Cook: Spice up Shabbat with flavors from south of the border

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I’m always looking for a Jewish connection to the foods I love to eat. That’s why I was especially pleased when my older son told me he had eaten chicken mole for Shabbat dinner at the home of a friend whose parents were from Mexico.

Mexico’s Jewish community, with an estimated population of 68,000, is composed of Ashkenazi Jews as well as Jews from Syria, Turkey and elsewhere. While much of the food they eat reflects their backgrounds, the ingredients and tastes of Mexico have influenced them, as well.

Mole is a style of Aztec chili sauce with many variations, including some that include chocolate. The “Almost Mole” variation below skips soaking, grinding and straining dried chilies but still delivers a complex and slightly tongue-tingling dish.

The ceviche recipe is a refreshing starter.


Friday Night Ceviche

Serves 4 as appetizer

1⁄2 lb. mild, white fish fillets such as tilapia or snapper

1⁄2 cup chopped tomato (1⁄4-inch pieces)

1⁄2 cup chopped white onion (1⁄4-inch pieces)

1⁄4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves

1 tsp. minced, seeded jalapeño

1⁄4 tsp. salt

1⁄8 tsp. ground black pepper

6 oz. fresh lime juice

2 Tbs. canola oil

diced avocado, optional for garnish

Rinse and cut fish into 1⁄4-inch pieces. Place in glass or other nonreactive bowl. Add tomato, onion, cilantro, jalapeño, salt and pepper. Stir well. Combine juice and oil and pour over fish mixture. Fish should be just covered. Add additional juice and oil if needed. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 hours to overnight, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasonings. Garnish with diced avocado. Serve on top of lettuce or with tortilla chips.


Almost Mole with Chicken

Serves 6

1 recipe spice paste (see below)

2 Tbs. chicken fat or vegetable oil

3 lbs. chicken thighs or other bone-in parts

1 cup thinly sliced onion

4 tsp. minced garlic

1 cup chopped carrots

1 cup chopped red bell pepper

1 large can (24-26 oz.) tomatoes, strained

1 cup chicken broth or stock, with more as needed

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

8-inch flour tortilla, processed into fine crumbs

finely chopped fresh cilantro (optional for garnish)

Make the spice paste and have it ready (see below). Heat fat until melted and hot in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium-high heat. Brown chicken pieces (removing skin first if desired), working in batches if necessary. Remove chicken from pan. Add onions and sauté until softened, add garlic and sauté until garlic is golden, add carrots and bell peppers and sauté for several minutes.

Add in spice paste, stirring and sautéing until well incorporated with the sautéed vegetables. Stir in strained tomatoes and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer. Add chocolate and stir until melted. Stir in tortilla crumbs. Return browned chicken and any accumulated juices to pot. Bring to a simmer, lower heat and cover.

Cook at a simmer, stirring occasionally and turning chicken pieces so they are coated in the sauce, until chicken is cooked through. Add additional broth if needed as it cooks. The sauce should be thick but still a bit liquid. Garnish with cilantro.

Spice paste: In a food processor (or working in batches in a blender), chop 1 quartered onion, 4 garlic cloves, 2 Tbs. sesame seeds, 1⁄2 cup slivered, blanched almonds, 1⁄4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, 2 Tbs. ancho chili powder, 1 tsp. chipotle chili powder, 1⁄2 tsp. cinnamon, 1⁄2 tsp. ground coriander, 1⁄8 tsp. ground cloves, 1⁄4 tsp. salt and 1⁄8 tsp. pepper into a fairly smooth paste.

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. She blogs at Contact her at [email protected].

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].