It’s been quite a while since we’ve had a savory Chocolate Monday and since this is the season for warming soups, I thought it would be fun to take today’s post in another direction. Probably the most well-known use of chocolate in savory dishes is Mexican mole sauce, but it can be intimidating with its lengthy ingredient list. But this recipe is a snap to make and has all the flavor and complexity with a fraction of the components.
The first time I had mole was on my first trip to Mexico. My parents, grandfather, and I went down to Puerto Vallarta in the middle of winter one year. I was sick with Crohn’s and had lost an alarming amount of weight. Being able to rest in the warmth of the languid Mexican coastal town, soak up the sun, and take daily naps was the perfect way to help me recover some of my strength and begin gaining back a few pounds. It reversed my downward spiral and helped get me strong enough to survive the surgery that saved my life. I guess in a way, I can thank Mexico, its lovely people, and their delicious food for turning my life around.
The ingredient that I think adds the quintessential Mexican flavor profile is chile peppers. I always keep a supply of dried peppers in my pantry to boost otherwise bland or boring dishes. I normally have ancho chiles on hand, but used them up recently and need to restock. Today I used a combination of Guajillo and chipotle peppers, lending deep chile flavor with a touch of smoky heat.
Guajillos and anchos are the two most common chiles used in Mexican cooking. They are described as dynamic with bright flavors and a touch of tanginess. The chipotle is a smoked jalapeno that adds heat as well as a subtle smokiness. Together they gave this soup a distinct and balanced chile flavor. You can use just one type and keep it as mild or spicy as you like, but I encourage you to consider combining two or more varieties. Each has specific flavors and heat levels, letting you customize your meals.
Living in California, chiles are sold in every grocery store in the state. If you can’t find them where you live, they are available online. Buy them in bulk to keep the price down but remember, they each weigh next to nothing, so a pound of peppers would last you a year or more unless you are cooking Mexican food for crowds regularly. You can also buy them in finely ground form, making it easy to pump up any meal.
The most unusual component of mole sauce and this soup is the chocolate. The bitterness of the chocolate balances the richness of the soup and helps offset the heat of the chipotle. I made a mistake and used semisweet chips – they were right next to the bittersweet in the cupboard and I grabbed the wrong bag. Oops! You could leave it out if you are not sure of it, but give it a try, you may just love it.
The small amount of masa harina (or corn flour, not cornmeal) is enough to thicken a huge pot of soup and give the sense of richness similar to cream or butter without any of the fat. It’s a great secret weapon!
The blending of the oregano, cumin, cinnamon, and chocolate is unusual and delightful. Then you add in the chicken, stock, and tomatoes and you’ve got a meal that people will crave. If you want a heartier version, you can add more chicken and additional vegetables, but it isn’t really needed. Enjoy this soup with chunky bread and a tossed green salad for a healthy dinner all year long.
Happy Chocolate Monday!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Whenever you are working with hot peppers, in this case the chipotles, be very careful not to touch your eyes. You will need to scrub your hands really well after handling the peppers or you can do what most chefs do and use plastic gloves to protect yourself. They are easy to find in any drugstore and will make a lot of jobs in the kitchen easier and neater!
Avoid buying spice blends which often have gluten in them. Instead keep individual ground peppers and mix your own “chili” powder. It is safer to do your own blending. If you do want to buy blends, both McCormick and Penzey’s are very good at keeping their products gluten free and clearly labeled.
- 3 dried ancho, Guajillo, or New Mexican chiles
- 1 to 2 dried chipotle peppers (add more for spicier flavor)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lb boneless chicken thighs, partially frozen, cut into bite-sized cubes
- 1 large onion, trimmed, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 26 oz canned, chopped tomatoes
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp oregano
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/4 cup masa harina
- 1/4 cup finely chopped bittersweet chocolate (65%-70%)
- Kosher or fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Freshly squeezed lime juice, to taste
- Your choice of sour cream, sliced avocado, cilantro leaves, and/or fried tortilla strips
- Place the dried chiles in a medium mixing bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside to soak and soften for 30 minutes.
- While the chiles are soaking, heat the oil in a Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat. When it is shimmering, add the chicken and onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked about halfway through and the onions are beginning to soften about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken and onions to a bowl. Turn the burner down to low under the Dutch oven.
- Drain chiles, (carefully squeeze out water trapped inside) remove and discard the stems, seeds, and ribs, and cut into chunks. Place the chiles in a blender. Pour in 1 cup of the stock and puree until very smooth.
- Set a wire sieve over a bowl and pour the chile puree through the sieve to remove remaining solids. Discard the solids.
- Add the strained chile puree to the Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until reduced and thickened a bit, about 10 minutes.
- Add the remaining stock to the pan along with the garlic, tomatoes, cinnamon, sugar, cumin, and oregano. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, onions, and accumulated juices to the pan, reduce heat to medium and cook at a low boil for 10 minutes. Ladle about a cup of the liquid into a small bowl and whisk in the masa harina until smooth. Whisk the masa mixture into the large pot, adding it slowly to avoid creating lumps. Cook, stirring often for another 5 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and the soup has thickened. Taste and adjust seasonings. s in the chopped chocolate, and keep stirring until completely melted. Make sure you scrape the bottom of the pan well. Once the chocolate is fully melted and the soup is smooth, taste and adjust the seasonings again, adding salt and pepper and lime juice to taste. Whisk to completely blend the ingredients.
- Ladle into warmed soup bowls and garnish with your choice of toppings. Serve immediately.
- Yield: 6 to 8 servings
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