Mole has always fascinated me, but my fascination with it has developed over time. At first it was: "What?! Chocolate in a sauce?" Then it was: "It's so dark... what else is in it?" After that: "Good gracious, how many ingredients can they cram into one sauce, and who figured out that it tasted good?" And now I am most interested in the different varieties of Mole and how I can determine the best one for me. Finding the most authentic is a nearly impossible feat until time travel is discovered.
|A sprinkle of queso fresco and a dollop of sour cream is the perfect topping to these smokey, cheesy enchiladas|
About Mole Poblano
Mole Poblano (pronounced MOH-lay) is the typical Mole sauce that is found on Mexican menus in the United States, but it is far from the only kind of Mole that exists in Mexico. According to a fascinating interview with Liz Galicia, a highly reputed Mexican chef specializing in the cuisine of Puebla, there are multiple varieties within each state.
It is widely accepted that Mole Poblano was developed by 16th century nuns, with legends and myths branching out from that common point. The most believable story, in my opinion, is that of the nuns of the Convent of Santa Rosa found out the Archbishop was visiting and went into a panic trying to figure out what to serve him. After a lot of praying and even more toasting, grinding, chopping, and simmering, a sauce came together that pleased the Archbishop and has been adapted and used ever since. Mole Poblano is what I like to call a mega-dish. It is served at big events and made in mass quantities, and it is known for its seriously long cooking time, though I was able to find some speedier recipes.
The basics of Mole Poblano are the following, with some of the variations in parentheses:
- dried peppers (ancho, mulato, pasilla, chipotle)
- spices and seeds (peppercorn, clove, cinnamon stick, sesame seeds, anise)
- nuts (almonds, peanuts)
- chocolate (Mexican chocolate, which should be sweet)
- fruits and vegetables (onion, garlic, tomatillo, raisins)
- other ingredients (broth, French bread, corn tortillas)
Choosing the Recipe
Clearly, there are some unique components that set some Moles apart from the others, so finding the right one for the task at hand is the most important part. For a weeknight meal, I looked to a Mole recipe with slightly fewer ingredients and a moderate cook time. For those who want to go all out, however, there are plenty of choices out there. See the Mole comparison chart below for some comparisons I drew between a few appealing Mole recipes that I researched. If you would like a higher quality version of this chart feel free to contact me and I'll pass it along.
|All of these recipes can be found by doing a quick online search with "Mole Poblano" and the author's name|
I ultimately decided on the Mole recipe from Epicurious. I like the overall simplicity in procedure without sacrificing complexity in flavor. Also, the 2 hour prep and cook time inspires confidence in me that the sauce will have a deeply rich taste without stressing me out before dinnertime.
I prepared the Mole and used it to make cheese enchiladas. I used a Cotija and Monterey Jack blend for the cheeses, then sprinkled some extra Cotija on top. Some beer and wine as well as a healthy dose of chips and guacamole rounded out the delicious meal.
Memorizing the Recipe
Clocking in at twenty ingredients, this Mole is a baby version of the alleged original recipe, which had over 100 components. Memorizing them was surprisingly easy, though, because I knew that if I added something extra it was probably in the original recipe anyway! Forgetting was the big fear, but by clumping the ingredients into groups based on when I would add them to the recipe, I felt more confident. My chart helped me visualize the types of ingredients as well.
Shopping for the ingredients was a blast, and it gave me a perfect excuse to go back to my favorite (and so far the only worthwhile) Mexican grocery store and food counter, Chinelos II on W. 136th St. I'm a little scared to share this information for fear of infiltration of my utopian hole in the wall, but if it helps their business, I am in. I walked around for a while in a space smaller than my Manhattan bedroom and found fresh tomatillos and corn tortillas. I was a little disappointed at first, but I asked the man at the counter for some help and magically he produced all of the ingredients on my list in mass quantities. They were out of Mulato peppers, but since Mulato and Ancho chiles come from the same fresh pepper (Poblano), I just used more of those. I'm telling you... the bag was the size of my head.
The steps in the recipe seem so complicated in print, but they were simple and straightforward in practice. I tried to remember the whole thing in bunches: keep chile puree and tomatillo puree separate, then cook them together, stirring regularly, forever and ever. I've made enchiladas in the past, so the steps of that recipe were not nearly as difficult to remember. Basically, here is what I came up with for the recipe in shorthand.
Clean, fry, and soak chiles. Meanwhile...
Food processor, part 1: Blend tomatillos, garlic, and ground spices and seeds. Fry up the raisins, nuts, and pumpkin seeds (I call this the unhealthy trail mix section), add, and blend some more. Fry up the bread and tortillas, add, and blend some more. Transfer to another dish.
Food processor, part 2: Drain chiles and save the water. Blend with some of the water in food processor. Put in a pot with oil and cook for 15 min.
Stovetop: Combine the two purees, add broth, stir, stir, stir. Cover, simmer, uncover, simmer, just be sure to simmer and stir. Add the chocolate, stir, simmer, stir, simmer.... you get the idea. And we're done!
Frankly, I could have stopped with the tomatillo puree. Once all the random ingredients were added (bread? really? I'm still not over that), the flavors were divine and I could have just made that the sauce! I'm glad I didn't stop there, however, because the Mole that came from my own kitchen truly felt like the Mole that belonged in a Mexican kitchen. The flavors were a bit smokey with a little bitterness from the peppers, tanginess from the tomatillos, spice from the cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves, and chile seeds, nuttiness from the seeds and almonds, and sweetness from the raisins, chocolate, and cinnamon. The consistency was perfect-- liquid enough to spread around the enchilada dish but reduced enough to stay put on its own.
The Enchiladas themselves were filling, comforting, and gooey with cheese. The queso fresco really took them up a notch with its salt and moisture. I would not make enchiladas without this feta-like staple. We housed 2 1/2 batches of Enchiladas and probably could have done more if we could put our shame to the side. I must say that this is one of my favorite, and definitely one of the most gratifying, recipes that I have made so far. And the best news is that I have leftover Mole in the freezer now, just waiting for the next time I want to make some Mexican food.
Mole Poblano Enchiladas
Mole Poblano recipe adapted from Tom Gilliland, Miguel Ravago, and Virginia B. Wood on Epicurious
Enchilada recipe from The Walking Cookbook
Sauce Yield: 9 cups
Enchilada Yield: 12 enchiladas
Mole Poblano Ingredients:
- 9 mulato chiles*
- 7 pasilla chiles
- 6 ancho chiles
- 2 cups vegetable oil
- 5 tomatillos
- 5 whole cloves
- 20 whole black peppercorns
- 1 inch piece of Mexican cinnamon stick*
- 1 tbsp seeds from the chiles, toasted
- 1/2 tsp anise seeds, toasted
- 1/4 tsp coriander seeds, toasted
- 8 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
- 4 garlic cloves, roasted
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup whole almonds, blanched
- 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas, hulled)
- 2 corn tortillas, torn into pieces
- 3 stale french rolls, cut into 1 inch slices
- 6-7 cups vegetable broth
- 1.5 oz Mexican chocolate, chopped*
- 12 corn tortillas
- 3 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- 1 1/2 cup Mexican queso fresco, crumbled
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil
|Making the Chile Puree|
- Use a combination of chiles, ensuring that you have a total of 22 (different proportions are okay).
- Clean the chiles by removing stems, veins, and seeds with a knife. Be careful; do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth before washing your hands. The chiles aren't too spicy, but the oils will affect you. Reserve 1 tbsp of the seeds.
- Heat 1/2 cup of oil in a pan and fry the chiles until crisp, about 10-15 seconds, turning once.
- Drain chiles on paper towels.
- Put fried chiles in a nonreactive bowl, covered in hot water, for 30 minutes. (Begin tomatillo puree during this time)
- Drain the chiles and reserve the soaking water.
- Place the chiles in a blender or food processor with a half ladle of the soaking water.
- Blend to make a smooth paste, adding more soaking water if necessary.
- Heat 1/2 cup oil in a large pot or dutch oven. Add the chile puree (it will splatter because of the water content) and cook for 15 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat.
|Making the Tomatillo Puree|
- While chiles are soaking, husk and rinse tomatillos and boil until soft (about 5 minutes). Drain.
- Puree the tomatillos in a blender or food processor.
- Add the cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, and toasted seeds to a spice grinder.
- Grind until a smooth, fine powder. Add the spice and seed mixture and garlic to the pureed tomatillos and blend until smooth.
- Heat 6 tbsp oil in a heavy frying pan. Fry each of the following ingredients separately, removing with a slotted spoon: raisins (until they puff up), almonds (to a golden brown), pumpkin seeds (until they pop). Add to the blender or food processor.
- Refill oil to ensure there are 4 tbsp in the pan. Gather your stale bread and tortilla pieces.
- Fry the tortilla pieces until golden brown, about 15 seconds per side. Remove.
- Fry the bread pieces the same way, about 20 seconds per side. Remove.
- Add the fried bread and tortilla to the tomatillo mixture and blend, adding chile soaking water as necessary to make the sauce smooth.
- Once pureed and no big pieces remain, transfer to a separate bowl and rinse blender or food processor to continue the chile puree.
|Putting it all together|
- Add the tomatillo puree to the pot of chile puree and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring often.
- Add the Mexican chocolate pieces and continue cooking for 10 minutes.
- Add the remaining 5 cups of broth and cook over low heat for 45 minutes, stirring frequently enough to prevent the mixture from scorching.
|Rolling the Enchiladas|
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Mix the Monterey Jack and 3/4 of the queso fresco in a bowl and keep near the stove.
- Cover the bottom of a casserole dish with a thin layer of Mole Poblano sauce. Place the casserole dish near the stove. Place a pile of 3 paper towels near the stove as well.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add a tortilla and heat in the oil for 15 seconds. Remove the tortilla from the pan with tongs and place on the pile of paper towels.
- Fill the tortilla with about 1/3 cup of the cheese mixture. Roll the sides of the tortilla over one another and place in the casserole dish, seam side down.
- Repeat with the remaining tortillas until all tortillas are side by side in the casserole dish.
- Spoon and spread an even and ample coat of Mole Poblano over the tortillas until they are covered. Sprinkle the remaining queso fresco on top and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese inside is melted and the edges of the tortillas are slightly crispy.
- Chiles to use: The "Holy Trinity" of Mexican dried chiles includes Mulato, Ancho, and Pasilla. However, Ancho and Multato both come from the fresh Poblano chile so they can easily be substituted for one another. Pasilla is a bit different and is named after a "little raisin" because of its wrinkled skin. Don't all dried peppers have wrinkled skin, though? My way of remembering the difference between the two is that Pasilla sounds like pasillo, which means hallway, which is a long, narrow space. Pasilla peppers are long and narrow, especially compared to Ancho chiles, which mean just that: ancho, or wide.
- Mexican cinnamon: Mexican cinnamon comes from the true Cinnamon tree (which incidentally is native to Sri Lanka) and not from the Cassia tree, which is where most US cinnamon is from. The stick is very flaky and has a less bitter and slightly sweeter taste (kind of like Red Hots).
- Mexican chocolate: Mexican chocolate is a sweet chocolate with some cinnamon (or cinnamon flavor). It is very dry and a bit chalky because it is meant to be crumbled and dissolved into hot chocolate. I used Nestle's Abuelita, even though I am not a particularly huge fan of some of their business practices. That's what they had at Chinelos II, however, so that's what I got.