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Recipe Fri Feb 20 2009
You choke when you make it. It's like pulling hard off a cigarette when you've never smoked before. You're dry roasting the skins and the seeds of dried chilies in a hot fry pan, and they're perfuming the air with a near invisible smoke that just makes you choke. As much as you might try to hold back, the chilies hit you so hard at the back of the throat. It burns, and you cough hard over and over, until it subsides just long enough for you to have a sip of beer. And then it starts up again and you're laughing because somehow it feels good, and you know it's going to make a mean meal.
My pal Bill had been in the kitchen with me. You "use a lot of chili and roast them until you can't breath," he recapped, as we ate the thick, heavy mole, breaking a few sweats. Our feet were even hot - but my apartment is very warm from some overanxious radiators. "This is some bold flavor," he told me.
We started out wondering what to make with the broccoli and cauliflower Bill had brought over. He wanted something spicy, and I had plenty of dried chilies hanging out in my cupboards, just waiting for an opportunity like this. I cracked open six or seven of the chilies, separating the seeds from the dried, hard skins. We toasted the seeds in a large, dry stainless pan on medium heat until they nearly blackened, tossing them about nearly constantly, and choking with every shake of the pan. Then I sent the seeds into a blender to wait, and the skins went into the same, now empty pan and began to smoke to make you cough some more. I tossed them about until their vapors had subsided. Then those, too, went into the blender to cool. I toasted a handful of black sesame seeds for a moment in that pan, and then a handful of raw sunflower seeds until they looked golden, before putting them in the blender, too. I waited until everything was cool before blending to avoid the explosion of hot liquid that I've been trying to avoid repeating from some previous cooking session. (I'd thought I could hold the lid on, but you should never underestimate the power of even a small amount of scalding liquid when it's being tossed about by a very fast and powerful sharp metal blade). I added a tablespoon or so of unsweetened cocoa powder (thanks Bill!), a pinch of ground cinnamon, a few good glugs of olive oil, many shakes of salt, and just enough water to make it barely possible to blend it into a thick paste. The mole, our version of mole, was done.
Now, for something to serve mole with: Bill had brown rice on, which would form a nice base, but we needed veggies. There's nothing like the dry, tiny, porous heads of broccoli and cauliflower to soak up a tasty sauce. Bill had sautéed an onion with garlic in the pan previously used for the chilies. Bits stuck to the stainless steel, which were no match for the deglazing power of leftover white wine. Wine adds a brilliant component to mole. It rounds it out and mellows the flavors just enough for them to calmly come together. Then, into the pan of onions went cooked black beans and bite sized pieces of broccoli and cauliflower, which steamed under a lid just a few minutes before we smothered it all with the mole. The sauce was quite thick, and it didn't mind a little water to help the last of it to come out of the blender's pitcher. The mole was dark chocolaty in color, and now so was our meal. This was thick, rich, and a little bitter. It's "almost like a strong cup of coffee," Bill told me. But "you can taste the layers." You could taste the sesame, the toasted sunflower seeds, the cocoa, the wine, and of course the deep, dark, and spicy chili flavor that had all soaked up into the top of the firm and snappy cauliflower and broccoli bits.