender with chillies and broth. Blend until smooth.

Heat remaining ½ cup sunflower oil or lard in same pot over medium heat until almost smoking. Slowly pour chili purée into pot; be careful as the mixture will sputter and bubble vigorously. Stir until purée thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 7 minutes, then remove from heat.

NUTS AND SEEDS: Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add almonds and stir until color deepens, about 1 minute. Add pecans, peanuts and pepitas, stirring and shaking the pan for another minute. Transfer 2 tablespoons sesame seeds to small bowl and reserve for garnish. Place remaining 1 tablespoon sesame seeds in blender with nuts. Add 1 cup vegetable broth and blend until thick purée forms. Add nut-and-seed purée to pot with chili purée. Cook over very low heat for 20 minutes, stirring often.


Heat ¼ cup sunflower oil in same skillet over high heat. Add plantain and sauté until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain excess oil. Lower heat to medium. Slowly add tomatillos and tomatoes to skillet; sauté until slightly softened, mashing with fork. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until thickened, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Add raisins, prunes and plantains; simmer 10 minutes, stirring often. Cool slightly.

Working in batches, purée tomatillo mixture in blender with 2 cups reserved chicken or vegetable broth. Strain mixture through sieve into chili-nut purée, pressing on solids to extract as much mixture as possible; discard solids in sieve. Continue cooking purée over very low heat for 15 minutes, stirring often.

SAVORY: Heat cloves in a skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Transfer cloves to spice mill or coffee grinder; add peppercorns, cinnamon, allspice, cumin seeds, aniseed, oregano, thyme, sea salt. Grind finely. Add to blender. Add 1 cup reserved chicken or vegetable broth; blend until smooth. Stir spice mixture into chili-nut-fruit purée. Simmer mole over very low heat 30 minutes to blend flavors while preparing thickeners, stirring often (mole will bubble thickly).

CHOCOLATE: Add chocolate, cocoa powder and piloncillo** to mole; simmer over low heat 20 minutes, stirring often, scraping bottom of pot and adding more vegetable or chicken broth if necessary by ½ cupfuls if mole is too thick (up to 2 cups more broth may be needed). Season with salt. Continue simmering over low heat until streaks of oil form on mole surface, about 10 minutes longer. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Re-warm over low heat, stirring and adding more broth if desired, before continuing. (Mole can be made 3 days ahead.)

Sear chicken, tofu or protein of choice. Add to hot mole; simmer until protein is heated through, about 10 minutes. Arrange protein slices on platter. Spoon mole over, and garnish with toasted sesame seeds.

**Mexican raw sugar shaped into hard cones. Smaller chunks are sometimes labeled panocha. If neither is available, substitute an equal weight of packed dark brown sugar.

Yum Yum.