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!
4 pasilla chiles
2 ancho chiles
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
1 ounce Mexican chocolate, chopped
Roast the papilla and ancho 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. Can be used as an enchilada sauce, with tamales or served over turkey and chicken.
Yield: 3 cups
Adapted by Lisa Fain from a Stephan Pyles recipe