Over the past few years (i.e., college and beyond), I didn’t do much cooking. It was always too much of a hassle, and I would much rather write an essay than clean up a kitchen full of dishes. So I generally opted for super-easy things like rice or tofu. And snacky stuff.
Clearly, that wasn’t the healthiest or best thing for me to do. I’d always enjoyed baking, but the whole cooking thing…well…I could cook, I just generally chose to not. But when I did, it was all about my signature dishes like pad Thai and bento.
Anyway, so recently I’ve found that I’ve got a lot more time on my hands, and I [begrudgingly] took up cooking again. So far, I’ve made an incredible curried chicken skewers with coconut rice and peanut dipping sauce, tequila chicken, homemade chocolate pudding. But today I tried my hand at my MOST FAVORITE MEXICAN DISH EVER. Mole. OF COURSE.
Like gnocchi at Italian restaurants, mole is my “test” dish when trying new Mexican restaurants. The elusive sauce is peddled as a rich chocolate sauce (even though chocolate is not the main ingredient, and definitely not the one that gives mole its dark brown color), and apparently there are numberless variations in Puebla and Oaxaca, the Mexican states of its origin. One of my friends recommend that I try making the legendary stuff after an especially bad experience at a restaurant that basically sold chicken covered in Skippy peanut butter and called it mole.
Anyway, so knowing that this was clearly going to be an all-day event (which it definitely was), I went shopping late last week for all the strange ingredients. And there are like 30 ingredients! Actually, if you do a search online, it’s really hard to find a truly authentic recipe. A lot of them call for only a few ingredients and lots of peanut butter and cocoa powder. The best one I found was definitiely this one from Epicurious. I’d made mole once before, a few years ago when I was in Mexico, and this recipe had all the ingredients I remembered (like plantains, dried chiles, and sesame seeds), unlike several other recipes that had one but not the other.
The ingredients included LOTS of things like tomatillos (which I almost couldn’t find), tomatoes, lots and lots of dried chiles (for spice AND color), almonds, peanuts, pecans, sesame seeds, plantains, onions, garlic, raisins, bread, tortillas, about eight different spices, Mexican chocolate, piloncillo, and chicken broth.
Although the recipe itself seemed daunting simply in its length (it printed out to be three FULL pages, with more than a page being simply a list of ingredients).
Yes, it took a solid three or three-and-a-half hours to make, start-to-finish, but it wasn’t because the recipe was difficult, rather than a lot of simmering and sauteeing and frying and blending and sivving.
Halfway through, the mole started looking like mole, but had a rather bitter flavor from the rehydrated chiles and the tomatillos. However, once the chocolate and the piloncillo were added, it started shaping up nicely.
It’s amazing how these truly random ingredients come together to form something really spectacular and tasty. Granted, mole really is an acquired taste, and it makes a heavy meal, and one of my good friends absolutely cannot stand the stuff, even though he loves Mexican food. But I will say, my dinner guests did enjoy the meal, despite the fact that they’d often tried mole that I’d ordered at restaurants and were not impressed. And I threw in some sliced chicken breast, and simmered the entire concoction for a few hours, and it was so tender and delicious! Definitely a hit.
Perhaps there’s something to be said for food that’s made from the heart?
The recipe I used made MORE than enough for dinner for four people, and I now have a few containers of it in the freezer to thaw for later (hopefully that’ll work). I can’t say I’ll make it again super-duper soon, but I’m very glad I had the experience, and can now say I have indeed made mole. I know I will make it again, though, I just can’t be too lazy. The worst part was definitely cleaning the dishes! Yipe!
Here is some final food for thought: Lila Downs, a crazy yet STUNNING Oaxacan singer, even has her own li’l song about some molito. 🙂
PS: For all you homies who don’t speak Spanish, here are the lyrics to the English version of the song:
They say in Oaxaca
You drink coffee with mezcal
They say herb is plenty
To chase away evil eye
I like to try the mole
That Soledad is goin’ to grind
O my darlin’ Soledad
She’s gonna cook a molito
By the skies of Montealban
At night I’m dreaming to see you
You first need to get the peanuts
You get the salt and the bread
You grind and you fry the chilies
You try the chocolate
Get cinnamon and banana
Get cloves and oregano
Get thyme and the blackest pepper
You grind the chocolate
You grind it–
They say in Oaxaca
Hot water with chocolate
They say at the fiesta
The burning of lights will tell
What is your kind of promise
For Soledad what kind of spell