Right as you enter the door at La Bendicion, the Beacon Hill

Right as you enter the door at La Bendicion, the Beacon Hill tortilla (and tamale) store we’ve written up a couple of times on Voracious, you’ll spot a cardboard box on the floor, filled with plastic bags of what look like clay. They’re separated into three piles, each labeled with a handwritten sign: “Negro” (black), “rojo” (red), and “coloradito” (dark red). In fact, they’re bags of Oaxacan mole paste, and I’m working my way through them.In the markets of Oaxaca, many of the spice vendors set out huge bins mounded high with prepared mole pastes, which save home cooks three or more hours of smoky labor toasting spices and seeds, scorching chiles and bread, and grinding everything together. There are numerous varieties of Oaxacan mole, but the three La Bendicion sells are spicier, less sweet, and altogether more interesting than the mole poblano most Mexican restaurants here serve (in fact, most of these pastes don’t contain chocolate). The Juquilita brand is one of the big commercial mole-paste makers in Oaxaca City, and there’s no shame in using these bags to cook up a huge pot of mole in 45 minutes, max.This bag costs $10.50, but in fact, it contains enough for two meals for 4-6 people. I haven’t tried the mole negro pictured here yet, but my last bag of mole rojo went pretty damn far (I stuck the unused paste in the fridge). Here’s what I did with it:6 chicken thighs (skin on or off, as you decide)*3 cups waterOne 14-ounce can tomatoes1 onion1 large clove garlic1-2 tablespoons oil or lard1/2 bag mole paste2-3 carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks2 medium-sized waxy potatoes cut into 1-inch-square chunks2 chayote or 2 medium-sized zucchini, cut into 1-inch chunksPut the chicken thighs and the water into a medium saucepot, and set over medium-high heat. Poach the chicken until it’s opaque all the way through, 15 minutes, skimming the foam off the surface of the pot. Remove the chicken from the stock and retain the liquid.Puree the tomatoes with the onion and garlic in a blender until relatively smooth. Heat the oil in a large, thick-bottomed saucepot on medium-high heat until it’s almost smoking, then pour in the tomato puree. Let it spit and simmer until the onion starts smelling cooked, 3-4 minutes, then add the mole paste (warning: the paste stains like crazy, so take care when unwrapping and cutting it). Use a wooden spoon to break the paste up until it is completely blended with the tomato puree and sizzling. Add the reserved water, the carrots, and potatoes, and let simmer over medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Add chayote or zucchini and chicken thighs. Cook for another 10 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender. Feel free to add a little more water or chicken stock to keep the sauce thick but fluid. Serve with rice and perhaps beans and warm, fresh tortillas — from La Bendicion, even.* The mole paste is so fragrant that it would probably work well with tofu and vegetable stock (according to the ingredient list on the label, the paste is vegetarian).

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