Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Adventures in Mole

There are a lot of great food traditions in a lot of different cultures, but few have captured my imagination like Mexican Mole sauce. (Pronounced mo - lay). I first experienced great mole sauce in Chicago at a little place on North Clark called "Nuevo Mexicano". Their mole was second only to their margaritas and I am sure that one only made the other that much better. I never thought much about making this interesting sauce until I left Chicago. After all, why make it when I could go get it and the whole great experience I had around this sauce and restaurant? It's my treat. I currently have the same thinking around Chicken Makhani. Why make it when I can get orgasmic Makhani at "Thali of India" right here in Rochester? Besides, each of these foods take some real effort.

So a few years ago, I started dipping into making a mole sauce. It is interesting to find that there as many varieties of mole sauces as there are Mexican grandmothers. The core is pretty much the same - peppers and a sweetener, often in the form of chocolate. After a couple of different varieties, I have settled currently into one that is in a Mexican cookbook by Marlena Spieler. Here is what it says (Instructions in bold are my additions):


3 Fresh Mulato Peppers (I think peppers can be varied to some degree)
3 Fresh Mild Ancho Chiles
5-6 Frech Anaheim Chiles
1 Onion, Chopped
5 Garlic Cloves, Chopped
1 lb ripe Tomatoes
2 Corn tortillas, preferable stale, cut into small pieces
pinch of cloves
pinch of fennel seeds
1/8 tsp each of Ground Cinnamon, Coriander and cumin
3 Tbsp lightly toasted Sesame seeds or tahini
3 Tbsp. flaked or coarsely ground blanched almonds
2 Tbsp. raisins
1 Tbsp, Peanut butter (Optional)
2 Cu. Chicken Stock
3-4 Tbsp. Grated Unsweetened Chocolate (Hershey's Cocoa Powder)
2 Tbsp. Mild Chili Powder
3 Tbsp. Vegetable Oil
1 Tbsp. Lime Juice
Salt and Black Pepper

1. Using Metal tongs, toast each chili over an open flame for a few seconds until the color darkens. Alternatively, roast in an ungreased frying pan over a medium heat, turning constantly for about 30 seconds.
2. Place the toasted chilies in a bowl or a pan and pour boiling water over to cover. Cover with a lid and leave to soften for at least one hour or overnight. Once or twice lift the lid and rearrange the chilies so that they soak evenly. (Make sure to turn off the heat when you add the water).
3. Remove the softened chilies with a slotted spoon. Discard the stems and the seeds and cut the flesh into pieces. Place in a blender. (Do a quick blend)
4. Add the onion, garlic, tomatoes, tortillas, cloves, fennel seeds, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, sesame seeds, almonds, raisins and peanut butter if using, then process to combine. With the motor running, add enough stock through the feed tube to make a smooth paste. Stir in the remaining stock, chocolate, and chili powder.
5. Heat the oil in a heavy based pan until it is smoking, then pour in the mole mixture. It will sputter and pop as it hits the oil. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occassionally to prevent it from burning. Season with salt, pepper, and lime juice, and serve.


I rolled these with cheese into some corn tortillas and baked them in the sauce for 20 minutes at 375F. I would love to spend an afternoon with a real abuela and see how this sauce was made before the age of blenders. There must have been a lot of soaking and hand mashing involved. What struck me in making this great dish is the fact that I already had every ingredient in my kitchen sans the corn tortillas. They are pretty much all the same ingredients I use to make Thai food. Go figure...

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