As I was contemplating how to approach this post today, I started wondering at the place that mole has in Mexican cooking. It seems interesting that a culture which produces such wonderfully simple food should come up with a sauce which is has a famously long list of ingredients. So, curiosity leading the way, I pulled out my trusty Food Lover's Companion, which gave the following definition of mole:
Mole [moh-lay] From the Nahuatl molli, meaning "concoction", mole is a rich, dark, reddish-brown sauce usually
served with poultry. There are many variations of this spicy Mexican specialty...mole is a smooth, cooked blend of onion, garlic, several varieties of chiles, ground seeds and a small amount of Mexican chocolate...
With some further investigation, I uncovered some debate as to whether or not the Aztecs (thought by many to have made the first mole) would have actually used chocolate, which they considered to be sacred, in such a sauce. Turns out scholarly types don't think so, so the mole we know today is most likely a complex sauce that has developed over time, but has the basis of onion, chiles, and spices, which are all very familiar Mexican ingredients.
I ate my first mole only a short time ago, and it has been one of those foods that grew on me while I wasn't looking. The first time I tried, I said "this is pretty good", but wasn't enamored. I tried it a few other times - still no love. Then suddenly, out of the blue, I was craving mole on a regular basis. I wanted to try and make it at home, but envisioned a long and frustrating day in the kitchen, where at the end, I might find myself wishing I'd just gone to my local burrito shop to fulfill my craving instead.
Lucky for me I have Sally Schneider's A New Way to Cook, which offers up a tasty "Revisionist Mole", which is quicker, easier, and healthier than most moles. This may not win any Mexican cookoffs, but it sure makes for a tasty addition to your weekday meal repetoire. This recipe made enough for me to freeze 4 extra servings, which I've used for the burritos I show below, and some outstanding "Fat Bean Tacos", which we topped with sliced radishes, chopped avocado and some fresh cheese. My plans for the remaining sauce in the freezer include a Mole Pork Tenderloin, and another round of bean tacos, which were totally delicious.
6 Dried Ancho chiles
5 Garlic cloves, Unpeeled
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp dried basil
¼ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp cumin seeds
1 ½ cups chicken broth
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 ½ tsp vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped medium fine
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes or whole plum tomatoes, (pureed in a blender with their juices, if using fresh)
1 ounce chunk smoked ham, cut into 4 pieces
¾ ounce Mexican chocolate, (or 1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder)
1 - 2 tsp sugar
With scissors, split open the chiles, and sicard the stems and seeds. Cut the chiles into large flat pieces. In a large heavy skillet, toast the chile strips over moderate heat, turning occasionally to prevent burning, until they begin to darken and smell pungent, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Cover with about 2 cups boiling water and let soak for 20 minutes, or until soft.
Meanwhile, add the garlic cloves to the skillet and toast for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until the skins have blackened in spots and the garlic has softened somewhat. Remove from the heat.
In a blender, combine the garlic, cinnamon, basil, oregano, cumin seeds, chicken broth and vinegar. Drain the ancho chiles and add to the mixture. Blend at high speed for one minute, until smooth.
In a large skillet, combine the oil and onions, cover and cook over low heat until the onions have begun to release some of their liquid, about 5 minutes. Uncover, increase the heat to moderate, and saute the onions until golden brown, about 10 - 15 minutes.
Add the ancho chile mixture and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and ham, partially cover, and simmer until the sauce is very thick, about 25 minutes.
Add the chocolate and simmer until the sauce is very thick and has reduced to about 4 cups, about 10 minutes longer. Discard the ham (which will have given up its flavor) and add the sugar and salt to taste.
The sauce can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 1 week or frozen up to 3 months.
This is an easier take on mole, and much less fattening. You can use it to season bean soups, doctor up canned beans, or braise pot roast and chicken. Use it in Fat Beans with Mole (from the book). Toss it with shredded leftover pork or chicken or with shrimp and roll up in hot tortillas. You can also make a marvelous chili by stewing 2 pounds of 1/2 inch chunks of trimmed stewing beef or venison in the sauce until it is very tender, about 1 1/2 hours over low heat. Brown the meat in 2 tsp rendered bacon fat or oil first. Add dark beer, 1/4 cup at a time, to the sauce to replenish the level as it cooks.