I can easily remember the first time I had mole sauce. I was living in Washington, DC and my best girlfriend introduced me to it. She was from New Mexico and was the reason I learned about all the great New Mexican foods – green chile, pico de gallo, and my beloved mole.
Growing up in the Midwest, I never had any Mexican food other than hard shell tacos. Now that I live in California, I love street tacos and all the other authentic Mexican food we can get here. But the introduction to mole sauce is, by far, my favorite.
I was not sure when I saw it for the first time! It was so dark, almost black with speckles of sesame seed. Being brave and in my early 20’s (no fear!), I tasted it and was immediately in love. It was so complex, rich, silky and exploding with taste. Immediately, I had to know more!
There are so many versions of mole – red; black; peanut; and green. The best known moles are from Puebla or Oaxaca, although many regions have their own versions (like ragus in Italy). My absolute favorite recipe is Mole Presciliano, a Puebla-style mole, from Cafe Pasqual’s in Santa Fe. You can purchase Katharine Kagel’s cookbook for the recipe. It does not contain any lard, but is a commitment in time to make at home! It contains 3 types of dried red chiles, french bread, red bell pepper, sesame seeds, peanut oil, walnuts, chocolate, cinnamon, tomatoes, tomatillos, garlic, banana, ginger, onion, olive oil, and brown sugar. WOW! It takes my husband and me about 3.5 hours to make mole, not counting the time to wash a zillion dishes afterward. But it is a labor of love. And, it produces enough for at least 5 meals.
How to make mole sauce:
There are many steps to making mole, but this version is similar to many. First, you roast bread and nuts in the oven and place them warm on the cinnamon and chocolate. The chiles are toasted dry, then plumped quickly in hot peanut oil. The oil has become chile oil now and is reserved to also cook the vegetables. Once done, all the ingredients are blended and worked through a sieve. The puree is added to very hot olive oil. The final step is to add brown sugar and chocolate to your taste.
I hope you will start trying different versions of mole at your favorite Mexican restaurants. Try red, black, green and recipes from Puebla and Oaxaca. Once you settle on your favorite, get a recipe and try making it at home. Focus on the technique of making mole sauce – cooking chiles and grinding them with other ingredients. Taste it often throughout the process so you fine tune the amount of sugar and chocolate that you like. Try using high end chocolate and you’ll be amazed at the subtle flavor that the chocolate imparts. The technique is what is important because once you learn it, you will be inspired to try new recipes.
It is not easy to pair wine with mole. Most restaurants recommend cold Mexican beer or a margarita, both of which are excellent. However, I love wine with all my dinners and I’ve found that Malbec is the best choice to stand up to the chiles and the complexity of the sauce.
Traditionally, mole sauce is served with turkey. I love it with turkey wings, too. Chicken is also common as an accompaniment. I once served it with grilled quail when I made a fancy dinner with mole. Whatever you decide, you can’t go wrong.