Mole, the savory Mexican sauce most of us know as chocolate and chili pounded to a smooth paste, is a traditional food celebrating Cinco de Mayo. Alex Pardo, part owner and chef of Jalapeno’s in Gloucester, grew up making day trips from his home in Mexico City to the city of Puebla, where people traveled for mole the way they travel to Essex for fried clams.
There are a few Puebla mole legends, but in Pardo’s version mole ingredients were first mixed in a molcajete (a lava rock mortar and pestle) in 1862 by Puebla nuns planning a quick escape from the offending French army. The nuns threw together foods that would best suit a long journey. Their chocolate and chili mixture, packed with protein and vitamins, was sachel-ready to make an old turkey or hunk of venison cooked over a campfire delicious and nutritious. Miraculously, the Mexicans Army defeated the French on May 5th, and Cinco de Mayo became the El Dia de la Batalla de Puebla, The Day of the Battle of Puebla. (It is NOT Mexican Independence Day, which is September 16th.) Cinco de Mayo can be a horn-honking, flag-waving celebration in this country, particularly in cities like Chicago with large Mexican communities, but in Mexico it’s recognized regionally, certainly in Puebla.
Mole, Pardo explained, has many variations in Mexico, the way curry in India comes in hundreds of flavors. The Puebla version is chocolate and chills, but there are green, black, yellow and Colorado moles. “Moles” simply means “sauce.” Still, traditionally, moles are a combination of often thirty ingredients, many of which are elaborately toasted and ground before mixing together. According to Rick Bayless, chef/owner of the well known Southwest restaurant in Chicago, Frontera Grill, the components to mole are generally five distinct tastes: chiles, sour (tomatillos), sweet (dried fruits, honey), spice and thickeners (nuts, bread crumbs).
To see Alex Pardo make Chicken Enchilladas with Mole go to the video: http://food.gloucestertimes.com/video/Chicken-Enchiladas.html
In my newspaper column this week I published David Lebovitz’ mole recipe, but I’m going to print my all time favorite mole recipe here: Rowan Jacobsen’s simplified version of the mole basics.
Poor Man’s Mole
1 tablespoon corn oil or lard
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup toasted pepitas
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted and their juice)
1 cup Choco-chile sauce (recipe below)
4 cups shredded or chunked cooked meat (chicken, turkey)
salt to taste
1 cup fresh cilantro
Heat the oil or lard in a skillet large enough to hold all the ingredients. When it’s shimmering, add the onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 4 minutes.
Combine the pepitas tomatoes, Choco-Chili Saue, and sauteed onions in a blender or food processor and blend until fairly smooth. A little texture is fine.
Return the sauce to the skillet and cook over low heat until it begn to bubble, about 5 minutes. Keep scrap8ng the bottom of the skillet with a flat spatula, as the thick sauce likes to stick.
Add the meat and simmer until everything is hot and the flavors have melded, about 15 minutes. The sauce thickens as it cooks so you may need to add liquid as you go. Water or stock is fine, but if you’ve really planned ahead you’ve saved the leftover soaking water from the Choco-Chili sauce. Taste and add salt if needed.
Garnish with cilantro and serve with tortillas or polenta.
Makes about 1 cup
2 ounces dried pasilla or ancho chilies
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 to 2 ounces baking or dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cocoa), finely chopped
1 teaspoon honey
zest and juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 teaspoon salt
Stem and seed the chilies. (This is easiest when thy’re in a dried state. The seeds rattle around inside the skins like beans in a maraca and simply fall out when you cut open the chilies.) Put them in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Let them sit for at least 15 minutes.
Drain the chilies, reserving the soaking liquid, and puree them in a food processor with the other ingredients, adding small amounts of soaking liquid as needed to make it blend smoothly. (You may also want to use the soaking liquid in a Poor Man’s Mole.) Taste and add more lime or salt if desired. The sauce will keep for at least a week (possibly forever, Jacobsen says he’s never tested it) and its flavor will actually improve after a day or so.