Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Study of Mole

Many years ago I had a dish at a faculty party called Chicken Mole (pronounced mo-lay). It was a chicken dish, with pieces of chicken in a dark red sauce. All these years I’ve been under the mistaken impression that red mole was the only kind of mole. After seeing a post on Is it EDible?, I learned that there’s a green mole. I had to give it a try, and at the same time, decided to learn more about moles. First, I followed Ed’s directions and bought a jar of Mole Verde at the Mexican grocery store in Yucaipa. (The bigger stores carried only the red). I was intrigued by the list of ingredients in Mole Verde: pumpkin seeds, soybean oil, crackers, sesame seeds, peanuts, salt, chile peppers and “natural flavors.” When you open the jar to use some of it for a recipe, you need a very strong spoon, because the mixture is a paste that’s so thick it’s almost solid. In addition, if the recipe says to use only a quarter of a cup, then use only a quarter of a cup. I thought, “a quarter cup doesn’t look like a whole lot, maybe I should throw in a little more.” Wrong! It softens and dissolves into the broth, and if you use too much you end up with a thick muddy-looking sludge. So don’t use too much!

Once I made dinner, I got on the internet and tried to learn more about mole. The best resource is a site called The Mole Page. In addition to lots of recipes, I found information about types of moles and the history of mole. Bob, the owner of the site, says this:

"The word "Mole" comes from the Aztec word "Molli," meaning "concoction," "stew" or "sauce." To the unenlightened, Mole is a Mexican chocolate sauce. In Mexico, Mole is a hundred dishes in a hundred homes. It varies from town to town and family to family. The most famous Mole, "Mole Poblano de Guajolote" (made with Wild Turkey--the bird, not the booze) is a special complex dish carefully woven together using dried chiles, nuts, seeds, vegetables, spices and chocolate (preferably ground, toasted cacao beans, but Mexican chocolate, such as Ibarra brand, is acceptable).

Some refer to Mole Poblano as the National dish of Mexico. But there are many, many Moles, including Green Mole with Tomatillos, Green Mole with Pumpkinseeds, Orange-Red Mole, Red Mole, Yellow Mole and the famous peasant Soup, Mole de Olla. To some, Mole is a sauce poured on enchiladas and heated up in a microwave. To others, Mole is a Turkey (or Chicken) stew. To me, Mole is my expression of passion for cooking, especially cooking with chiles. It is a tribute to 17th century tradition while it allows me to create a new dish every time I make it.

Today, there are two focal points for Mexican Mole: 1) Puebla and 2) Oaxaca, though Veracruz is famous for "Mole Verde" (with Tomatillos and NO nuts or seeds), Guerrero features "Mole Verde" (with ground pumpkinseeds), Mexico City and Guadalajara play host to "Manchamanteles de Cerdo y Pollo" (simple Red Mole with Meat, Fowl and Fruit).”

This means that the mole I made for dinner probably originated in Guerrero. I have a jar of red mole that I bought at Trader Joe’s, and I bet it’s like the mole I had all those years ago.

I don’t know if the Guerrero version has mushrooms in it, but Ed put them in his, and it really “made” the dish. I didn’t have DH and K really ate it up, and declared it a success. Thanks, Ed!

Chicken Mole Verde
from Ed of Is it EDible?

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves, garlic minced
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (I used breasts this time)
8 ounces mushrooms, halved
4 ounces Dona Maria Mole Verde sauce
2 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1/2 cup queso fresco (a Mexican white cheese with a crumbly texture)

In a large saucepan with a lid, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add in shallots and garlic. Sauté for a minute. Add chicken. Saute until lightly brown on all sides. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Cover and reduce heat to medium low. Let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring to blend once the mole paste melts. Sauce will thicken on its own. Just before serving, sprinkle the queso fresco on top. Serve over rice.

I have a jar of red mole sauce that I bought at Trader Joe’s. Red mole usually has unsweetened chocolate in it, which is common in some Mexican sauces. The red comes from the chocolate and the red chiles used for spice. It’s prepared in the same way, and tastes just as good–just different.


Sara said...

Cyndi thanks for a great post. I love Mole and found this really intersting. I've often thought about trying to make Mole from scratch as we don't have many Mexican restaurants in town, but the list of ingredients is amazing! I didn't know there we so many diffrent kinds. Thanks again!

Ed Tep said...

Cyndi - Wow! I learned so much about mole from reading your post. Previously, all I knew was that I liked how it tasted. =) Thanks for giving the recipe a try!