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Super Bowl Sunday is neck-and-neck with Thanksgiving as my favorite cooking day of the year.  What I love about cooking for the Super Bowl is that I can share food with friends, and there’s no turkey occupying the oven for the better part of the day.  And with this year’s Super Bowl just around the corner, I’ve already started planning my menu.

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Super Bowl party flavors always seem to lean Latin or Tex-Mex — and I suppose that’s because it’s not a football party without a mountain of tortilla chips and a vat of chili.  So these chicken meatballs make a great addition to elevate your tailgate spread.

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The sauce is deep and dense, and reminiscent of a mole.  But I wouldn’t dare call it a mole.  It’s a cheater’s version that can be made in an under an hour, uses cornstarch as a thickener, and doesn’t call for a shopping cart of ingredients.  Yet despite the simplicity of prepping this sauce, it’s a complex knot of rich chocolate, heat from the chiles, and brightening lime juice, and it pairs brilliantly with poultry.

I’ve included stovetop directions as well as Crock Pot directions (but even if you start in the Crock Pot, you’ll finish the recipe on the stove).

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Pasilla Chile & Cacao Chicken Meatballs

Makes about 15 meatballs | Cook time 60 mins (30 inactive)

For the sauce:

  • 1-2 dried pasilla chiles
  • 2 C vegetable broth
  • 2 T agave
  • 1 + 1/2 Tbsp sunflower seed butter (can sub tahini; avoid peanut butter, as it is too sweet)
  • 2-3 fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped (or 1/4 tsp dried)
  • 1/8 tsp oregano
  • 1/8 tsp marjoram
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp water

For the meatballs and serving:

  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 1/2 small onion, minced
  • 1/4 C breadcrumbs
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • cilantro, finely chopped
  • parsley, finely chopped
  • pumpkin seeds


  1. Roughly chop chiles and remove seeds.  Place chiles, broth, agave, sunflower seed butter, sage, oregano, marjoram, and cinnamon into stockpot with heavy lid.  Bring to a boil, cover, then reduce heat to a low simmer.  Simmer for 30-40 minutes until chiles have softened.
  2. Using an immersion or upright blender, process until smooth.  Return to stockpot [if using upright blender].  Add lime juice and cocoa, and mix until well incorporated.
  3. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and water, and whisk until smooth.  Add to sauce in stockpot, and mix until well incorporated.  Simmer over medium heat, stirring every so often, until sauce thickens to Kansas City barbecue sauce consistency.
  4. Meanwhile, combine chicken, minced onions, breadcrumbs, and salt and pepper, then form into meatballs.  Place in a lidded heavy skillet in a bit of olive oil over medium heat, turning a few times until cooked through.
  5. Toss cooked meatballs in sauce, and serve with chopped cilantro, parsley, pumpkin seeds, and lime wedges.

Crock Pot Directions:

  1. Roughly chop chiles and remove seeds.  Place all other sauce ingredients except cornstarch and water into Crock Pot, fasten lid, and set on medium-low (8 hour) setting.  Let it cook overnight, and keep on warm throughout the day until about 30 minutes before you wish to serve.
  2. Using an immersion or upright blender, process until smooth.  Transfer sauce to large stockpot.
  3. Proceed with Steps 3–5 in conventional directions above.

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