Cooking Like A Mexican

Mole Amarillo -or yellow mole

Cooking like a Mexican involves a lot of tradition as I hope you have noticed with my previous missives to you. Now, I know we’re a little early for day of the dead, (November 1), but I do want to give my precious readers some recipes that are key to the celebration, since there is a lot of food involved. To start off on the right foot, this edition we will try mole. (Prounouced mol-ee). Don’t get intimidated, it is complicated, but I am offering up the easiest recipe I have known about but equally delicious as the more than a 100 recipes there are that have about 100 ingredients.

Mole Amarillo -or yellow mole if you must- is one of the seven typical moles from the state of Oaxaca, all of them as different in color as they are in flavor. It is not super yellow, so when you make it don’t be scared if it doesn’t look like mustard. The word mole comes from the Nahua word “mulli” which means sauce, and dates back to as far as the sixteenth century. The native Mexican women did not mean to make such a signature dish, but mole came around as a result of experimentation with different spices, chilis, nuts, vegetables and ways of cooking them, roasted, boiled or using them raw. This also determines the color of the mole, but way back then, mulli, or sauces were made to first make sure no ingredient went bad and second, to make food taste different every now and then. I must emphasize the difference between sauce and salsa, neither of them have to be spicy to start with, but sauce is a main part of a dish and salsa is more like a compliment.

mole_0.JPGIn the seventeenth century, a Spanish priest called Francisco de Burgoa documented in his diaries that the native people of Oaxaca offered “totolmole” (mole with turkey) to their recently deceased loved ones, as a way to make their journey to the afterlife a little more pleasant. Remember, Mexicans have a special relationship with death, as far as traditions go.

As far as the history of mole, many legends have been told, but most of them say it was an accident. To which I defer, such a complex recipe and such a delicate and decadent outcome could not have been a mistake. Also, most of the legends revolve around Puebla, but Oaxaca is where the prehispanic mole traces were found to be older than in Puebla.

Whatever the truth is, mole Amarillo is absolutely one of my favorites and mole, as the sauce that it is, is amazingly versatile; it can be made with any animal protein as a base, or over chilaquiles or in enchiladas. Some more modern chefs have started making mole in ice-cream for dessert.

Before we start, some tips and facts:

This is one of the easier mole recipes.

This mole has one of the most difficult ingredients to get, even in Oaxaca, which is chilhuacle amarillo, but can be substituted for a mixture of chili guajillo and chili ancho. The flavor will be pretty much the same, but the color will be a little more on the orange side.

Hojasanta (literally translates to holy leaf) is the main seasoning in the recipe, which gives it its distinct yellow mole flavor, so it is very important that we look for the ingredient and use it properly.

The original recipe calls for pork lard but can be substituted for any vegetable lard or oil and can also become a vegan option.

You’ll spend a little over 45 minutes in the kitchen, so be patient and put some music on.



10 chilhuacle amarillo chiles or a mix of 6 guajillo chiles and 2 ancho chiles.

8 green tomatoes.

1 red tomato.

3 cloves of garlic.

2 cloves (clavo de olor in Spanish)

2 hojas santas or holy leaves.

1 stick of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of oregano

3 cups of chicken broth (or vegetable) it’s worth it and easier to make from scratch!

1 spoonful of pork lard (or vegetable)

4 peppercorns.

½ teaspoon of salt.


If you were lucky enough to find the chilhuacle chilis skip to step three.

remove seeds from chilis.

In a Comal or a skillet with NO OIL, toast chiles over medium heat for about two minutes, until all sides are toasted but not black and burned.

In a skillet, place the tasted chiles, red and green tomatoes and enough water to cover.

Let the water come to a boil over high heat, and let the ingredients cook for about five minutes, or until the chiles soften up.

Transfer all ingredients but NO water to a blender, and add also the garlic, cloves, cinnamon, oregano and peppercorns.

Blend and add as little water as you can if any, if you can get the blender to go with no water, its better.

Melt the lard in a deeper skillet, over low heat.

Add the blended mixture, hoja santa or holy leaves, and the chicken stock. Let it come to a gentle boil and then taste for salt, add as needed.

Once you are sure about the salt, let it boil for another ten minutes, or until it thickens a little bit, stirring occasionally. Consistency should be a thick sauce, sort of like gravy.

When the mole is cooked and reduce, remove the Hojasanta.

Now, this is the mole. You can use this in so many ways, it’s a pretty practical thing to make. For example, you can cook some chicken or beef previously and let it cook for the last five minutes in the mole, so the protein absorbs the mole flavor. My favorite though is chilaquiles. Cook them as you would regularly but substitute the salsa for the mole. See you next time!