Monday, January 15, 2007

On mole and matrimony

My dear, food-loving friend Monica recently announced that she and her fiancé John eloped to Oaxaca, Mexico. How appropriate, I thought, as Oaxaca is the land of seven moles.

Mole (pronounced moh-LAY) is a rich, complex blend of seemingly disparate ingredients: chocolate, chiles, cinnamon, nuts, chicken broth and raisins being just a few. And the making of the sauce takes preparation, patience, passion, dedication and time. But the rewards far outweigh the travails: after one bite, you can taste all that you’ve put into the mole and that joy makes it all worthwhile. Much like marriage.

Monica and I go back almost 20 years. We met when we were teenagers and we bonded by tooling around North Texas in her silver Jeep Cherokee, singing at the top of our lungs, debating the meaning of life and stirring up all sorts of mischief. We weren’t much into food back then as Whataburger and Taco Bueno made up the bulk of our diet. But we had a taste for life and as we walked into a new, grown-up world with wobbly legs, those college-era friendships provided the necessary support to transform us from unruly kids into productive, responsible and caring adults.

We lost touch after school. Monica became a Dallas lawyer and I was in New York City pursuing all sorts of nonsense. In 2000, however, she made the decision to quit law, move to New York City and follow her lifelong dream of filmmaking. We had a blast scouring the streets on an endless hunt for New York’s culinary bounty. My friendship with Monica had always been a long series of firsts, so it’s no surprise that I had my first dosa, my first Peter Luger porterhouse steak, my first Wylie Dufresne meal and my first taste of Epoisses with Monica sitting across the table. We ate very well that year.

Sadly, she returned to Texas a few months after 9-11 and I was upset to see her leave. It’s important to be surrounded by people who’ve seen all the good and the bad, and despite what they know, still choose to be your friend. I don’t have any close relatives here, and while after 11 years I now have good friends I also consider old friends, her presence was special because she knew me from a time when I was still figuring out who I was.



In the years since, I didn't see Monica often, but when we did get together the focus was food: stopping for roadside barbacoa in central Mexico; taking me directly from the Austin airport to Kreuz Market so I could consume a pile of welcome-home bbq brisket; and gorging on a late-night meal of big-as-your-head cinnamon buns served alongside green chili sopapillas at The Frontier in Albuquerque.

When a group of us made a trip to Brazil, where she was shooting footage for her documentary, I had the good fortune to meet her future husband. Over long meals of steamy, hearty feijoada washed down with cool, fruity Guarana Antarctica, I got to know John and found him to be a perfect partner for her. Where she was thoughtful, he was playful. Where she was a debater, he was an entertainer. And yet, the merging of their respective strengths formed a complex yet balanced union of seemingly disparate parts. Much like mole.

So while I may not have a recipe for a successful marriage, I can give you this: a recipe for mole. Each require much love, passion, time, patience and work to succeed, but if you give yourself fully to the effort, the rewards are beyond belief.

Monica and John, I raise my bowl to you and say: may your marriage made in the land of seven moles be as complex, rich, sweet, savory and fulfilling as the sauce itself. Felicidades!

Mole Poblano (adapted from a Stephan Pyles recipe)
Ingredients:
I cup chicken stock
1 large ripe tomato, blanched, peeled, seeded and quartered
2 tomatillos, husked, rinsked, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup minced onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sliced blanched almonds
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 pasilla chiles
2 ancho chiles
1 ounce Mexican chocolate, chopped

Method:
Roast chiles in a dry skillet until blackened. Seed, stem chiles and mix in a blender with a few tablespoons of water until a puree forms. Set aside.
Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a saucepan, reduce heat and add tomato, tomatillos, onions and garlic. Simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer to blender, puree and set aside.
In a dry skillet, toast sesame, coriander and pumpkin seeds with the almonds.
Combine the raisins, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, chile puree and chocolate in a saucepan, Add toasted seeds, nuts, chile and tomato purees. Cook over low heat until chocolate melts.
Tranfer mixture to a blender and puree.

Makes 3 cups.
Can be used as an enchilada sauce, with tamales or served over turkey and chicken.

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31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing such a beautiful article. It is the perfect thing to read while sipping contraband chocolate. Now we just have to convince Smitty's to cater the celebration party and get Virginia Woods to bake many many many pies. Love Love Monica

nika said...

awww this made me tear up! Congrats to Monica - glad you found the perfect fit!

The photos are just awesome, the macro and DOF doing a great job of bringing in detail we might not really perceive if we were handling the ingredients ourselves.

Nika (also a Monica)

adam said...

It's amazing how close we are to the boder down here, and so many people know not of the mole. And those that do, generally think of it as a "chocolate" sauce. When in actuality, chocolate is used in such a small amount.

Great post. Mole is awesome on turkey!

Homesick Texan said...

Monica--Thank YOU for giving me a good excuse to come to the Hill Country in the spring (not that I should really need one.)

Nika--I adore my macro lens and I rarely use anything else. I just love the detail it captures. (Of course sometimes it can capture TOO much detail, like a piece of pet hair I couldn't see with my naked eye!)

Adam--Yes, chocolate provides depth but the final sauce doesn't taste chocolatey at all. And mole and turkey are two of my favorite things together, too!

Jerry said...

Most of the mole dished out in California is the "good lord where's a fire extinguisher" type. This looks a little less dangerous, so I think I'll give it a go.

Congrats to your friends on the pending nuptials!

Jerry said...

Whoops. Forgot to mention that I haven't tried any mole since settling down in N. Texas. I'll have to give it a go.

Chicken Fried Gourmet said...

Nice post, I'll be writing a mole post in the not so distant future but not as "authentic" in nature.

Love your pictures

Susan said...

Your writing is as beautiful as your chocolate. What a lovely, heartwarming story.
As a sometimes homesick Rhode Islander living in Southern California, I appreciate your blog. Whereas you search for grits and mole, I search for pasta and olive oils. I will be reading your blog regularly, I'm sure.
I'm so pleased to have your mole recipe as well. I have made different types of mole in the past, but have not found a winner. I think yours is it.
Susan
Food "Blogga"

Homesick Texan said...

Jerry--I've never found mole to be a too spicy experience, but of course I have a fairly high tolerance for heat. And this recipe is certainly not hot, it's just a rich melange of complex flavors. Enjoy!

Chicken Fried Gourmet--Thank you! And I can't wait to read your take on mole, your dishes always amaze me!

Susan--Many, many thanks--I look forward to seeing you again! And yes, homesickness is universal, no matter where you're from, if you're removed from where you grew up. I hope the recipe works for you.

Emmie said...

Your post is very nice .... thanks for the recipe... the mole dish is really mouth watering... and well i liked the nice touchy story as well... u can sometimes drop by My Blog as well ... hope u will find it interesting...!!!

Rachel W. said...

Mole is one of my absolute favorite dishes and is relatively unknown by most Americans. Everytime I have talked about it with my friends they have all looked at my strangely. It's too bad as it is so full of stunning flavor.

Thank you for this recipe! I look forward to trying this at home.

Rachel

melissa mcgee said...

what a sweet post, very well written and just lovely in sentiment. great recipe as well! i've always wanted to try my hand at making a mole, but i've always been too intimidated... just might do it now though, with help of your recipe!

Ivonne said...

What a lovely way to honour your friends!

I want to spread that mole on everything!

Emmie said...

Hey... thanks for dropping by .... I am so glad that u liked it.... take care and keep in touch...

Homesick Texan said...

Emmie--Thanks for stopping by!

Melisssa--You just made my day! Mole takes time, but it's not too difficult, give it a try.

Ivonne-Thank you so much!

Homesick Texan said...

Rachel-- I agree, it's weird how many people don't know about mole, but I always get a thrill out of offering it to people--they're always so amazed with the complexity of flavors. I hope this recipe works for you!

Keri said...

My boyfriend is going to die... We are Homesick Californians living in Montreal (north of the wrong border as luck would have it), and mole is his absolute favorite. I will scour the city for the ingredients! We are seriously dying of taqueria withdrawals... Just linked here from Simply Recipes and I look forward to reading more of your blog and trying flavors of home. Thanks!!

christine said...

This is my first time at your blog and I'm glad I was directed here from Simple Recipes. :) It's beautiful, your pictures, your prose, I'm really enjoying myself!

I had my first taste of Mole on a recent trip to Mexico and was so intrigued by it (and still am). I only tried it at one place and would like to see how it's made in other places. but upon seeing your recipe, I am feeling inspired to take on the challenge of trying to make it myself.

Oh and btw, I loved your story about Monica. I have monicas in my life too and I agree. They are gems. Cheers to Monica! :)

Lauren said...

i'm so glad i read your blog! it's great. i'm planning on making this recipe tomorrow night!! but i just have a couple of questions for you, which maybe somewhat trivial questions, but here we go

what type of skillet would you suggest for roasting the chilis, Cast Iron or non-stick?

when roasting the chilis, do i roast both the pasilla and ancho chilis? also how can i tell when the anchos are done roasting since they are already black, is there a time frame, or should i just take them out when the pasillas are done?

Hope these weren't too horrible of questions. I'm a bit of a perfectionist when cooking and wouldn't want to ruin the recipe because of some minute detail. Thanks so much!

Homesick Texan said...

Keri--Thanks for stopping by, Montreal is a lovely city.

Christine--Thank you, let me know how it goes if you make the recipe.

Lauren--I would roast the chiles separately in a cast-iron skillet. And you can tell when they anchos are done because they start to buckle and bubble. Hope this helps!

Lauren said...

Thanks. That helps so much. I forgot one question though, can you make it one day in advance, or would it be best to make it the day of? i will be using it as an enchilada sauce.

Homesick Texan said...

Lauren--Of course, it will even taste better the next day. Should keep for 4 or 5 days, in fact.

Pille said...

I haven't had mole for ages (probably few years!), so it's about time I try this dish again. Thanks for the recipe!!

Pratibha said...

what a wonderful Blog! I do wish one knew what your name is.. a person as you do, blending food and life seamlessly, deserves to be addressed by name! I dont know too much about tex- mex food.. the closest I get is to some pretender restaurants in Mumbai where i live, or when i visit US.. but I can love your writing... reminds me of Laura Esquivel and "Like water for Chocolate"
As a token of appreciation, I can share a near perfect recipe of Dosa! :)
I will make sure to drop by regularly.. take care and God Bless.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful website. (FYI, mole is not "pronounced moh-LAY" ... it's pronounced MO-leh, accent on the first syllable.)

lizmarsden said...

Hi Lisa,

I was wondering if there is some vegetable which is a bit like tomatillos which we might have here in the UK, you seem to use them in a lot of your recipes and there isn't a specialist Mexican store anywhere near me

Kathy said...

Love the story - and LOVE mole even more. I will have to try this. It looks like there are alot more great recipes in your collection I will also have to try.

ctb said...

Can this mole be made with dried chilis if fresh anchos and pasillas aren't available? If so, how would you do it?

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

CTB--All anchos and pasillas are dried, there's no such thing as fresh anchos and pasillas. A fresh ancho is a poblano chile and a fresh pasilla is a chilaco.

Danielle said...

I just made this yesterday for a party and people died of happiness with it topped on chicken tacos. Thanks for the awesome recipe!

Mitzi said...

Made this last night for Valentine's day, takes a lot of love to do all the work! Left out the onions as in my experience, San Antonio mole never has onions. Doubled the garlic, used pepitas and walnuts instead of almonds, and served over squash and black bean enchiladas. I'm not a vegetarian, but the mole with this is awesome.

Thanks so much Lisa for all your work. Your recipes have made living in Seattle bearable from a Tex-Mex standpoint. The stuff they pass off as Mexican food here is generally hideous. I can whip up salmon seven ways from Sunday, but every now and then chile gravy or mole are necessities. Take care!

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