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Holy Hot Mole!
Article first published in Vol. 9, 1991.
By Barbara Muñar
Because they had no meat to serve with their dish, they killed the only turkey they had. The meat was boiled for several hours. Finally all the ingredients were combined and placed in a huge pot and boiled until they formed a wonderful, thick, rich sauce.
The archbishop was more than delighted when he tasted the uniquely flavored sauce.
Drawing by Myriam Garcia
Little did the nuns know that as a result of their prayer, this lowly dish would some day become the national dish of Mexico. It was then that mole (pronounced mo-leh) made history in the humble kitchen of the nuns.
Another story maintains that the great Aztec leader Moctezuma served mole at a banquet for Cortez and his conquistadores while mistaking them for gods. The name comes from the Aztec word "molli" meaning a sauce flavored with chiles. According to this legend, mole was known as the ceremonial, not national dish of Mexico.
Those who are not familiar with this thick, rich sauce may find it difficult, even disgusting, to imagine the taste of chocolate and chiles mixed together. Those who are familiar with the dish know only the most widely eaten mole poblano.
Mole poblano is one of the most popular moles, which use turkey. The sauce is poured over the boiled turkey and garnished with sesame seeds.
In some recipes the dish is made with more than twenty ingredients and can take up to two days to prepare. One specific recipe, for example, calls for a whole 8-lb.turkey, chiles mulatos (which are similar to the anchos except they have a sweeter taste), chile pasilla (dried red chile), chiles anchos (the red, mature chiles poblanos), peppercorns, anise, raisins, corn tortillas, white bread (bolillos), Mexican chocolate, cinnamon, fresh cilantro and different types of nuts.
Today, there are at least fifteen kinds of moles with which most people, even on the border, are not familiar.
The mole verde con pescado( green mole with fish), for example, is made with flounder, chiles serranos( green chiles), tomatillos (green tomatoes), and fresh cilantro to give the mole its green color. Other ingredients include onions, garlic, dry white wine, almonds, walnuts and jalapeños. In this particular recipe, the fish is first boiled, then topped with the rich green sauce.
Another kind of mole is the mole puerco (pork mole), which is prepared with cubes of fried pork (carnitas) and a variety of chiles. Again the recipe contain a wide variety of ingredients such as tomatoes, chile serrano, oregano, thyme, bay leaf, chile mulato, chile pasilla, chile ancho, cinnamon, cumin, nuts, fresh cilantro and Mexican chocolate.
Pork mole can be either green or red. The green pork mole is also called mole de chile serrano because of the peppers used.
A variation of mole is called pipian. Pipian is a sauce also prepared with chiles, but it differs from mole because its main ingredients are pumpkin seeds. Mole on the other hand, uses sesame seeds. Pipian also differs from mole because it contains no chocolate.
People often don't realize that both mole and pipian can be prepared with fish, chicken, beef, seafood or turkey and can be either red or green, depending on what ingredients are used during preparation.
Both dishes are prepared with an array of ingredients that includes several types of chiles such as pasilla and ancho to provide the dish's taste and color. For example, in green mole serrano and jalapeño chiles are used to give the dish its green color. Red moles, on the other hand, are prepared with pasilla, ancho or mulato chile.
While several types of chiles give mole their flavors and colors, crumbled hard rolls, corn tortillas and the various types of nuts give the sauce its texture and thickness. Cinnamon and chocolate are used to provide the unique taste and richness.
Both variations are difficult to make. Timing and texture play important roles. For example, in order to make a good pot of mole, the cook must make sure not to grind the wrong chiles at the wrong time. Some chiles are toasted first before grinding, while others are boiled, then ground. Nuts are to be fried in oil with the garlic while the onion is pureed.
Because both sauces are very complicated and time-consuming to prepare, many people have turned to commercial versions.
Using store-bought mole and pipian cuts down on the amount of time a cook spends over a hot stove waiting for the ingredients to reach their boil to thicken the sauce. It also eliminates the many steps necessary to prepare only the chiles.
Mexican food has always been admired for its array of colorful dishes and its endless use of chiles. Mole and pipian are two wonderful examples with many variations.
Those who are familiar with the more common dishes such as mole poblano and pipian should try other varieties. People could learn to appreciate ethnic food by experimenting with new ingredients and discovering new tastes.