Even in Arizona, finding different kinds of chili peppers was difficult. Hell, finding any peppers was tough: green bell peppers were about the only thing in a Northern Arizona grocery store. All Mom’s Mexican cooking was based on McCormick Chili Powder. And it was good.
Then, in the mid-1980s, grocery stores (by this time we were in Western Maryland) discovered that there is more than one kind of pepper. Red bells and even fresh jalapenos showed up in the vegetable bins. We began using the fresh peppers. And it was good.
A few years after we moved to Northeastern Pennsylvania, Wegmans opened. And they carried (and still carry) lots and lots of different peppers. And they carry dried chili peppers. I quickly began experiment with neat things like ancho, pasilla, cascabel, and anaheim chilis. And it was really good.
Anyway, here is a recipe for some of those dried chili peppers:
Black Bean Chili Mole with PorkEdit
3 cups black turtle beans
2 medium onions, chopped
10-20 cloves garlic, peeled, with the woody ends cut off
1 pound fatty pork (not pork loin, something like Boston butt or boneless country ribs) cut in 1/2 inch chunks
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 quart chicken stock (or more)
5 dried passilla chili peppers
2 dried ancho chili peppers
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground or crushed coriander
salt (if needed)
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
5-8 tomatillos with the papery outer skin removed, diced
2 ounces Mexican bitter chocolate (if you cannot find Mexican chocolate, use bitter sweet baking chocolate) broken into small chunks
20-30 pepitas (hulled roasted pumpkin seeds) ground to a paste in a mortar
a 1-inch of stick cinnamon, ground
cooked long-grain rice
Sort, rinse and soak the black beans overnight. Toss the ribs with the flour and shake off the extra. Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven and brown the flour a few pieces at a time. Transfer to a plate as each batch is done and add more oil if needed. By the time you’re done, there should be about 2 tablespoons of oil left in the pot. If not, add some (this chili will be slightly greasy).
Turn down the heat and saute the onions until they are translucent (don’t brown them, that makes them bitter (and onions are so much better with a sunny disposition)). Add the garlic cloves and saute a little longer.
Drain and rinse the beans. Put them in the pot with the onions and garlic. Add enough chicken stock to cover the beans with a few inches to spare. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the beans are tender (1 to 3 hours). When the beans are cooked (pull one out with a fork and blow on it: if it pops, it is done) add the browned pork cubes.
Heat a large cast iron skillet. Wipe down the pasilla and ancho chilies with a damp cloth and place, a few at a time, on the skillet just long enough for each to start to change colour. Don’t let them burn. After they cool, open up each dried chili, remove the seeds, the veins and the stems, and break into small pieces. Throw the innards away and place the chili pieces into a heat-resistant bowl. Bring one cup of water to a boil and pour over the chili peppers. Let them sit for at least half an hour.
Carefully scoop out the peppers with a fork and place them on a cutting board. Toss the chili water in with the beans. Using a curved knife (I find a santoku or Chinese cleaver works best), mince the peppers into a paste (do not do this on a brand new cutting board: the chili juice stains big time), and add to the beans and the tomatillos.
Add the seasonings (cumin, salt (if needed) and coriander) and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes. The chili should be thick. If there is too much liquid, turn up the heat to reduce it. Add the chocolate, pepitas, cinnamon and Mexican oregano and stir to combine.
This is a very, very rich chili. Serve it over rice with some blue corn chips on the side.
This was my first experience with a mole (which comes from a Nahuatl word meaning mixture or concoction). I expected the chocolate and cinnamon to dominate, but it really doesn’t. All the flavours meld together quite well. And it’ll surprise the heck out of most Americans who assume that chili is always made with beef and is red.