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Posted on Tue, Feb 28, 2012 : noon

Pork meatballs in mole sauce - chocolate isn't just for desserts

By Mary Bilyeu

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It's Day 2 of my "Chopped" challenge, in which I had asked my blog readers to suggest ingredients that I would then have to use in creating an appetizer, an entree or a dessert.  

My fabulously wonderful blogging buddy Jenn, of Jenn's Food Journey (who guest posted about Runza Bites in honor of the Michigan-Nebraska game this past fall), took me up on the project with the following dare:

"Oh my gosh, what a great way to challenge yourself!! Wow, let's see.... I'll suggest dark chocolate in the appetizer round. :) Good luck!!!"

Well, chocolate - of course! — is usually reserved for sweets. I had visions of a rich and decadent mousse, of decorative chocolate drizzles tucked into whipped cream, of melting the lusciousness and sprinkling it with lovely little tidbits like glacéed cherries and candied orange peel to make small and sophisticated candies.

But while those would have made exceptional desserts, they didn't qualify as appetizers, did they?

So then my mind meandered down to Mexico, where dark chocolate is a regular ingredient in savory sauces. I, myself, have been known to toss chocolate into chili, so this wasn't too far-fetched to me.

I started to do some research, and found the following information about pipián sauces, which are a type of mole, at

A pipián is a sauce thickened with ground seeds or nuts and Mexican food at its most historical and authentically pre-Hispanic. It belongs to the family of the great 'moles' of Mexico, and while the actual word mole, derived from the Aztecs’ Náhuatl language, simply means sauce, today it is almost invariably a sauce containing chillies .... (This sauce is) richly flavored with spices and dried chillies, and further enhanced by the acidity of tomatoes or tomatillos."

I also found this on Wikipedia:

The term mole is most often associated with thick, dark, brownish-red sauces, but the term is really more general than that .... Pipián is a type of mole which mostly consists of ground squash seeds. It does not contain chocolate (though other moles do) ... (and is) served with poultry and pork, and sometimes with fish or vegetables."

And so, armed with this information as well as a tendency to put my own spin on foods by respecting tradition but tweaking it a bit, I started to create my dish. Some pepitas would be necessary... some peppers, perhaps chipotles in adobo sauce... some tomatoes... and don't forget the requisite chocolate!

I somehow had a notion about wanting to serve something small, like meatballs, rather than strips of meat; but I also didn't want to just serve boring ol' rice, or stuff the filling into a tortilla that would just be a drippy mess with the sauce.  

Some red chard looked gorgeous at the market on the day I did my shopping, and so it became the accompaniment. (Yes, that really is how it works sometimes in my brain — no plan, just whatever strikes my fancy!) It definitely paired well with the sauce and with the pork.

Jenn loves both spicy food and her signature sauces. So I tried to stay true to her spirit with these tender meatballs and their fabulous accompaniments

Meatballs in Mole Sauce with Swiss Chard

1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1/2 cup roasted, salted pepitas, coarsely ground
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1/4 cup chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup beer
2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

In a large saucepan, heat the oil, cumin seeds, and pepitas over medium heat; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Combine the tomato sauce and chipotle peppers in a blender; puree until smooth, then pour into the saucepan. Stir in the salt and beer; bring to a boil. Turn heat down to "low," then stir in the chocolate until melted.

1 pound ground pork
1 medium scallion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon oil

In a large bowl, combine pork, scallion, parsley, salt, pepper, and chili powder; combine well.

Form generous 1-inch meatballs. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add the meatballs and cook for 6-7 minutes until well browned on all sides and slightly firm.  Carefully add the meatballs to the simmering sauce, cover, and cook for 30 minutes.

Swiss Chard:
1 tablespoon oil
8 ounces red Swiss chard, torn into strips
pinch of kosher salt

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chard and the salt; cook just until wilted.

To serve: Place the chard onto a serving platter.  Top with the meatballs and the sauce.

Serves 6 as an appetizer.

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Mary Bilyeu writes about her adventures in the kitchen - making dinner, celebrating holidays, entering cooking contests ... whatever strikes her fancy. She is also on a mission to find great deals for her Frugal Floozie Friday posts, seeking fabulous food at restaurants on the limited budget of only $5 per person. Feel free to email her with questions or comments or suggestions:

You should also visit Mary's blog — Food Floozie — on which she enthuses and effuses over all things food-related.

The phrase "You Should Only Be Happy" (written in Hebrew on the stone pictured in this post) comes from Deuteronomy 16:15 and is a wish for all her readers - when you come to visit here, may you always be happy.