What is mole?
Mole (pronounced ‘mol-lee’) is the collective name for a range of Mexican sauces, varying in taste, aroma and colour, often served over turkey or chicken. Mole plays a leading role in Mexican cuisine and many villages traditionally have their own recipe.
Mole always contains peppers, a sour component (tomatillos or tamarind), something sweet (fruit or sugar) and a binding agent (nuts or tortilla). The flavour is pronounced: sweet, nutty, roasted and slightly bitter. The word mole comes from Nahuatl, from the words mōlli (sauce or mixture) or chīlmōlli (chilli sauce).
The best known of all the moles, besides guacamole, is mole poblano, a brown-coloured sauce with cocoa in it, often served with chicken in Europe. It is unlikely that there was any chocolate in the original mole. Mole was being eaten when the Spanish conquered Mexico in the fifteenth century. Since the Aztecs considered chocolate to be sacred, there is little chance it would be added to a dish eaten by everyone.
Besides mole poblano there are many other moles, including:
Mole negro – from Oaxaca, with seven kinds of chilli, chocolate, banana and peanuts;
Chirmole – from Yucatán, made with the seeds of white mimosa, served over goat meat; and
Mole tamaulipeco – originally from Tamaulipas, made with garlic, raisins, thyme and capers.
Nowadays, Mexicans of all classes eat mole during parties and celebrations. Hence the expression ‘ir a un mole’ – going where there is mole. This expression is used to indicate that you are going to a wedding or some kind of party. In some villages mole is shared during holidays, at the direction of the molera, the mole-chef.
How to make mole?
Making a traditional mole poblano is a difficult job with a great result.
Five different types of dried chillies are fried in oil and then soaked overnight in hot water with vinegar. Mexican cuisine has over two hundred different chillies, so this is not many! The next morning they are ground into a puree with some of the liquid they were soaked in. Tomato, onion and garlic are roasted until the edges are blackened. The spices selected by the chef – such as coriander, peppercorns, cloves, sesame seeds and cinnamon – are also briefly roasted.
Pieces of bread or tortilla are baked golden brown, as well as slices of cooking banana. Peanuts, raisins and almonds are fried in oil. All these ingredients are ground into a paste in a molcajete, a Mexican mortar, and then simmered with the remaining liquid from the peppers and chocolate until it becomes a dark brown sauce.
How to eat
Spoon crema (Mexican crème fraîche) on top and it’s done.
Mole is often served over chicken, other meat or poultry. The chicken is poached or fried first in a separate pan and can be simmered along with the mole. It is often served with rice.