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Mexican Moles in America Media

c
ciaogina Jan 5, 2007 03:55 PM

***edited for typo in subject line*** American

Over on the SF board there's a discussion on moles in the Bay Area. It got me thinking about the perception and understanding of moles in America.

Moles in Mexico are complex and important "sauces" (for lack of an immediate better word) in the food culture there.

What my rant here is about is thtat I've noticed that TV chefs while maybe curious about them have taken to preparing them in a very rough manner. The key component of a mole and its complexity is the methodolgy--the searing, the cooking time, quality of ingredients, # of ingredients etc. I've also noticed that what's called a mole is being loosely defined and at times limited to mole negro ("the chocolate one" as people say).

As I was saying to someone recently it upsets me that food cognescenti--radio, TV in particular--have such a limited knowledge of Mexican and Latin American food. They are so focused on the Western European. So when they given out info on Mex & LatAm food it's often wrong. However (this is where I lose sleep!) they have such large audiences that that info becomes the de facto (most Americans aren't as particular as us hounds).

Has anyone else noticed this about moles and the food media?

  1. rworange Jan 5, 2007 04:35 PM

    Well, that is my bitch about the media and food in general, not just mole ... they stick to the tried and true ... but to focus on mole ...

    Loved this line from Wikipedia "The word is also widely known in the combined form guacamole (avocado mole)."
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mole_(sauce)

    I think being a food writer/celebrity is a balance. People in general are not open to the new.

    On the other hand, unless writers and tv shows do something to educate readers/viewers people don't know different foods, in this case moles, exist.

    To tell you the truth, despite having worked in Mexico a year and hitting a lot of Mexican restaurants in the states, until last month I was unaware that mole didn't just mean the chocolate mole poblano ... or associated it with guaca ... heh.

    Then I went to a restaurant that had four different types of mole (I guess I should post about it in that thread) and it was a revelation.

    Here's a few good links I found about mole after eating there.
    http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/recipes/puebla/kgmole.html
    http://www.ramekins.com/mole/whatmole...

    I don't watch cooking shows that often, but how does Rick Bayless do in terms of mole?

    6 Replies
    1. re: rworange
      Brian S Jan 5, 2007 05:14 PM

      Oh if you define mole broadly as a complex, wonderful Mexican sauce (and don't worry about what is or is not technically a mole)... well, there are hundreds of them! And if you eat any one of them, you will realize that, when the writer of "Like Water for Chocolate" decided to use Mexican food as a metaphor for the magic of the universe, he made a really good choice. I first discovered some in a Mexican restaurant in NYC. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/247808 And that place just has food from Puebla! How I long to try the seven fabled moles of Oaxaca. Or regions unknown to me, discussed in that "3 great cuisines" thread. You should try places in Watsonville, CA.

      1. re: Brian S
        Eat_Nopal Jan 5, 2007 05:25 PM

        Over the years... the more I have learned about regional Mexican cuisine & pre-hispanic cuisine the more I accept the name 'Mole' to mean any thick, cooked Mexican sauce that have one single unifying thread... chiles.

        Mole comes from Mulli which just meant thick sauce... and the Aztecs made seasonal variations on the same basic sauce depending on whether they had pumpkinseeds, peanuts, pinenuts or just plain masa to use as a thickener. To me there is no reason to seperate the Moles de Olla & "Chiles" from the rest of the Moles. Even in Oaxaca you will note that that the Mole Verde rarely has any nuts or seeds in it, and no chocolate for sure... so the only thing that links it with the other 6 Moles... is that its thick, complex & based on Chiles.

        1. re: Eat_Nopal
          m
          maestra Jan 6, 2007 03:57 PM

          "I accept the name 'Mole' to mean any thick, cooked Mexican sauce that have one single unifying thread... chiles."

          Just to "stir the pot" a little, my mother-in-law and everyone from her rural region of Michoacán call any kind of sauce, thick or thin, in which a protein or shellfish is called a "mole" (or "molillo," as they use the diminuative very frequently). Even something as basic and day-to-day as a blend of guajillos, garlic, salt, cumin, and water is a mole to her. She grew up with no concept of mole poblano or Oaxacan moles, so the word is used a little differently in her kitchen.

          1. re: maestra
            Eat_Nopal Jan 6, 2007 05:04 PM

            Yup those are the Mole de Olla that I was referring to. (Its the common name in other states). They are also known as Mole Ranchero or Mole Sencillo.

            1. re: maestra
              paulj Jan 6, 2007 05:39 PM

              The closest Bayless comes to a definition (in the 14 page section on moles in Authentic Mexican) is:
              "They're always cooked sauces, rather than the condiments we spoon onto tacos [salsas?]; they're red-chile sauces, or ones thick with nuts and seeds, or ones made special with herbs and spices."

              His Poblano has a page of ingredients, his simple red one, only half a page (manchamantales - table cloth stainer). The sauce itself is little more than anchos, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, and bread.

              paulj

        2. re: rworange
          c
          ciaogina Jan 6, 2007 01:53 AM

          I pay homage to Bayless. While Diana Kennedy is certainly esteemed Chef Bayless has made enourmous in roads toward making Mexican food approachable. And talk about research, he's aces in that area too. He understands what role a particular ingredient plays in a preparation but also wants people to make the dish so he eases up--but not at the expense of the integrity of the dish. Aaron Sanchez and Zarzela Martinz are others in the same category.

        3. paulj Jan 5, 2007 04:43 PM

          Does that authentic complexity include taking your custom mix of nuts and spices to the neighborhood mole grinder?

          However, Mexicans must buy the Dona Maria mole mixes for more than the pretty drinking glass.

          paulj

          10 Replies
          1. re: paulj
            rworange Jan 5, 2007 04:55 PM

            And Americans buy Campell's canned soup. That doesn't mean the media doesn't report about outstanding American soups and stews. Just because convenience food is available whether it is mole or soup, doesn't mean that good mole is not getting ignored by the media.

            1. re: paulj
              c
              ciaogina Jan 6, 2007 01:55 AM

              They do indeed. Those Dona Maria mole bases in the drinking glasses were originally a marketing gimmick. What happened is that thrifty shoppers saw it as a value--helping sales. The other side of it was that there was this huge realization that while everyone likes moles no one had the time to make them as they were working.

              1. re: ciaogina
                paulj Jan 6, 2007 05:32 PM

                Did companies like Dona Maria pioneer the making of a mole paste, or just the packaging? For example, in an area like Oaxaca, does everyone make their own mole from scratch, or do many buy some preground mix or paste from a local shop? Another possibility is that few people make the complex versions at home, buying the dish from specialty restaurants or street vendors.

                paulj

                1. re: paulj
                  pitu Jan 10, 2007 10:59 AM

                  I'll guess Dona Maria is a packaging thing. Do they even sell that brand in Mexico??
                  In Oaxaca, the market has mountains of mole paste (and some in powder form, but not mole negro) but of course some people make their own. Remember the more elaborate preparations are not for everyday in a typical home.

                  1. re: pitu
                    Eat_Nopal Jan 10, 2007 06:10 PM

                    I don't thinks so... the Moles I have seen at the supermarkets were all in single strength, "chicken broth" cartons, under brands like Knorr, La Sierra, Herdez etc., all manufactured in Mexico & decent for supermarket products... Dona Maria & Rogelio Bueno are manufactured in the U.S. (I believe)

                    1. re: pitu
                      Krista G Jan 22, 2007 05:09 PM

                      I'm pretty sure that Dona Maria is a Mexican brand. Though food lovers like to believe that everyone outside of the U.S. makes everything from scratch, I tend to think that's not true.

                      Oddly translated Dona Maria history:
                      http://www.donamaria.com.mx/demo/english/historia_dona_maria.htm

                      Project Me
                      ----------------------
                      http://www.project-me.com

                      1. re: Krista G
                        Eat_Nopal Jan 24, 2007 02:41 AM

                        I don't know who Dona Maria sells to in Mexico... because even the mega supermarkets (where the new non-Chowish middle classes shop) seem to carry other better brands... and the lower classes buy them from local artisan shops (when they don't make them)

                        1. re: Eat_Nopal
                          Robert Lauriston Jan 24, 2007 09:14 AM

                          Supermarkets in Mexico often sell mole paste by the pound, so there's no way to know where they came from. But the quality can be quite high.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                            Eat_Nopal Jan 25, 2007 07:45 AM

                            Yeah... my relatives in Aguascalientes will buy bulk mole at the local Wal-Mart or Costco... but I will be dammed if its Dona Maria... the acrid, artificial taste of their Jar products haunts me in my worst nightmares :)

                  2. re: ciaogina
                    Glencora Jan 6, 2007 06:52 PM

                    When those glasses break, they shatter into a zillion little pieces. Must be cheap glass. Good point about people (women) working.

                2. JMF Jan 5, 2007 04:52 PM

                  What? There are folks who don't know about mole? There are people who don't spend hours combining 40 ingredients in various ways to make dozens of styles of mole? Oh, the horror of it all. Those poor disadvantaged people.

                  But seriously, in my area, NYC, people who are interested in Latin food know about mole, those who aren't, don't.

                  I too have found that quite a few chefs, food celebrities, and critics know squat about most food other than their areas of specialization, if they even have one.

                  My pet peeve is that many so called food writers are clueless, don't do research, and shouldn't even be allowed to write about food. It really annoys me because I do tons of research for even the shortest piece because I hate not having correct info.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: JMF
                    paulj Jan 7, 2007 06:48 AM

                    Isn't the legendary story about the Mole Poblano that a panicky convent cook threw everything but the kitchen sink in to her stew to impress a visiting bishop?

                    paulj

                    1. re: paulj
                      Eat_Nopal Jan 7, 2007 10:38 PM

                      That is certainly a folk myth. If you anylyze the Mole Poblano recipe you recognize the various components common in Poblano cuisine. Its kind of like one of those modernist compositions that synthesized 5 folk songs into 1 fantasy.

                  2. n
                    Nathan07 Jan 8, 2007 09:36 PM

                    it is true that virtually everyone in the NY area is ignorant of the fact that "mole" means more than just "mole poblano"

                    this is probably because there are no Oaxacan, etc. restaurants in NY.

                    midwestern foodies are certainly aware...as there are Oaxacan restaurants in Chicago, Milwaukee and other places as well.

                    also throw in the Bayless factor

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Nathan07
                      Eat_Nopal Jan 9, 2007 01:56 PM

                      There are certainly places in Manhattan that offer alternatives to Mole Poblano (Rosa Mexicano, Zarela's, Pompano & others). But they aren't cheap & they seem to have a small cult following.

                      But make no mistake about it... those who are within the foodie circles know Zarela Martinez & Aaron Sanchez... who are the Manhattan equivalent of Rick Bayless. In fact, Aaron even battled Morimoto on Iron Chef... a show that seems to be well watched among Chowhounds.

                    2. n
                      Nathan07 Jan 9, 2007 03:21 PM

                      eh, not really.

                      you're right that a couple higher end Mexican restaurants in NY, have thrown a couple other moles onto the menu (often not labeling them as "mole" cause that confuses NY diners)...pipian shows up occasionally...but no one is doing the 7 moles of Oaxaca, etc.

                      and I'm not sure what is supposed to be convincing or interesting about an allusion to Iron Chef.

                      19 Replies
                      1. re: Nathan07
                        Brian S Jan 9, 2007 04:06 PM

                        Based on my conversations with many people, virtually everyone in the NY area, and in the midwest, and in California has never heard of mole, except as a furry animal that ruins their gardens. The immigrants in the NY area (except for Poughkeepsie) are from Puebla, but the Mexican restaurant I mentioned above, and many others, have many fabulous sauces that are unlike anything I've tasted in my life, and use spices I've never heard of except in Mexican cookbooks. The 7 moles of Oaxaca are the NY chowhound's holy grail, totally unavailable. But I think you would be unable to find a restaurant in San Francisco (where most Oaxacan restaurants are not owned by Oaxacans) or even in Oaxaca itself which offers good versions of all seven moles. Many foodies who know about mole probably believe that you can walk into any cafe or market stall in Oaxaca and find wonderful versions of any of the seven moles, but as far as I can tell from my reading and Internet research, that just ain't so. (Okay, maybe some of these restaurants can do it, but they are, I would guess, mainly patronized by tourists, largely because they are far too expensive for most Oaxacans. http://travel.nytimes.com/2004/09/05/... )

                        1. re: Brian S
                          rworange Jan 9, 2007 04:25 PM

                          Just for those who might be unfamiliar ...

                          it is pronounced mo-lay ... rhymes with ole.

                          It does not rhyme with soul like the furry little animal.

                          Would hate for someone to get adventerous and ask a Mexican restaurant if they had moles ... since to my knowledge the little animals are not served ... with or without sauce ... no mole en mole.

                          1. re: rworange
                            r
                            raj1 Jan 10, 2007 06:18 PM

                            A closer phonetic pronunciation would be MOH-leh. There really is no long "A" sound in Spanish. Same with ole'--except the accent falls differently--oh-LEH!

                          2. re: Brian S
                            pitu Jan 10, 2007 11:06 AM

                            Outside the tourist trade, you *could* get the different moles in the market in OAX, but you'd have to get them on different days, and/or at festivals.
                            Everything is not meant to be available all the time!

                            Also I found Oaxaca to be a much bigger home cooking culture (with very advanced and fabulous street food for snacking) than restaurant culture

                            1. re: pitu
                              Brian S Jan 10, 2007 05:30 PM

                              " I found Oaxaca to be a much bigger home cooking culture"
                              That's exactly what I thought, and that's why I specified "restaurants in Oaxaca"

                          3. re: Nathan07
                            Eat_Nopal Jan 10, 2007 09:53 AM

                            Almost as funny as the Manhattanites who only know about Mole Poblano... are those who have just discovered Oaxacan Moles who naively come to think they are the end all & be all of Mole world.

                            Lets get this straight.... yes Oaxacan has 7 Moles... they are clearly distinct from each other. Some of the Oaxacan Moles are referred to by different sauce names in other states. For example, take the Amarillo in Oaxaca... there is a similar sauce in the Yucatan & other states called Almendrado. And sauces similar to Oaxacan Mole Verde are often referred to as Mole de Olla in other states.

                            To dismiss Pueblas Moles because they are called differently is sadly mistaken. Puebla has its own respectable team of Moles including:

                            Mole Poblano (brownish red, spicy with chocolate)
                            Pipian Rojo (red, earthy spicy, no chocolate)
                            Pipian Verde (green, very herbal & rich)
                            Manchamanteles (slightly sweet & spicy with big pieces of fruit)
                            Guazmole (green, fresh & slightly fruit made with Guaje fruits)

                            Similarly around Mexico... every state has its versions of Moles... some of the most intriguing ones to me, are the ones based on Coconut milk, or the White Mole made from Cacao Butter which I recently learned about.

                            I don't know how many clearly distinct Mole variaties there are... but there are a lot more than Oaxacas 7 Moles. And I am not talking little French... let me change 1 ingredient & give it a new name variations. So lets put it in perspective.

                            Now back to the 7 Moles... even in L.A. you will find just a couple of Oaxacan places that have all 7 Oaxacan styles of Mole on any given day (if at all).

                            I know that some of the higher restaurants in Manhattan tend to rotate through their Mole offerings. Are they deep in Moles... no not yet, all the restaurants there are just trying to do introductions to Mexican cuisine and there is too much to cover to dive into Moles.

                            But note that Zarela Martinez is from Oaxaca, and she has written a credible book on Oaxacan regional cuisine... so her place might offer more Moles than you might think.

                            1. re: Eat_Nopal
                              pitu Jan 10, 2007 11:10 AM

                              right on EatNopal! I love OAX, but my favorite mole is mole poblano
                              (as purchased in paste form from a particular lady in D.F. at the luxe mercado, and put together at home)

                              1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                kare_raisu Feb 2, 2007 08:42 AM

                                I am interested in these white and cocunt basted moles...please expand eat nopal...

                                1. re: kare_raisu
                                  Eat_Nopal Feb 2, 2007 09:28 AM

                                  The following website is a gold mine. Unfortunately its in Spanish. White Mole:

                                  > Golden Raisins
                                  > Almonds, Peanuts, Pumpkin Seeds, Sesame Seeds
                                  > White Chocolate (Cacao Butter)
                                  > Yellow Chiles
                                  > Fried Plantains
                                  > Garlic
                                  > Onion
                                  > Chicken Broth

                                  http://cocinalamexicana.espaciolatino...

                                  Coconut Moles.... in Veracruz... they have these thinner moles, with unmistakable Coconut Flavor.... I've had a hard time finding information on them. Next time I am in Mexico... I am going to hunt down some regional cook books from Veracruz, Chiapas & Nayarit.

                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                    DiningDiva Feb 2, 2007 10:16 AM

                                    Conaculta has a series of cookbooks (50+ IIRC) that is a gold mine of information on regional cuisine and foodways. Often the books are in both Spanish and the indigenous tongue. I have at least one (there may be multiple volumes) of the Veracruz cookbook as well as the one for Chiapas. Quite often the first chapter or so is a discussion of the local area and foodways. I will check my volumes tonight and see if I can find a mention of coconut based moles. I'm wondering, Eat Nopal, if you aren't thinking of Xico mole. I've not yet eaten it, but know several people that have and they all adore it.

                                    1. re: DiningDiva
                                      Eat_Nopal Feb 2, 2007 10:22 AM

                                      DD... the Conaculta series is exactly what I was thinking of. I know you can get them at cultural sites (Arqueological Sites, Museums etc.,) fairly easily but god are they expensive... relying on tourists to fork over big bucks! So I want to hunt them down in the neighborhood bookstores instead.

                                      Its not that I am cheap... but with $200 I am pretty sure I can get half the collection in the neighborhoods... while at the Boutique stores that will buy me 4 or 5 at best.

                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                        DiningDiva Feb 2, 2007 10:48 AM

                                        I bought a bunch of them in Guadalajara last August, most of them were $80 pesos or less.

                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                          cristina Feb 2, 2007 11:18 AM

                                          EN, you must be thinking of different Conaculta cookbooks--I have about ten of the series of 50+ and not one of them cost more than 50-60 pesos. That's more or less $5USD apiece.

                                          I buy mine brand new at the Hospico Cabañas here in GDL, or from the Conaculta bookstore at the annual Feria Internacional del Libro, held in GDL the last week of November.

                                          That white mole sounds spectacular, and what a great link! Thanks for posting it.

                                          1. re: cristina
                                            Eat_Nopal Feb 2, 2007 11:24 AM

                                            I kid you not at the Centro Cultural Tijuana bookstore, they were something like 350 pesos and they only had a few from the collection. Also, the Concaculta music CDs (similar 40 or so CD volume) were selling for 200 pesos... instead of the 100 pesos at Sanborns.

                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                              cristina Feb 2, 2007 11:32 AM

                                              Weird. I believe you, but weird.

                                              1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                DiningDiva Feb 2, 2007 04:51 PM

                                                If he's buying in Tijuana I definitely believe the pricing. Designed to snag those tourist dollars for sure.

                                            2. re: Eat_Nopal
                                              Leucadian Feb 2, 2007 09:36 PM

                                              Last week I bought 3 of the Conaculta regional cookbooks at a latin music store in Escondido (San Diego County) (next to El Tigre Market) for US$5.95. They had a limited selection. It appears that the series of 32 volumes was published between '85 and '88 by Banco Nacional de Credito Rural, and now re-published by Editorial Oceana and the Mexican cultural organization Conaculta. There might have been a more expensive earlier edition, since the ones I have mention that the present project aims to widen the distribution of the books by making them more affordable. In the back of each book is a list of the local festivals and their associated foods, and a glossary of local terms. I haven't tried any of the recipes, but they are great reading.

                                              The Jalisco book has recipes for Pipian, Mole de arrroz, Mole Verde, Mole Estilo Jalisco, Mole castellano, Manchamanteles, and Conejo en pipian. The San Luis Potosi book only shows Mole de olla, Mole verde, and Mole ranchero. The Guanajuato book doesn't list any dishes specifically as moles, but does include a Pollo almendrado. Maybe there are more that would be considered moles, but I don't recognize them.

                                              The pollo almendrado contains chicken, onions, almonds, saltines, tomatos, chiles gueros, raisins, vegetables, and stock. No other chiles or herbs.

                                            3. re: DiningDiva
                                              paulj Feb 3, 2007 01:05 PM

                                              Here's a Xico mole recipe:
                                              http://www.mexicodesconocido.com.mx/e...

                                              The chilies include ancho, mulato, and pasilla
                                              Thickeners include tortillas, bread (bolillo), sesame, peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, and pumpkin seeds (did they leave out anything?
                                              )Fruits include raisins, prunes, tomato, platano
                                              Spices are garlic, chocolate, anise, cinnamon, oregano, sugar to taste
                                              Preparation appears to be distinctive in that all items are fried in lard, rather than toasted on the comal.

                                              paulj

                                            4. re: Eat_Nopal
                                              paulj Feb 3, 2007 01:32 PM

                                              Any thoughts about using tahini instead of sesame seeds in a mole? My small food processor does a poor job of grinding whole sesame seeds.

                                              paulj

                                      2. n
                                        Nathan07 Jan 9, 2007 04:20 PM

                                        There are restaurants in both Chicago and Milwaukee that serve decent renditions of all 7...not necessarily all on the same night...but on a rotating schedule.

                                        The fact that all NY Mexican immigrants are from Puebla is why virtually everyone I know in NY thinks that "mole" is identical with "mole poblano"

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Nathan07
                                          pitu Jan 10, 2007 11:17 AM

                                          I don't agree. So many New Yorkers gain their information through travel (or reading) that people I know get it right -- unless they get it totally wrong and want not-Mexican "Mexican" just like the rest of Americans.
                                          ; 0

                                        2. g
                                          gavagai60 Jan 22, 2007 01:39 AM

                                          i liked this one from the times a few months ago. has a sweet audio slide show, too...

                                          http://travel2.nytimes.com/2006/11/17...

                                          1. heathermb Jan 22, 2007 05:49 PM

                                            Any comments about the 'mole' sauce that Elia made for the chocolate quick fire challenge on TC last week? IIRC she is of mexican-french descent and was criticized for her version of a mole which was described by one of the tasters as just melted chocolate poured on poached chicken.

                                            I've never made one myself, and I certainly don't profess to be any kind of expert. Just curious on what folks here thought about that.

                                            1. cristina Jan 24, 2007 04:58 AM

                                              This thread reminds me of the story about six blind men and an elephant. "An elephant is exactly like a tree," says one, encircling the elephant's leg with his arms. "No, no, an elephant is precisely like a hose," says another, running his hands down the elephant's trunk. And so on. To state the obvious, none of the blind men got the whole picture.

                                              Let's start at the beginning, way up at the top of the thread, in the original post. Mole negro is not 'the chocolate one'. As some other posters have pointed out, if a person has tasted mole in the United States, it's most often mole poblano, which could, in a stretch, be called 'the chocolate one'. Some other moles also contain a bit of chocolate, as does mole poblano. But there is no mole in Mexico that has an overriding flavor of chocolate. Chocolate can be but one small component in an extremely complex (another poster mentions 40 ingredients, which can certainly be accurate) sauce.

                                              A nit to pick: on January 5, BrianS posted about *Like Water for Chocolate* and talked about the male author. The author of *Like Water for Chocolate* is Laura Esquivel--definitely a woman.

                                              About Doña María, arguably the original mass-producer of mole: the company was founded more than 50 years ago in the state of San Luis Potosí, Mexico. Today, it's owned by Grupo Herdez, a most Mexican company that markets a huge number of labels, including McCormick Mexico, the spice company; Barilla Mexico, the Mexican branch of the Italian pasta company, and Kikkoman Mexico, the Asian ingredient purveyor. And yes, Doña María mole paste is sold everywhere in Mexico in those familiar little juice glasses.

                                              Mole (pronounced, as one person pointed out up-thread, MOH-leh, with heavy stress on the first syllable) has become the poster child for so-called authentic Mexican food. Move one step beyond two-tacos-and-an-enchilada combination plate and you'll find mole. Once you've reached mole, you'll find Diana Kennedy, followed by a whole string of chefs and writers--in the United States. Some have deep Mexican roots, others don't. Some really understand what they're talking about and preparing in their kitchens; others might not.

                                              Many posters on this thread have talked about a variety of moles: poblano, the so-called seven moles of Oaxaca, manchamanteles, pipianes, etc. Those are just the more common ones. Another poster mentioned that Oaxaca is home-cooking territory, not restaurant territory. The truth is, all of Mexico is home-cooking territory. The best of the many cuisines of Mexico is found in home kitchens. Generally speaking, home cooking far surpasses restaurant cooking. Diana Kennedy found almost all of her recipes in home kitchens; one of the joys of reading and cooking from Kennedy's books is getting to know through Kennedy's writing the person who gave her such-and-such a recipe. Home cooking is called comida casera, and home-prepared mole is called mole casero.

                                              Other posters scoffed at the notion that today's home cook has the time and inclination to prepare mole from scratch. My experience (I've lived in Mexico for 26 years) proves that point. Most young Mexican housewives simply don't have the time to roast, toast, grind, and stir the numerous ingredients into mole for comida (coh-MEE-dah, the main meal of the day in Mexico, usually eaten between 2 and 4PM). They're too busy working to support their familes. A recent Guadalajara newspaper reported that 31% of Mexican households depend on at least two incomes to stay afloat.

                                              So where does mole come from, in Mexico? Not as in 'please expound on the origins of mole', but as in 'where does the housewife get her mole for Sunday's comida'? Some comes from those Doña María jars. Some comes from other brands of pastes. Some comes from the lady down the street, whose household work is preparing foods to take out. And some comes from the tianguis (street market) or the municipal market, where mole pastes are often sold in bulk. You can buy as little as 100 grams to make dinner for the family or a kilo to carry home with you from your culinary vacation. At the tianguis where I shop, the mole vendor sells the following pastes: mole poblano, mole almendrado, mole dulce, mole muy picante, pipián, cacahuate, mole verde, and mole colorado. NONE of these mole pastes is made by home cooks; they are all factory-prepared. Mind you, that doesn't take away one iota of their deliciousness. In addition, Oaxaca mole pastes are sold in Oaxaqueño-staffed street stands all over Mexico. Again, buy just a bit or buy a lot--but none of the moles are prepared in anyone's home. They're all turned out in factories--factories which may be the size of your living room, but factories nonetheless.

                                              So just who is standing over the home kitchen comal (coh-MAHL, a flat griddle made of clay or metal) toasting the multiple ingredients for a home-made mole? Who's grinding all those ingredients on the metate (meh-TAH-teh, a rectangular grinding stone)? My experience shows me that it's the women who prepare what's known as comida de boda: the time-consuming old-style recipes that make up the dishes served at a wedding (boda: BOH-dah). To find a woman preparing mole, you'll need to seek out one of these fine home cooks. Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet one of these women. She became my friend, and then she prepared mole for me for a very special party. And THEN she gave me the recipe, and here it is for you Chowhounds. If someone takes the time and trouble to make it--Doña Socorro's mole dulce casero--will you be kind enough to post your results? I'd love to be able to tell her that you made it.

                                              Mole Dulce Estilo Doña Socorro (Doña Socorro's Sweet Red Mole)

                                              Note: A liter is about a quart and a kilo equals 2.2 pounds. 125 grams is 4-5 ounces.

                                              Step One
                                              This step takes approximately five hours.

                                              5 kilos pork meat (part shoulder, cut in 2" cubes and part spare ribs, cut in 2" sections)
                                              4-5 liters water
                                              Several large bay leaves

                                              Put the meat, water, and bay leaves into a very large heavy clay or non-stick metal pot. On high heat, bring the water to a boil, and then lower the heat and keep the pot at a slow simmer for about four hours or until the pork is very tender.

                                              By the end of the cooking time, the water will be nearly absorbed. Add one pound of fresh pork lard to the cooking meat and cook until the meat is well browned on all sides. Be careful that the pork does not burn. When the meat is browned, turn off the heat and remove the meat from the cooking pot to reserve until later in another container. Leave the remaining grease and browned bits in the cooking pot.

                                              Step Two
                                              This step takes approximately one hour.

                                              125 grams dry chile guajillo
                                              125 grams dry chile ancho
                                              3/4 cup vegetable oil
                                              5 large garlic cloves, peeled
                                              2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
                                              10 whole cloves
                                              1 6" stick cinnamon
                                              2-3 cups water

                                              Using a small paring knife slit open the dried chiles and remove the seeds and veins. With the palm of your hand, press the chiles flat. Put the oil in a small skillet and heat until very hot but not smoking. Using tongs, pass each flattened chile very briefly through the hot oil, just long enough to barely toast the chiles. Do not allow them to fry any longer or they will be bitter and will not grind well.

                                              Put all the spices in a large blender jar. Add as many of the chiles as will fit. Add the water to the blender jar. Blend the contents until they are completely liquefied and very smooth—you will no longer see flecks of chile or the spices. Reserve this liquid in another large pot.

                                              Put the remaining chiles in the blender jar with one cup of water. Blend until completely liquefied and add to the previously reserved pot of liquid.

                                              Note: This is the step that simplifies the recipe. If you want to make this recipe exactly as it was done in the old days, you'll need to add an extra hour or two for grinding the spices and toasted chiles into a silky smooth paste using the metate (the angled grinding stone).

                                              Step Three
                                              This step takes approximately one half hour.

                                              300 grams white flour
                                              1 6" stick cinnamon, broken in three 2" pieces
                                              1 round tablet Mexican chocolate (Ibarra and Abuelita are two brands readily available North of the Border)
                                              2 ripe bananas
                                              2 ripe plantains (the skins should be yellow and well-flecked with dark brown)
                                              1 pound piloncillo or panocha (Mexican brown sugar, available in Latin grocery stores)
                                              1 pound white sugar

                                              In the pork cooking pot you have approximately one cup of lard left over from browning the meat. Bring the leftover lard to an extremely hot but not smoking temperature. Add the flour little by little to the hot lard, stirring constantly with a large wooden spoon to make a smooth, lump-free mixture. This mixture is the thickening agent for the mole. Cook until the flour-lard mixture is smooth and evenly browned.

                                              Next, gradually add the chile-spice liquid that you blended in Step Two, along with enough water to equal a total of four or five liters.

                                              Cut the top stalk ends off the bananas and the plantains while they are still in their peels. Peel the fruits in such a way that the peels are still hooked together at the other end. Set the peels aside and reserve for later use. Cut the bananas and the plantains into slices approximately one inch thick. Reserve the bananas and the plantains with their peels.

                                              Step Four
                                              This step takes approximately 1 1/2 hours.

                                              Continue stirring constantly, moving the spoon along the bottom of the cooking pot to make sure that the mole is smooth, does not stick to the pot, and does not burn. As the mole just begins to thicken, add the cinnamon stick pieces and the Mexican brown sugar.

                                              Once the sugar is well blended and the sauce has heated through, add the tablet of Mexican chocolate.

                                              After the chocolate has dissolved and blended into the sauce, gradually add the cooked cubes of meat, using tongs or a long-handled spoon so that the sauce doesn't splash up and burn your hand.

                                              Finally, add the reserved banana and plantain slices, along with the banana peels.

                                              As the mole continues to cook and reduce, it will have the consistency of thick gravy. If the sauce appears to be thickening too quickly, add HOT water to thin it slightly.

                                              Do not stop stirring the mole from the bottom of the cooking pot during this process.

                                              When the mole begins to boil, lower the heat and allow it to simmer until finished, approximately an hour and a half. It should bubble slightly, the bubbles just breaking the surface.

                                              Serves 20-25. Serve as a main course with rice, refried beans and hot tortillas.

                                              In the first photo, that's Doña Socorro on the right and her friend Doña Rosario on the left. Doña Socorro let Doña Rosario steady the cazuela (cah-ZWEH-lah, a clay cooking vessel like the one in the photo), but firmly refused permission to stir the mole. "Only one hand stirs the mole, otherwise the sauce will break," she said.

                                               
                                               
                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: cristina
                                                c
                                                ciaogina Jan 24, 2007 05:13 AM

                                                muchas gracias for providing your perspective and experience...I learned in the process. I also appreciate the recipe and will let you know how it goes!

                                                1. re: cristina
                                                  c
                                                  cheryl_h Jan 24, 2007 05:58 AM

                                                  Thank you for the recipe and insight. By coincidence I made my first mole last weekend, the basic mole poblano. I sent DH to get some of the chiles I didn't have. He walked into a Mexican grocery and asked for pasillas and mulatos. The owner said immediately "you're making mole!". Turned out he didn't have the mulatos but he said that no-one made mole at home any more and directed DH to the stack of Dona Maria products. Undeterred I made the mole which took a long time but tastes absolutely heavenly. I'm going to push onward and hope to make Dona Socorra's mole one day.

                                                  1. re: cristina
                                                    Eat_Nopal Jan 24, 2007 08:02 AM

                                                    Nice post... very insightful. I would add... that most of my relatives (originally from Jalisco & in-laws from D.F. and a few other places) do make their own moles... but they certainly don't make them for Wednessday's comida. They are reserved for special occassions... at best they are weekend food... although within our sub-culture... weekend cooking is usually the men's chance to give the women a break from cooking and that means outdoor cooking like Birria Enterrada, Caldo Michi, Parilladas / Asados, Carnitas de Cazo or Dulces de Leche.

                                                    Of course, once Mole is made... there are usually lots of left-overs for Enmoladas, Taquitos & other antojitos.

                                                    1. re: cristina
                                                      pitu Jan 29, 2007 08:03 AM

                                                      awesome post cristina, THX!
                                                      And triple thanks for the line
                                                      "Only one hand stirs the mole.." to get my pesky partner out of the sauce!

                                                    2. Eat_Nopal Jan 29, 2007 07:55 AM

                                                      About Moles in Puebla... including the October Mole competition in San Pedro Actopan, with 5 Mole categories:

                                                      http://www.mexiconews.com.mx/23177.html

                                                      1. DiningDiva Jan 29, 2007 07:50 PM

                                                        Just for the record, here are the Seven Moles of Oaxaca (in no particular order)

                                                        Mole Amarillo
                                                        Mole Verde
                                                        Mole Rojo
                                                        Mole Coloradito
                                                        Mole Negro
                                                        Manchamanteles
                                                        Chichilo

                                                        And if you've never had Chichilo, but ever see it on a menu, order it. It is devine and beats the heck out of Mole Negro any day. Subtle, sophisticated, complex and elegant all at the same time. I'd post my recipe but unfortunately, I seem to have lost half of it

                                                        Mole Negro is not an ancient creation by any stretch of the imagination, nor are the chiles used in it by any means consistent. The chiles will often vary according to what is available (or not if a particular chile crop has failed) or what is affordable in the market. Guajillos are frequently used to fill in for chiles that are missing, in short supply or just too darned expensive. Nor is it particularly difficult to make. What it does require is time, patience, an outside kitchen and a little exactitude with the method. I've had the opportunity (and pleasure) to make Mole Negro in Oaxaca with 2 different cooks - Susana Trilling and Abigail Mendoza. The process was very similar and the results sublime, but the moles were very different. One was not better than the other, each was an expression of the cook's personality and personal interpretation of Mole Negro. Really, this is what mole is all about, how each cook puts the same ingredients together yet comes out with something unique and individual.

                                                        Abigail buried her onions and garlic in the glowing embers of her outdoors horno (that would be a beehive shaped oven most likely made out of adobe of some sort) and ground everything by hand on a matate. Susana roasted on a comal and used a rather evil looking, but highly effective, molina (mill) to grind her ingredients. Certainly buring onions and garlic in ashes is going to impart a smokey earthiness to the finished sauce. But roasting on a comal is just as traditional and just as valid a method. Susana is in Etla, Abigail is in Teotitlan del Valle, 2 different parts of the Oaxaca valley, ergo, 2 different but equally delicious styles of Mole Negro. And so it is with every mole in Mexico. They are as different and as personal as the person (or big manufacturer) making them.

                                                        Now, if ya'll ever get to Quiroga in Michoacan, be sure to check out the little tianguis that sets up to one side of the Catholic church. There's a nice young woman who makes a dynamite mole taco from a fresh masa tortilla and mole de olla that goes down really easily as breakfast. Buen Provecho!

                                                        14 Replies
                                                        1. re: DiningDiva
                                                          Eat_Nopal Jan 30, 2007 07:23 AM

                                                          Hey DD,

                                                          Is Chichilo the same as Almendrado? Many Oaxacans list Almendrado as the 7th mole category.

                                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                            DiningDiva Jan 30, 2007 07:50 AM

                                                            No, it's a very, very refined mole. If I recall correctly it has no relationship to Almendrado. My sources for my list are Ricardo Muñoz Zurita (Mexican Master Chef, all round terriffic guy, culinary historian and authority on Mexican food), Roberto Santibañez and Marilyn Tausend. I have the ingredient list I can post when I get home tonight. You could compare it to the recipe(s) you have for Almendrado.

                                                            Also someone up-thread mentioned that Zarela was from Oaxaca. She's actually from Veracruz but is quite knowledgeable about Oaxaca and her Oaxaca book is very good. Ricardo is also from Veracruz and adores Oaxaca. Diana Kennedy has a new book coming out soon and it is devoted to Oaxaca.

                                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                              paulj Jan 30, 2007 08:35 AM

                                                              Almendrado sounds like it would use almonds.

                                                              The recipes that I found on the web for Chichilo use an Oaxacan chile, chilhuacle. One source describes one form of chilhacle, the negro, as one of the more expensive chiles.

                                                              What makes one mole more 'refined' than another? The choice of chiles? Is refined different from complex?

                                                              paulj

                                                              1. re: paulj
                                                                Eat_Nopal Jan 30, 2007 09:58 AM

                                                                Here is a good description of the 7 Moles cited by DD. I had forgotten the name Chichilo but its the one made with ashes (really burnt chiles etc.,). Oddly this site also neglects the Almendrado. There may be regional nuances within Oaxaca as to what represents the 7 Moles.

                                                                BTW, Almendrado is a Mole light on Chiles and heavy on spices & dried fruit... it tastes a lot more like a Curry or a Northern African sauce than like other Moles.

                                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                                  pitu Jan 30, 2007 10:15 AM

                                                                  At a private home in Oaxaca city, I saw mole negro made with ashes too - burnt tortilla. I can't recall if the avocado leaf was incinerated as well....

                                                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                                    paulj Jan 30, 2007 10:21 AM

                                                                    I was a bit puzzled by burnt tortillas (tortillas quemadas) in the Chichilo recipes. I thought it just meant well browned, not actually burned.

                                                                    e.g.
                                                                    "2 chiles chilhuacles, 2 chiles pasilla mexicanos, ½ cebolla mediana, 4 miltomates (tomates verdes), 3 dientes de ajo, 1 cucharadita de orégano, 2 pimientas, 1 hoja de aguacate tostada, 2 tortillas quemadas, ", etc

                                                                    http://www.mexicodesconocido.com.mx/e...
                                                                    This uses a beef and pork stock.

                                                                    The mole almendrado from the same source uses anchos, almonds, tomatoes and a platano.

                                                                    paulj

                                                                    1. re: paulj
                                                                      DiningDiva Jan 30, 2007 12:55 PM

                                                                      The tortilla in Mole Negro is pretty well incinerated, as are the seeds from the chiles. Both Susana Trilling and Abigail Mendoza toasted the tortillas until black. The seeds from the chiles were toasted on a comal and when very black they were ignited with a match to burn off all the extra volatile oils, a compelling reason to have an outdoors area in which to do this preparation.

                                                                    2. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                                      paulj Jan 30, 2007 10:35 AM

                                                                      Isn't manchamanteles the one that is heavy on fruits? There may be others, but that seems to standout.
                                                                      paulj

                                                                      1. re: paulj
                                                                        DiningDiva Jan 30, 2007 12:56 PM

                                                                        Yes, Manchamanteles has fruit in it and has a nice sweetness to it. It's generally thought to be a good introduction to moles for people who have little or not experience with mole.

                                                                    3. re: paulj
                                                                      DiningDiva Jan 30, 2007 12:52 PM

                                                                      For me, the thing that makes Chichilo so refined is the incredible balance in the sauce. The flavors are nuanced and subtle. This is not a sauce that hits you over the head screaming with bold flavors. Yet as you eat it, the flavor, texture and mouthfeel are so seductive. Most well balanced sauces in any cuisine are like this, they dance around the palate providing hints of heat, a tease of sweetness, a dash of salt, or bitter, or sour. When a sauce is well balanced, all the components unite to create something unique and utterly delicious. So it is with chichilo. The ingredients are perfectly simple and ordinary, the results is not, with the complexity of the sauce coming from the depth of the flavor combinations. Of any mole I have ever had in Mexico, Chichilo is the only one that I can safely describe as sophisticated.

                                                                      Something most people do not realize is that with Mexican sauces - moles and pipianes in particular - the star of the dish is the sauce NOT the protein with which it is served. In reality, the protein is actually no more than a garnish. That is why when served mole (or pipian) in Mexico you will often get a large plate with meat that appears to be swimming in sacue, too much sauce. Those fragrant and fresh hot corn tortillas that come with it are supposed to be used to sop up all the extra sauce once the meat is consumed; rice too serves the same purpose.

                                                                      And yes, Chilhuacle chiles are both black and very expensive though not as expensive as the smoked chile pasilla Oaxaqueño which were close to $20 USD/kilo 2 years ago.

                                                                      1. re: DiningDiva
                                                                        Eat_Nopal Jan 31, 2007 06:57 AM

                                                                        DD,

                                                                        We are all entitled to our own opinions, I would describe most moles in Mexico as post-modern, bold & complex the true sophistication of the future... while the sauces you describe as sophisticated to me are boring and so 19th century.

                                                                        To each his own.

                                                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                                          DiningDiva Jan 31, 2007 01:10 PM

                                                                          I think it's a matter of semantics (and palate) at this point. The mole de olla I had a Pujol was certainly a sophisticated sauce, but it was balanced as well. All sauces, no matter the cuisine, benefit from being balanced. In balance, they come much closer to that Japanese concept imami (which I know I've probably misspelled terribly)

                                                                          1. re: DiningDiva
                                                                            Eat_Nopal Jan 31, 2007 02:26 PM

                                                                            The problem is that at some level Balance is a subjective concept. The society defines what is balance, there is no natural innate, absolute definition of it. For example, I might advance that piquantness is an essential element to the balance of any savory dish. Therefore any "balanced" sauce you come up with from the French repertoire is going to be woefully lacking & unbalanced in an element that millions around the world consider d'rigeur. Further, the Japanese would probably argue that "fishyness" (I can't find a better word to describe it)... is an essential category in any savory dish etc., etc., etc.,

                                                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                                              DiningDiva Jan 31, 2007 03:40 PM

                                                                              This is what I hate most about inanimate fora such as this. We have only words, no body language, eye contact or voice inflections. We are not really all that far apart and I think were we having this conversation face-to-face we'd find we're really on the same page, just different segments of it.

                                                                              You appear to be defining "balanced" as bland and European. Frankly, that was the farthest thing from my mind when I wrote that chichilo was a balanced sauce. By balance I mean that all the components come together as a cohesive combination of flavors where one does not dominate to the detriment of the others. Those flavors can explode on the palate as bold and sassy, or they can be soft and subtle. Neither is more right than the other.

                                                                              Perhaps this is the easiest way to explain it. Chiles like salt, actually they love salt. Puree a bunch of toasted chile de arbol with a water, a tad of sugar and garlic if you'd like to form a puree about as thick as tomato sauce. Add salt and taste. It'll be pretty raw and acrid. Add more salt and taste again. It'll be better but still "off". Keep adding salt and tasting and at some point the chile "bloom" because the chile and salt have reached the point at which they have an affinity for each other. The heat and punch of the chiles is still there, and the puree not overtly salty. The chiles and the salt reach a point at which together they are far better than the individual ingredients alone.

                                                                              Eat Nopal, I think we're arguing a question of semantics and interpretation here. If you want the last word it's all yours, go for it ;-)

                                                                2. DiningDiva Jan 30, 2007 03:44 PM

                                                                  Here's a link to a pretty good article about moles by Barbara Hansen that was in the L.A. Times a couple of years ago.

                                                                  http://www.latimes.com/features/print...

                                                                  The L.A. Times does require registration, but it's a free site after that.

                                                                  1. Anonimo Jan 31, 2007 03:46 PM

                                                                    I had very good enmoladas for breakfast yesterday; tortillas dipped in a very dark, rather picante mole, and filled with chicken; attractively presented at Fonda Mamá Lupe, on Calle Benito Mendoza, in Pátzcuaro. (Between Plaza Grande and Plaza Chica.)
                                                                    I have no idea how they make this sauce or where they get it, but I'd eat there again.
                                                                    (The sole exception was the coffee, which was truly dreadful.)

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: Anonimo
                                                                      paulj Jan 31, 2007 07:00 PM

                                                                      A California mole maker, Rivas, has a recipe for Enchiladas de Mole Rojos Rivas,
                                                                      which as you describe, are tortillas dipped in a mole, and wrapped around chicken. Their's is a Teloloapan style mole rojo.

                                                                      http://www.molerojo.com/recetas.html

                                                                      paulj

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