November 25, 2007 | 44 Comments
Mole (pronounced “Moh-lay” ) is to Mexico what curry is to India, marinara is to Italy, and harissa is to Morocco.
It is one of the master sauces of world cuisine, and comes in an array of intoxicating flavours and colours. The classic mole, for which Mexico is most famous, is a rich combination of toasted chillies, nuts, fruit, veggies, unsweetened ground cocoa beans, and a range of spices. The end result is often the highlight of any festival meal in a Mexican home.
We first had Mole Poblano - the mahogany version with chilies and chocolate – in a Mexican restaurant a few years ago. Sweet, smoky and bitter flavours, heady aromas, silken texture – “dramatic” is the best way to describe it.
When Cynthia sent us a package of precious cocoa sticks from the Caribbean, we got the impetus to finally make some mole.
Cocoa sticks are pure unsweetened cocoa, made from cocoa beans that are roasted, crushed and hand rolled. They are usually grated just before use, to make cocoa tea. In Mexico, the chocolate used to make mole is either the cinnamon-flavoured Ibarra brand, or bitter cocoa nibs.
The word “Mole” comes from the Aztec word “Molli,” meaning “concoction,” “stew” or “sauce” – very similar to the connotation “curry” has in India. It is believed that Mole, in its current form, was born between 1680 and 1688 in one of the convents in the Mexican city of Puebla de los Ángeles.
The two main regions of Mexico known for their moles are the southern regions of Puebla and Oaxaca. The latter is famous for its Seven Moles in a range of brilliant colours and flavours, ranging from the mild to the intense.
Most mole recipes have a long-list of ingredients. Ours has 26.
In kettles across Mexico, mole simmers, bubbles and burbles. The name, .. simply meaning “sauce,” refers not only to the sauce itself, but also to the meat, vegetables and other ingredients the sauce enrobes and flavors. Sauce and dish have become one.
Moles are as diverse as Mexico …
In general, however, when Mexicans say mole, they mean mole poblano, the Pueblan specialty and beloved national favorite whose inky, silky sauce is thickened with nuts, seeds and stale tortillas and flavored with herbs, spices, vegetables and a bit of semisweet chocolate. The sauce is baked with poultry pieces, traditionally turkey, and then draped across them just before serving.
Chocolate is a traditional ingredient in the mahogany mole poblano and mole negro oaxaqueño, the latter being black mole from the state of Oaxaca. Others include the golden mole amarillo, the red mole rojo, and the green mole verde . Some versions have nuts and seeds, others have tomatillos, yet others have cornmeal (masa), and the Manchamanteles (literally means ‘tablecloth stainer’ ) from Mexico City and Guadalajara have fruity tropical flavours like pineapple and plantains. They also differ in terms of the types and amount of chillies used.
When our Mexican friend Susanna came over, Bee approached her, pen and paper in hand, and asked her how she made mole. Her face lit up at the mention of the dish. She settled down into the couch and began: “Depending on what type you’re making, get a a jar of mole paste from the store. Then … “.
She wasn’t being facetious. Even in Mexico, most families buy freshly made mole pastes from their favourite vendors in packages like these. Restaurants in the US rarely serve mole, ‘cos it has a long list of ingredients, takes hours to make, and needs a lot of expertise to get right.
We were warned that this dish takes about 6 hours to make from start to finish, and that the whole process is best undertaken in stages over four days. That includes making the broth from scratch, and separately frying or toasting most of the 26 ingredients.
Since we substituted the turkey with Queso Blanco (a Mexican cheese that is almost identical to paneer), and used readymade veggie bouillon, it cut down a lot of the prep work. It took us 1.5 hours, start to finish. We recommend that it be kept for atleast a day for the flavours to blend and deepen, before consumption.
1. It is important to get the three varieties of chillies specified in the recipe. They have different flavour dimensions and levels of smokiness. None of these varieties are really ‘hot’. More about chili varieties HERE.
2. Each of the chilli varieties should be fried separately ‘cos they are of varying thickness, after removing the membranes and seeds (toasting the latter makes them very bitter). We got a confusing barrage of advice. Some sites state that they should just get hot, not toasted, others state that they “should be burned without burning”.
“It’s controlled burning”, says Rick Bayless, of the process of dealing with the chillies. It’s described in beautiful detail HERE with a video demonstration. “If you toast too fast, all you get is bitterness.” Well, we toasted them for a short while (certainly not upto burning point) and ended with a very very bitter sauce.
We increased the jaggery from 2 tbsp to 2/3 cup. The next day, the bitterness mellowed down, and the flavours were just perfect.
Since this is not black mole, but the rich brown mole poblano, the chillies need not be taken to the ‘edge of being burnt’. Barely toasted is all we need. We prefer to be safe, rather than sorry. We also take solace from Bayless’s confession: “It was years before I attempted to put black mole on the menu.” This particular mole is not black, but the colour of dark chocolate.
3. We halved the recipe and still ended up with enough to feed an army.
DARK AND SPICY MOLE WITH QUESO BLANCO
(Mole Poblano de Queso Blanco)
Yields 2 quarts of sauce
1. The chillies:
Cut, deseed and remove membranes from
4 ounces dried chiles mulatos
1.25 ounces dried chiles anchos
1 ounce dried chiles pasilla negros
Save 1 tsp of the chilli seeds.
Turn on the exhaust fan, then in 2 tbsps oil, fry each type of chilli separately until slightly toasted. (See notes above) Remove them to a large bowl, cover the chiles with boiling water, weigh with a plate to keep them submerged, soak at least 1 hour, then drain and discard the chilli water.
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce (optional)
Puree everything together with half a cup of vegetable broth (we used Better than Bouillon) to a smooth paste.
2. The tomato-chocolate-spice-seed mixture:
Take 5 ounces of canned or fresh, cooked tomatoes,
Pound to a powder and add:
1 ounces bitter or bittersweet chocolate
5 black peppercorns
2 cloves (or about 1/8 teaspoon ground)
1/4 teaspoon aniseed
1/2 inch cinnamon stick
In a medium size skillet set over medium heat, dry toast the
reserved chilli seeds (1 tsp)
2 tbsps. white sesame seeds
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
one at a time, stirring each until it has lightly browned. Add to the tomato mixture.
3. The nuts, flavorings and thickeners:
Frying individually in 1/4 cup oil:
1 ounce unskinned almonds (for 3-4 minutes)).
Remove, and next fry
1 ounce raisins (until puffed up)
Remove and fry together
1/2 cup onion, sliced
1 clove peeled and chopped garlic
until well caramelised (about 8 minutes)
Remove, and next fry
1 corn tortilla (or 1 slice of old firm bread), stale or dried out
Add everything to the tomato mixture and grind with as much vegetable broth as required to a smooth puree.
In the same oil, fry the chilli puree for 4-5 minutes, then add the tomato paste and fry some more until thick.
Mix in 5 cups of vegetable broth, and salt to taste, partially cover, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer gently 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Finally, season with 2 tbsps maple syrup or jaggery - traditionally piloncillo is used. (We ended up adding 2/3rd cup. See notes above) If the sauce is thicker than heavy cream, thin it with a little broth.
Broil 4 cups of Queso Blanco (paneer or tofu will work as well) cubes until golden on the edges, or use them as they are (we didn’t broil them).
Shortly before serving add the cheese cubes to the sauce. Garnish with sesame seeds if you wish.
Better after a day, even better after two days.
Mole Poblano de Queso Blanco with Arroz Rojo
Verdict: Smoky, silken, sweet and bitter, all at once. Susanna tasted it two days after it was made and requested a container to take some home to her family. That’s the best compliment we’ve ever received.
This vegetarian Mexican feast goes to dear Meeta‘s Monthly Mingle @ What’s for Lunch, Honey?, where the theme is Traditonal Feasts.
This is our entry for Dhivya’s A.W.E.D @ Culinary Bazaar.
Filed Under: Almond, broth, cheese, Chillies/Peppers, Chocolate, cocoa-sticks, Dairy/Cheese, Mexico, mole-poblano, Onion/Shallot, Panela, Queso-Blanco, Raisin, Sesame Seeds, Tomato, vegetarian recipes