Mole!

I have just returned from a beautiful holiday in Mexico, my third trip to this wonderful land. Before these visits I knew NOTHING about the food. I didn’t grow up eating it. My first experiences came when I moved to New York and was taken by my now-husband to the back of a deli in Williamsburg to a “hidden” taco kitchen. For this then-vegetarian the tacos consisted of simple, fresh salad with beans, cheese and super hot sauces. I liked it. But I still didn’t understand his deep love for the cuisine - this was a person who had chosen to work with Rick Bayless at Topolobampo and Frontera Grill in Chicago so he could learn more about the food.

It wasn’t until my first visit to Mexico that I really, truly experienced spectacular Mexican food. We found Cetli, a lovely kitchen run my a tiny lady, with candles and string lights illuminating the tables adorned with pretty Mexican lace and colorful Day of the Dead dolls. Here we ate many things I had never experienced, from tortilla soup to huitlacoche (pronounced “whee-tala-coach-a” and also known as “corn smut” or “Mexican truffles”). But my favorite was, by far, the mole (pronounced mo-lay). It was thick, rich and magically complex. It was unlike anything I had tasted before. Made from chillies but not too spicy, packed with nuts and seeds, thinned with tomato sauce to make a velvet texture, laced with cocoa but not chocolatey. I was super excited to learn more.

The day after we arrived back in New York I set about making my first mole. We had books with plenty of recipes. I gathered together the more than 20 ingredients and began to prepare. De-seeding, de-veining, soaking, sauteing, roasting, grinding, blending, combining, blending again...the whole thing took two days, but it was DELICIOUS and I was so pleased to have made it! I also realised this was a crazy amount of time and saw why this dish was usually reserved for a feast, for celebrations, and often cooked as a family. It was a while before I did it again.

The second time we made it I was helped by somebody who really knew what she was doing. One afternoon after dining at Cosme we met one of the sous chefs and she agreed to come teach us a thing or two. We had an amazing afternoon talking over the wonders of Mexican food and learning about tortilla and mole. The sauce she shared with us was much faster and just as amazing.

The past two trips to Mexico we have rented a house with a lovely kitchen so that we could experiment with making dishes with the local ingredients. The moles we made were prepared from the memory of the experiments and lessons carried out at home, using the ingredients we had to hand. I am in no way suggesting I am an expert here, but I feel like it’s ok for me to offer a version of our version in the hopes that you will go try to create your own. Think of it like Italian pesto, or Indian curry, there are many variations. What I love is the alchemy in taking pretty simple ingredients and creating something unexpected. Plus, it has the added bonus of being super good for you and naturally gluten free!

So if you like this version, go and read some more, get a recipe and make the insane two-day-long version and then find your own way. Whatever you do, try it. I promise, it is a magical experience. And remember to comment below and share some photographs with me on Instagram and Facebook!

Mole

  • 4 cups mixed chillies (eg guajillo, pasilla, ancho, costeno, chilhuacle rojo, chilhuacle amarillo, negro chilhuacle chiles), stem and seeds removed
  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup of almonds and/or walnuts and/or pecans roughly chopped
  • ¾ cup pumpkin seeds
  • ½ cup sesame seeds (unhulled)
  • Small teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 cloves
  • 4 allspice
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes (or 1 large can tomatoes), chopped (you could also roast the tomato before for a deeper flavor)
  • ½ cup raisins and/or prunes
  • 2 litres water
  • ½ cup chocolate, best quality, dark
  • Sea salt

Method

  1. Place the chillies into a bowl of hot water, allowing to re-hydrate for a minute or two. Drain and squeeze out water.
  2. In a large pot, over a medium heat, saute the onions and garlic until translucent, around 5-8 minutes. Season.
  3. Add the nuts and seeds and cook for a further 3 - 5 minutes.
  4. Add the chillies, cook for a minute.
  5. Add herbs, tomatoes and raisins/prunes. Cook for a further minute.
  6. Add water and bring to a simmer for around 5 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool before blending the mix until very smooth. I use a Vitamix. If your blender isn’t as powerful you may need to pass the mole through a strainer.
  8. Rinse the pan.
  9. Return the sauce to the pan over a low to medium heat. Add the chocolate, stirring until silky smooth.
  10. Check for seasoning and adjust as needed.
  11. Simmer for a further 30 minutes. The sauce should be rich and thick. If you feel you need it needs to be thicker, add some stale bread (obviously don't do this if you need it to be gluten free), some tortilla or some more toasted nuts/seeds (this will require another blending). If the sauce feels too thick, add further liquid.
Leela Le NouryComment