Cooking Like a Mexican

 Cooking Like a Mexican

Cooking the Mexican way is all about embracing tradition, as you might have gathered from our previous culinary adventures. Now, even if the Day of the Dead sounds unfamiliar, I’m excited to share some recipes integral to the festivities, given the central role that food plays. To cap off this season in style, let’s delve into the world of mole. But hold up. Don’t let the name scare you; we’re diving into the easiest yet most incredibly delicious version I know amongst the whopping hundred-plus recipes out there.

Mole Amarillo, hailing from the vibrant state of Oaxaca, is one of the seven distinct mole varieties, each boasting its unique color and flavor profile. Now, it’s not exactly sunshine yellow, so don’t panic if it doesn’t resemble a dollop of mustard. The term ‘mole’ originates from the Nahua word “mulli,” translating to ‘sauce,’ with its roots stretching back to the 16th century. Initially, native Mexican women didn’t set out to create such an iconic dish. Mole came to be through playful experimentation with an array of spices, chilies, nuts, and cooking methods, be it roasting, boiling, or using them fresh. This playfulness also accounts for the diverse hues of mole. Back then, ‘mulli’ or sauces were crafted not only to preserve ingredients but also to infuse meals with an ever-evolving medley of flavors. And let’s get this straight: sauce and salsa aren’t the same. Neither needs to be fiery, but a sauce holds its own on the plate, while salsa plays the supporting role.

In the 17th century, a Spanish priest named Francisco de Burgos chronicled the offering of “totolmole” (mole with turkey) by the people of Oaxaca to their departed loved ones, seeking to sweeten their journey into the afterlife. It’s no secret that Mexicans share a unique rapport with death, deeply ingrained in their traditions.

As for the history of mole, numerous legends abound, many of which cite its origins as a fortunate accident. But I beg to differ; such an intricate recipe and its luscious, nuanced outcome couldn’t possibly be a fluke. Plus, most of these tales revolve around Puebla, whereas Oaxaca can claim the existence of pre-Hispanic mole traces predating those in Puebla.

Let’s talk ingredients. Mole isn’t just about the sauce; it’s a symphony of flavors. A typical mole Amarillo boasts the earthy richness of dried chilies (one of them Chilhuacle), the nuttiness of sesame seeds, and the sweet depth of raisins, all harmonizing in a tantalizing dance on your taste buds. The addition of aromatic spices like cumin, cinnamon, and cloves adds a delightful complexity that elevates the dish to a whole new level. Don’t be afraid to play around with the proportions; that’s the beauty of mole. It’s as diverse as the imaginations that craft it.

Chilhuacle is a type of chile that holds cultural and culinary significance in Mexican cuisine, particularly in the Oaxaca region. It is renowned for its rich, complex flavor profile and is an essential ingredient in various traditional Oaxacan dishes, like mole Amarillo precisely. 

There are two main varieties of chilhuacle pepper: the chilhuacle negro and the chilhuacle amarillo. Both peppers are known for their deep, smoky, and slightly sweet taste, with the chilhuacle negro leaning towards a rich chocolatey flavor and the chilhuacle amarillo offering a nuanced, fruity note. These chiles are often used in the preparation of Oaxacan moles, imparting a distinctive depth and complexity to the sauces.

Chilhuacle chiles are typically dried before use, which intensifies their flavors and allows them to be stored for longer periods. They are often incorporated into mole preparations alongside other ingredients such as various types of chili peppers, nuts, seeds, spices, and chocolate, creating the complex and iconic flavors that define Oaxacan moles.

Due to its unique taste and cultural significance, chilhuacle has gained recognition not only within Mexico but also among culinary enthusiasts and chefs worldwide, who appreciate its contribution to the rich tapestry of flavors in Mexican cuisine.

Regardless of its origins, Mole Amarillo happens to be one of my all-time favorites, a truly versatile sauce that pairs seamlessly with any meat or as a dressing over chilaquiles or enchiladas. If you’re feeling adventurous, some modern chefs have even ventured into the realm of mole-infused ice cream for a decadent dessert twist.

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 with a mixture of chile guajillo and chile 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 we must look for the ingredient and use it properly. 
  • The original recipe calls for pork lard but can be substituted with 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. 

Ingredients:

  • 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

Procedure: 

  • If you were lucky enough to find the chilhuacle chiles skip to step three. 
  • Remove seeds from chiles. 
  • 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 toasted 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 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, it’s 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 reduced, 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 or enchiladas. Cook them as you would regularly but substitute the salsa with the mole. 

I am always happy to hear from you at ale.borbolla@gringogazette.com Read you next time!