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The Taste of Mexico - Mole

"...Mole Poblano, probably Mexico´s most popular mole, was developed by nuns during the 17th Century."

Gabriela Braña

Mole is prepared in such different ways that a whole encyclopaedia could be written about it. Mole includes the highly refined Pre-hispanic tradition, European ways of cooking, peasant wisdom, convent dedication, indigenous herbs and products from the Far East.

Mole was known in Pre-hispanic times. Molli or Mulli in Nahuatl which is the language spoken by the Aztecs, meant simply a sauce or a condiment, which consisted of a thick sauce, prepared with chilies. tomatoes, ground pumpkin seeds, cornmeal and a diversity of ingredients. This sauce was served over turkey, other fowl and pork mainly.

Over time, other pre-hispanic dishes were developed having this mole or sauce as a base. Mole can be as simple as a sauce made with roasted ancho chilies, garlic and onion with some fried tortilla or bread as a thickening agent or the really impressive Mole Poblano which can have more than thirty ingredients and is prepared for special occasions.

Mole can differ from region to region, incorporating the local ingredients into this elaborate sauce. In Oaxaca, which is one of Mexico´s culinary heavens. there is Mole Coloradito (little red mole) which is made with ancho chilies, garlic, chicken, cinammon and oregano, among other ingredients. Mole Negro, (black mole) which is Oaxaca´s masterpiece, is usually served with turkey or pork. It uses 6 different kinds of chilies, almonds, raisins, pumpkin seeds, tomato, garlic and onions, plantains, chocolate, spices and chile seeds, among other ingredients, Mole Amarillo (yellow mole) is prepared with Hoja Santa leaves, which have a slight anise flavor.
In Puebla, one of the most important regions in Mexico where there is a tradition of cooking which developed during colonial times, Mole Poblano, probably Mexico´s most popular mole, was developed by nuns during the 17th Century. According to tradition it was made by Maria Perpetuo Socorro and other nuns at the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla, to be offered to Bishop Manuel Fernandez de Santa Cruz in appreciation of gifts received from him. The bishop, in turn, built for them the famous Cocina de Azulejos, a kitchen made with tiles that can still be admired at the museum of ceramics. Mole poblano represents the height of all moles and is prepared with turkey in a thick sauce, which is the perfect combination of toasted ancho, mulato, pasilla and chipotle chilies, cinammon, clove, allspice, pepper, toasted tortilla, and seasoned in lard with garlic. tomatoes, sesame seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, coriander, plantains, aniseed, cumin and several other ingredients.

By the way, turkey was first known in Europe when the Spaniards took some birds in 1537, where they were perfectly climatized. King Francis I of France was very fond of Turkey and he ate it regularly in front of his people and offered them morsels so they could taste it. It was still rare and expensive, to such a degree that the Council of Venice decreed at which tables it could be served. The Spanish called it guajolote from the Nahuatl huexolotl. The English called it turkey because during that time, all the products that came from overseas and were considered exotic were supposed to come from Turkey.

There are other moles which are very well known and appreciated like Pipian Verde or Rojo, (green or red pipian) which uses as its main ingredient ground pumpkin seed. Mole Verde, is prepared with pumpkin seed, poblano chilies, lettuce leaves, radish leaves, spinach, tomatillo, cilantro, among other ingredients, and is wonderful with chicken or shredded pork.

There is also mole which is served with Romeritos (green leaves similar to rosemary, hence the name), that calls for mulato, ancho and pasilla chilies, onion, raisins, almonds, crackers, dry shrimp and fried plantains, and is served during Easter and Christmas with shrimp cakes.

There are also moles made with pinon, hazelnuts, peanuts and all kinds of chiles and herbs, it is always up to the cook´s imagination.

There is also Mole de Olla, which is a soup-like stew made with pork or beef and green vegetables, like zuchini, chayote, string beans and corn. It is very spicy and can be found at almost any Mexican restaurant.

In traditional and modern cookbooks, it is indicated that for preparation of mole and pipian, cooked meats are used. There are two reasons for this: the first is that most of the moles have to be stirred constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent them from sticking to the bottom or from curdling. The second is that cooking time is shorter for meats that it is for mole. Once the mole is seasoned the meat is added and left to simmer for a while so that it can soak up all the wonderful flavor of this succulent sauce.

For obvious reasons we will not have a recipe this time, but please go out and try the different moles and pipian sauces you can find and see for yourselves which one is your favorite.

January 2001

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