Cooking any one of Mexico's famously delicious moles makes me feel more like I'm in an alchemist's workshop than in a kitchen. This delicious amarillito, or "little yellow," mole is a classic. It is easy compared with how laborious some of Mexico's other moles can be — it can be made, as we Mexicans say, "with one hand on your hip." It is light and bright, but despite the fact that it's not actually yellow, the name has stuck.
The dish comes from Oaxaca, a state in southern Mexico known in the culinary world for its many versions of mole. The chochoyotes, or dimpled corn masa dumplings, enrich and thicken the sauce, and the dimple in the center of each one holds the sauce like a tasty, fluffy edible spoon.
<p><strong>*Note:</strong> This recipe calls for the herb hoja santa; its name means "sacred leaf." The leaves are 3-8 inches long, green, and heart-shaped, with a distinctive smell and flavor that reminds me of anise seed. The leaves are found fresh or dried; the dried have a mellower flavor. For this dish, you can use a couple sprigs of cilantro instead, which, although quite different in flavor, complements the sauce nicely and, in fact, is used instead of hoja santa in some areas of Oaxaca.</p>
<p>Sauce can be made up to 1 week ahead, covered, and refrigerated; chicken and dumplings will keep refrigerated for up to 3 days.</p>
Heat a comal or large skillet over medium heat until hot. Lay the chiles flat in the pan and toast them until they become fragrant and pliable and their color darkens, for 10-15 seconds per side. Take care not to let them burn, or they will turn bitter. Remove from the heat.
In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the toasted chiles with the tomatillos, tomato, and garlic. Add water to cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a medium simmer and cook until the tomatillos and tomato are soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the chiles, tomatillos, tomato, and garlic to a blender orthe bowl of a food processor and let cool slightly. Add the cloves, cinnamon, oregano, salt, and pepper and purée until smooth.
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomatillo purée and cook until it thickens, about 10 minutes, stirring often.
Add the chicken broth and hoja santa leaves, if using. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat.
In a large bowl, mix the masa flour with the water, then knead until the dough is smooth and free of lumps, for about 1 minute. Add the lard, cinnamon, salt, and sugar and mix until well incorporated and smooth, for 1 more minute.
Roll the dough into 1-inch balls, then, with your little finger, make a dimple in the middle of each dumpling. Keep covered until ready to cook.
In a deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, to taste. Working in batches, add the chicken to the pan skin side down and brown on each side for 4-5 minutes.
Return the chicken to the pan, pour the mole sauce on top, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low.
One by one, add the dumplings to the mole and cook until the dumplings are cooked through and the mole has thickened enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 15 more minutes. Serve.