The combination of ancho, mulato and pasilla chillies form what is known as the "holy trinity": an essential spice base for mole (sauces) and in particular, one of Mexico’s national dishes, mole poblano.
Mole poblano is said to date back to the the 16th century when the nuns of the convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla went into a flurry over what to serve the archbishop who was visiting. They made a sauce using whatever spices and ingredients they had at hand, cooked their only turkey, and then served it with the sauce they had concocted. The archbishop loved the dish and so, mole was born. Mole is also used to make another popular Mexican dish: tamales.
If you can’t find ancho chillies, mulato and pasilla chillies are the best substitutes. The mulato is a type of dried poblano chilli, which is earthier and packs more of a punch, while the pasilla, the dried version of the chilaca chilli, has similar fruity flavours to the ancho.
Thanks to the increasing demand for authentic Mexican food in Australia, ancho chillies are now more widely available. Buy them whole or ground from Herbie’s Spices in Sydney (herbies.com.au) or online from Monterey Mexican Foods (montereyfoods.com.au).
Read Feast editor Alix Clark's blog post about an ancho chilli dessert.
Photography by Anson Smart.
As seen in Feast magazine, Sept 2011, Issue 1. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.