Ancho Chile Sauce (Busy Person's Mole)
Mole, perhaps Mexico's most famous sauce, is really a whole family of sauces based on varying proportions of chiles, spices, seeds, nuts, fruits, and chocolate. True moles are too time-consuming to make from scratch, but this simplified sauce uses many classic mole techniques: toasting the chiles and garlic in a hot skillet, soaking and pureeing the chiles, frying the sauce to develop its flavors, but in less than 1/2 the time.
With scissors, split open the chiles, and discard the stems and seeds. Cut the chiles into large flat pieces.
In a large heavy skillet, toast the chile strips over moderate heat, turning occasionally with a spatula to prevent them from burning, until they begin to darken and smell pungent, about 3 minutes.
Transfer to a medium bowl. Cover with about 2 cups boiling water and let soak for 20 minutes, or until softened.
Meanwhile, add the garlic cloves to the skillet and toast for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until the skins have blackened in spots and the garlic has softened somewhat. Remove from the heat.
In a blender, combine the garlic, cinnamon, basil, oregano, cumin seeds, chicken broth, and vinegar.
Drain the ancho chiles and add to the mixture. Blend at high speed until smooth, about 1 minute.
In a large nonstick skillet, combine the oil and onions, cover and cook over low heat until the onions have begun to release some liquid, about 5 minutes.
Uncover, increase the heat to moderate, and sauté the onions until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.
Add the ancho chile mixture and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes and ham, partially cover, and simmer until the sauce is very thick, about 25 minutes.
Add the chocolate and simmer until the sauce is very thick and has reduced to about 4 cups, about 10 minutes longer.
Discard the ham (which will have given up its flavor) and add the sugar and salt to taste.