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Oaxacan Mole Negro

The most delicious Mole Negro I ever had was given to me by a friend in California - a jar of pure heaven, product of his grandmother's annual mole making day. Since I raved about this mole often, he was kind enough to transcribe his grandmother's recipe and pass it along. I read the list of 28 ingredients, and the 26 steps necessary to recreate this sauce, and put the recipe away for many years. When I came across it again I decided to make it and it has become a regular undertaking -- I made large quantities which I then freeze for easy access whenever I feel like the complex and sophisticated flavors of a proper mole.

I made lots of shortcuts that I had not noticed were possible upon first reading of the original recipe. Since I didn't have access to the fresh avocado leaves that my friend's grandmother uses, I did some research and ended up using a mixture of fennel seed and bay leaf. Since I have a lot of freshly ground spices, I substituted those for the whole spices in the original recipe. Also, rather than toast or char each ingredient individually before combining everything at the end as my friend's Abuela does, I cut a few corners and roasted like with like. My rationalization was that it was all going to the same place - the blender - anyway. I substituted tahini for the sesame seeds in the original recipe because I didn't want to buy a big bag of them, and used dark cocoa powder and some additional cinnamon in the place of the Mexican chocolate that I forgot to buy. This truncated recipe turned out amazingly well, made the house smell fantastic, and tastes divine.

Makes about 6 cups of mole negro, which I recommend decanting into half cup portions to freeze.

6 dry guajillo chile peppers 4 dry chilhuacle chile peppers 4 dry ancho negro chile peppers 2 Tbsps tahini 1/4 cup raisins 1/4 cup walnuts 1/8 tsp nutmeg 3 whole cloves 2 1/2 tsps ground cinnamon 1/2 tsp ground ginger powder 2 tsps dried thyme 1 tsp dried sage 2 tsps fennel seed 2 tsps ground bay leaf 1/2 onion (unpeeled) 1/2 head garlic (unpeeled) 2 medium tomatoes, halved 10 small tomatillos, halved 4 cups chicken stock 3 tablespoons lard (or oil or, as I did, duck fat) 2 corn tortillas 1/3 cup sugar 5 Tbsps cocoa powder salt

Preheat the oven to 450.

Place the dried chiles, the tomato halves (cut side down), the tomatillo halves (cut side down), the garlic and the onion on a foil lined baking tray and bake for 20 minutes.

Turn the broiler on and broil until the tomato and tomatillo skins are charred, a couple of minutes.

Turn off the heat and, leaving the tray with the tomatillos in place, place the tortillas on a shelf in the oven to toast in the residual heat.

Place a large saucepan over low heat and add the walnuts, raisins, nutmeg, cloves, ground cinnamon, ground ginger powder, dried thyme, dried sage, fennel seeds and ground bay leaf to the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until the walnuts are lightly toasted, the raisins have darkened and slightly dehydrated and the spices are fragrant. This should only take a few minutes. Do not breathe the lovely smell in too closely or you will cough and cough, as I did. Set the pan aside.

Remove the tray with chiles, tomatillos, etc. from oven. Place the chiles in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside.

Place the tomatoes, tomatillos, onion half (remove the peel) in the blender and blend well. Squeeze all of the garlic cloves out of their skin into the mixture and blend again.

Pour the chiles into a colander to drain. Rinse quickly in cold water until you can handle the hot chiles and quickly remove stems and seeds. Add the chile pieces little by little to the tomatillo mixture and blend to incorporate into the paste. If it is too thick, you can add up to 1 cup of the chicken stock to the mixture.

Once the mixture is smooth, tip in all of the spices, the walnuts and raisins. Blend again. You want as smooth a sauce as you can get. Add the cocoa powder. Blend again.

Place the saucepan back on the hob. Turn the heat to medium-low and add the lard, duck fat or oil. As soon as the lard has melted or the oil is sizzling, add the spice paste from the blender and stir to combine with the fat. Lower the heat.

Remove the tortillas from the oven. Tear them into pieces and add them to the blender along with 1 cup of the chicken stock. Blend to form a paste and to incorporate all of the spice paste that you were not able to scrape off the sides of the blender when transferring it to the pan.

Add this blended mixture to the spice paste in the pan and stir to combine. Add the tahini, sugar and remaining chicken broth. Stir.

Let cook for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the sauce turns glossy and thickens. Add salt to taste.

In the past, I have served this sauce over chicken breasts that I poached in water with 2 cloves of garlic and the other half of the onion used above, and served it with yellow rice for a bit of color. While in NYC in February, I had a fabulous eggplant dish with mole that I recreated at a recent dinner party at my sister's, which is why I whipped up a batch of mole in the first place. My main course (illustrated above) therefore consisted of roasted cauliflower with cumin-raisin crumb and chopped coriander garnish, steamed eggplant with the mole sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and yellow rice. Who says a vegetarian dinner party can't be festive AND delicious?!


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