Labor of Love: El Naranjo

Published On January 13, 2015 | January/February 2015

Executive Chef Iliana de la Vega brings us a delightful departure from the Tex-Mex cuisine we all know and love at El Naranjo restaurant and bar.

By Amanda Sprague

IEl Naranjo restaurant and bar, located on Rainey Street, serves traditional Mexican food that’s a true labor of love for Executive Chef and Owner Iliana de la Vega. All of the food is scratch made from the masa and the tortillas to the bread, the salsa and the moles, and it incorporates many rich traditions of Mexican cooking that closely resemble what de la Vega did at her first internationally acclaimed restaurant located in Oaxaca.
Though a departure from the Tex-Mex cuisine we all know and love, the flavors of the traditional “family house” cooking are delightful. There are also many options for vegetarian and vegan diners. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner and Sunday brunch.
“Oaxaca is known as the land of moles, and mole amarillo is a unique and rare concoction. Locally, we use rare chiles native to the area, but it can be wonderful, too, if using guajillo chiles instead. For many people, a mole is a spicy and chocolaty sauce, which is serious misconception for the moles that contain a trace of chocolate, but mole amarillo contains no chocolate. It is savory and delicious. Our moles are always vegetable based, and we give options for proteins such as chicken or duck breast, shrimp, pork chop or vegetables. Mole amarillo is very good with any seafood or fish.” – Chef Iliana de la Vega

Mole Amarillo de Oaxaca

Yellow Oaxacan Mole

(4 portions)


2 green tomatoes, large
10 tomatillos
1/2 white onion
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 chiles anchos, wiped clean, with seeds and veins removed
4 chiles chilcostles,* wiped clean, with seeds and veins removed
4 chiles chilhuacles amarillos,* wiped clean, with seeds and veins removed
4 chiles costeños amarillos,* wiped clean, with seeds and veins removed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
8 black peppercorns
4 cloves, whole
1/2 cup masa harina flour
1/2 bushel cilantro, fresh, tied in a bundle
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 chayote
1/4 pound green beans
Salt to taste
24 shrimp, 13/15 peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 Rajas de Chile con Limón recipe

Gently dry roast the chiles on a comal or skillet, and set over medium heat for a few seconds until aromatic. Soak the chiles in hot water for 15 minutes, drain and set aside.
Dry roast the green tomatoes, tomatillos and onion on a comal or skillet over medium heat. Keep turning until soft and blistered (about 15 minutes). Dry roast the garlic separately over low heat. When brown spots appear on the papery skin, remove the garlic and discard the skin.
In a small skillet, dry roast the black pepper, cloves and cumin until fragrant. Puree the chiles in the blender, adding water as needed, to form a smooth puree. Pass the chile puree through a fine mesh strainer, and set aside.
In same blender, puree the dry roasted vegetables and spices with water, as needed, to form a smooth puree. Pass through a small mesh sieve and set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium low, and add and fry the chile puree until most of the liquid evaporates and you can see the bottom of the pan when scraped, and the oil rises to the top.
Add the pureed mixtures, and stir occasionally until reduced over medium heat. Once the mole covers the back of a spoon and you can see the bottom of the pan when scraped, add 2 cups of water.
In a small bowl, mix half a cup of the masa with 1 cup of water. The mixture should be very smooth – no lumps. Add the masa mixture to the mole in a steady stream, stirring constantly while pouring. Cook the mole for 5 minutes, add the cilantro and season with salt.
In a medium saucepan, bring 2-and-a-half quarts of water to a boil. Add salt to taste, and cook the chayotes until they turn bright green (about 5 minutes). Remove and immerse the chayotes in an ice bath. Remove the core, and slice lengthwise. In the same boiling water, cook the green beans al dente. Remove and immerse in an ice bath.
Season the shrimp with salt; heat the olive oil in a sauté pan, and sauté the shrimp until done. Garnish the mole amarillo with rajas de chile con limón, and serve with white rice and warm corn tortillas.

*Note: These rare Oaxacan chiles can be substituted with guajillo chiles.

Rajas de Chile con Limón

Chile Strips Marinated in Lime Juice

(1-and-a-half cups)


3 Anaheim chiles*
1 jalapeño chile
12 pearl onions, white, quartered
3/4 cup fresh lime juice fresh
1 teaspoon dried marjoram dried
1 teaspoon dried oregano dried
Salt to taste

Roast the chiles over the flame, peel the chiles, remove and discard the seeds and stems and slice them lengthwise. Transfer the chiles to a non-reactive bowl, add the remaining ingredients, season with salt and marinate for at least two hours prior to serving.

*Note: The rajas will keep in the refrigerator for two days.
*Note: We traditionally use chile de agua, which is not available in the United States.

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