Mexican cuisine has changed over the centuries depending on the particular invader who imposed itself at the time. For example, when Cortez conquered the Aztecs with the assistance of modern day armament, the food the people ate changed as did their religion. The Spaniards not only imposed their will upon the Aztecs but the animals they brought with them. Pigs, cows, goats, chickens and ducks replaced the vegetarian diets of the Aztecs. Yet even though the indigenous population acquired a taste for these beasts of Western Europe, many Mexicans still held on to the roots of their ancestors.
When the French defeated the Spanish and occupied the landscape, Mexico came to acquire more of a French flair for sauces and a tendency to season their food with more of a European influence. After a short occupation of only a few years, Mexicans came to create a cuisine that was magical in flavor, and robust in it’s complexity and richness. Illustrative of these food traditions are the Mole sauces of their ancestors which became specialties of the Mexican cuisine. Roasted chiles, nuts, corn, spices and chocolate such as the famous Mexican Ibarra chocolate became the heart and sole of this “new cuisine”.
In recent years mole can be found in many locations but especially in the marketplaces of Mexico City, Oaxaca, and in the homes of virtually every family in Mexico. It’s not uncommon to find scores of compesinas, female farmers, offering theirown homemade moles in the marketplaces. They proudly display their packages of mole satisfying even the most discerning food critic.
The Oaxaca region of southern Mexican is famous for its moles— a Nahuatl word that simply means “mixture” but not necessarily one that contains chocolate. The Zapotec civilization of the pre Aztecs was located in this area. While their chiles, seeds and vegetables likely came from different varieties, it is said that they created the modern day moles of today. Moles are said to be the most complicated dishes of Mexico, but they are also considered the richest and most delicious of the Latin sauces made for special occasions and holidays.
In Oaxaca the moles come in 7 varieties which vary by the type and number of ingredients, type of chile, type of thickener, and whether they use chocolate.
1) Negro is a sweet – savory mole with lots of steps, grinding and stewing with multiple ingredients such as onion, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, cumin, dried chiles, pumpkin and sesame seeds, hoja santos, cilantro, bread for thickening, and, dried fruit for sweetness, and plenty of dark, bitter chocolate;
2) Red Mole also known as Mole Poblano which is similar to black mole includes dried red chiles like pasilla, guajillo and ancho as well as pulverized raisins and almonds or peanuts ;
3) Coloradito is unique in that it uses plantain as a thickener;
4) Amarillo is one of the few moles that uses no chocolate or sweetness whatsoever; It’s not unlike an Indian curry and is extraordinarily versatile;
5) Verde uses pumpkin seeds, tomatillos, jalapenos and cilantro;
6) Chichilo is excellent for braises without any chocolate, and includes beef broth and chiles de arbol, anchos and guajillos with garlic and onions;
7) Manchamantel with red chorizo grease, tomatoes and ancho chiles, features fresh pineapple in addition to plantains. It is considered a sweet, spicy, fruity sauce.
These 7 moles and their variations have come to reflect the complexity involved in making these special sauces. But if you have the energy and the commitment—it can take all morning— you will create one of the magical dishes of the Pre-Aztec / Mexican Empire. It’s subtlety and taste brings a beauty and virtual spirituality to the dishes it complements. In fact, all the food that is grown in Mexico can be complemented with moles— as a braise, marinade or sauce. Fish, chicken, duck, meats of all kind are all involved in making moles special.
The Oaxacan red mole recipe below is particularly delicious with chicken, duck or turkey. I like it with brown rice or egg noodles. The sauce keeps up to a week and can be frozen up to 3 months. And the recipe yields about 2 1/2 cups.
Oaxacan (Zapotec) Mole Rojo
Ingredients yield 21/2 cups Red Mole
1 inch baguette, brioche, or any enriched roll torn into pieces
1 corn tortilla, torn into 1-inch strips 2 plum tomatoes, cut in half crosswise
2 tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 dried pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 dried chipotle chiles, stemmed and seeded
1/2 cup peanut oil
1 1/2 cups water 2 cups chicken broth
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 head garlic, peeled and sliced
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup raw, unsalted almonds
1/4 cup raisins
1 tablespoon sugar or agave
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
3 all spice berries
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons whole cloves, ground
1. Stem and seed the chiles in a large pot and tear them into small pieces.
2. Toast guajillo chiles, ancho chiles, pasillas and chipotle chiles in a dry pan over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Be careful not to burn.
3. Fill the pot with water at medium high heat. Place all the chiles in the pot stirring constantly, until warm and aromatic, about 15 minutes. Discard the water and transfer the soft chiles to the blender with all the chicken broth for about 5 minutes.
4. Dry roast the pumpkin seeds in a saute pan until they are finished popping. Be careful because they can burn easily.
5. In a skillet saute the almonds over medium heat for 5 minutes in half the peanut oil until browned.
6. Puree the tomatillos, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, almonds, tortilla strips and bread slices in a food processor or blender. Add the rehydrated chiles, raisins, garlic, 1 1/2 cups of water, spices, salt and sugar and puree together until very smooth. Cook this mixture together in a saucepan at medium heat for 30-35 minutes at low temperature and strain through a sieve.
7. Heat the remaining peanut oil in another skillet until almost smoking. Add the sauce and fry for 10-15 minutes longer— stirring constantly.
8. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Blend into the sauce at the last minute.
9. If sauce gets too thick, add more water (1/4 cup and stir for 3-5 minutes. Set aside and cover until ready to use.
Red Mole is wonderful with chicken, duck or turkey or any assortment of vegetables. It’s vibrant color and extraordinary flavor is wonderful. If you prefer you may wish to braise the chicken in the red mole instead of saucing after cooking your main dish. Enjoy!
For more information, send questions or comments about this article to Chef Alan Zox, Ph.D at [email protected] Visit Chef Alan’s website at www.zoxkitchen.com to see our food blog, the weekly food column and an archive of recipes and articles weekly.