I once took a year off of work to learn to make mole.
Ok, that is not exactly true. I took time off to try and become pregnant. Of course, since that endeavor did not require my attention 24/7, I had a lot of free time to read, write, garden, and cook, not unlike what I am doing now, minus the daily temperature check. So, among other pleasant activities that year, I decided to set a goal of learning to make the perfect mole sauce.
Mole was one of my first culinary epiphanies. I discovered it in college while studying at the Universidad de las Americas near Puebla, Mexico. At first glance, its muddy color and thick consistency belies its intriguing subtlety. But one taste of the mysterious sauce, contrasting with the familiar taste of the accompanying roasted chicken, and I knew I had opened a whole new door to food.
People often refer to mole as “that sauce with chocolate,” as most recipes do include a bite or two of unsweetened chocolate. And that alone would put it on my “must try” list. But as you will see, there are many other complex flavors as well, like toasted sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, cloves, coriander, almonds and garlic. The word mole actually refers to a sauce cooked with chili peppers. The most famous of these dishes, the one that inspired mine, comes from Puebla and is known as mole poblano.
I highly recommend that you try my recipe, mi mole. It is a joy to make, as well as eat, but it is not a quick process. It is smoky and splattery and thoroughly messy. Each step is easy, but there are a lot of them. Mexican families often divide up the tasks between different cooks, so it might be fun to try with a friend. When I make it, I do the toasting of all the seeds and prepping of the chilies the day before. And I take my time shopping for all the ingredients in advance, as some of them require poking through specialty food shops or hispanic sections of the grocery store. That said, it is one of the most satisfying and memorable dishes you will ever make.
As it turned out, my year away from advertising did not bring me the baby I wanted so very much. But it was a year during which I learned a great deal about food, and life, and love, and myself.
In spice grinder or mortar, grind together Spice Mixture:
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted
1/4 teaspoon anise seeds, toasted
7 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted (set aside 3 of these for garnish)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
After grinding, set Spice Mixture aside.
In blender jar, blend together Tomatillo Mixture:
1/2 cup canned green tomatillos, drained
1/2 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled
20 raisins, briefly soaked in water and drained
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds, shelled and toasted
1 stale corn tortilla, or 10 tortilla chips
2 slices stale white bread
1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken broth, as needed to help blending
After blending, place Tomatillo Mixture in a bowl and set aside.
Chilies and Chocolate:
5-6 large chili peppers (mulato, ancho or pasilla), seeded and stemmed
1/4 cup oil, and another 1/4 cup oil
1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3-4 cups unsalted chicken broth
Using a large pot or dutch oven, in 1/4 cup oil, saute chilies quickly on both sides. Wipe out oil from pot. Place chilies in a bowl, cover with warm water and soak for 2 hours. Drain water from chilies, then place them in blender jar with 1 cup fresh water, and pulse until smooth. Again using the large pot, add remaining 1/4 cup of oil and saute pureed chili mixture over medium flame for 10 minutes. Break chocolate into pieces and add to pot, stirring until it melts. Add Spice Mixture and Tomatillo Mixture and and cook 10-15 more minutes, stirring constantly to keep from burning. Add chicken broth and let mixture simmer 40 minutes. Stir occasionally to be sure mixture does not burn. You now have Mi Mole sauce, or rather, Su Mole sauce!
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup of oil
fresh cilantro sprigs and reserved sesame seeds, for garnish
In large skillet, heat oil and brown chicken on each side.
Remove chicken from pan, drain off all oil, and return chicken to skillet.
Spoon enough Mole Sauce over chicken to almost cover. Cook gently until chicken is cooked through, taking care not to burn the mole sauce.
Garnish with reserved sesame seeds and cilantro. I like to serve this with rice (add mole sauce on top if you wish), warm flour tortillas, sliced avocados, and a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt to contrast with the spiciness of the mole. Serves 4.