Its Cinco de Mayo. And this recipe has nothing to do with it. I say that because I fear the Mexican equivalent of the A.O.C. if I claim otherwise. While this is not in any way, shape, or form, claiming to be a version of Oaxacan mole, consider it a good first foray into the flavor possibilities that chocolate-as-savory presents.
Every new year’s eve, post-midnight fireworks (and really with every late-night family party, of which there were many) all of us cousins would take whatever was left on the buffet table and start putting together all the remains of the day into what we called “concoctions”. We would cook it on the stove, the grill or just slap things together on our plates. Whatever we came up with, it was always the most divine midnight snack (and often not for the faint of heart) So it is in this spirit of “concocting” that I made this dish. How appropriate then that “mole” comes from the Aztec word, “molli” which means…..“concoction!”
This particular medley was incited by what seems to be weeks of gray and unending Spring rain in Pittsburgh. In late April and May, I would generally be craving lighter soups and sautés. Getting ready to enjoy the asparagus bounty. Dandelions. But it’s a strange May – I wore wool today and brought plants in to protect them from the frost. So my body is still demanding full-bodied, comforting, stews.
But it IS May and I was tired of my standard chili. I scanned my pantry and decided to chuck the beans and use my nice Puy lentils. These French lentils are darker and firmer than what is typically available. They hold their shape when cooked, giving your stew an interesting texture. I was also tired of my trusty cumin seed-cumin-chili powder-oregano standby but was unsure what to put in instead.
The excitement of this dish starts with ginger. Yes. Ginger in your chili. When I am in a hurry, my default slow-cooker dinner is black beans in the crockpot with a bay leaf, salt, pepper and loads of sliced ginger. Add water and that’s it. Ginger? Believe me. Try it.
After the stew was almost done and I was tasting it, I wanted more depth. Roundedness. Smoked Spanish Paprika always does the trick. I added it. Good. But I still wanted MORE. Deeper! I say. I scanned my cupboard blankly…..and there it was. Chocolate! And I remembered mole and all the good feelings that came with eating it. Ah.
Go on. Try it. If only for the shock value. My friends always expect me to say there’s cabbage in the cookies. I turn it around and say there’s chocolate in their chili. GASP!
Lentil Chili with Chocolate
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (largest you can get!)
10 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 good super-heaping tablespoon pure cocoa
1 tablespoon Smoked Spanish Paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1-2 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped finely
1 28-ounce can of crushed or diced tomatoes
10 cups vegetable broth
3 cups French lentils
2 quarts vegetable broth
water as needed
Saute the onions, garlic and ginger in oil. Once the onions are soft, add the chili powder and cumin. Saute for about a scant minute. Add the lentils and the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil uncovered and then cover and let it simmer on low for 45 minutes to an hour. Adjust water, salt and pepper as needed.
Serve over rice or with hot crusty bread. I also like serving this over chopped dandelion or arugula.