For the pasilla chilli seasoning paste
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
6 dried pasilla chillies, stemmed and seeded
1tsp dried oregano, preferably Mexican
¼tsp freshly ground black pepper
⅛tsp freshly ground cumin
For the lamb 1-2tsp vegetable oil
700g well-trimmed, boneless lamb for stew (preferably from the shoulder, cut into 25mm cubes)
350g beef broth
1 medium-size sweet potato, peeled and cut into 25mm cubes (or a peeled 220g wedge of pumpkin, or acorn/butternut squash - cubed)
Pinch of salt
White onion rings
Sprigs of coriander
To make the pastilla seasoning paste, roast the unpeeled garlic for about 15 minutes on an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat.
Toast the chillies on another side of the griddle or skillet, one or two at a time. Open them out flat and press down firmly on the hot surface with a spatula; in a few seconds, when they crackle or send up a wisp of smoke, flip them, and press down to toast the other side.
In a small bowl, cover the chillies with hot water and let them rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure even soaking. Drain, reserving 60mm of the soaking water.
In a food processor or blender, combine the chillies, 60mm of the soaking liquid, garlic, oregano, pepper and cumin. Blend to a smooth purée, scraping down and stirring frequently. (If necessary, add water a little at a time to get the mixture moving through the blender blades.) Press through a chinois into a small bowl.
To prepare the lamb, heat 1tbs of the oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy skillet. In an uncrowded single layer, brown the meat on all sides. (Do this in batches if your skillet isn't large enough to hold it all at once, adding oil as needed.)
Return all meat to the pan and stir in the chilli seasoning. Cook for about three minutes, stirring, scraping and turning regularly until the chilli mixture is very thick. Stir in the broth, partially cover, and simmer over low heat for 25 minutes. Add the sweet potato (or pumpkin) and stir to coat with sauce; continue simmering for about 30 minutes until meat and potato are tender.
Stir in enough honey to give the sauce a slightly sweet edge, then season with salt. Simmer for five minutes longer to blend the flavours. Ladle on to a warm, deep platter, decorate with the onion rings and sprigs of coriander.
Variations and improvisations
Pork can be substituted for the lamb. The sauce (prepared as described, simply leaving the meat out) is delicious with venison (grilled, roasted or stewed), roasted duck legs and grilled eggplant.
This dish also works well as a taco filling: omit the sweet potato and cut the meat into 12mm cubes; boil, uncovered, until the sauce is thick enough to cling nicely to the meat.