In my continuing effort to be warm when it’s 20 degrees and snowing outside, I spent snow day number two last week making chili – but not just any chili.  I yanked this recipe out of (surprise) an old Gourmet magazine quite some time ago, but never got around to making it.  Probably because it was summer when I saw it for the first time, and summer doesn’t exactly scream chili! to me.  Snow days, on the other hand, are all about comfort food like this.

This is only my second experience with mole, and the first one was certainly nothing to write home about.  Mom and I tried a mole chicken recipe from who-knows-where, and the results were…disappointing.  No one could quite put their finger on what had gone wrong, or which taste they didn’t enjoy, but it was too rich, too thick, and too…something.  Suffice it to say that no one cleaned their plate that night – not even Boyfriend, who eats literally everything.

But I’m nothing if not stubborn, and I couldn’t give up on mole yet.  I thought that, maybe, the problem had been that the mole was a little overwhelming for plain old baked chicken breast.  Sometimes simple works, but this just wasn’t one of those times.  The mole needed more.  More flavors.  More ingredients.  More depth than chicken could ever possibly impart on its own.  And this recipe offered just that – more.

Although, if you think that means I resisted the urge to change it, you clearly haven’t spent enough time here yet.  But even with my changes, substitutions, and additions, this chili maintained its integrity as a spicy, hearty, rich dish that’s surprisingly healthy and wonderfully filling.  And on a snow day, after you’ve shoveled the driveway three or four times in twelve hours, is there anything more delicious than hot chili?  I didn’t think so.

Mole Chili

Adapted (liberally) from Gourmet, when it was still a magazine

1 large dried chili, chopped (you could also you red pepper flakes here)

2 fresh hot peppers (jalapenos, Thai chilis, whatever you got), chopped

1 1/2 tsp cumin

1 tsp dried oregano

Pinch of cinnamon

2 medium onions, chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp butter

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 zucchini or yellow squash, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

3/4 lb chopped spinach (frozen is fine)

1 tsp grated orange zest

Pinch of sugar

3 tbsp unsweetened baking chocolate (finely chopped) or cocoa powder

1 15-oz can of whole tomatoes

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp chili powder

1 cup water

2 15-oz cans of beans (I used black and small white beans, the recipe used pinto, and I suspect any kind would be fine)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Cilantro/sour cream/chopped chives for garnish

In a large, heavy saucepan/soup pot, heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat.  Add onions and cook until they are softened and begin to brown.  Add garlic, and cook for about one minute.  Add chili peppers, cumin, paprika, chili powder, oregano and cinnamon.  Cook for another minute, then add bell pepper, zucchini/squash, and spinach.  Cover the pot and let it cook for 5-10 minutes, or until the vegetables softened.  Add zest, sugar, chocolate, water and tomatoes (with their juice).  Break the tomatoes up with a wooden spoon so that there are chunks in the chili, but not whole tomatoes. Cover again and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add beans and cook until beans are heated through.  Season with salt and pepper.