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Mole(mex) and Curry(India)have something in common

Being a Mexican Food fan especially Mole all the types I thought this was interesting-


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  1. Really interesting, and though I never would have thought of the connection it certainly makes sense.

    1. A some differences come to mind:
      - mole sauces are typically cooked separately from the meat, though broth from the meat is used to thin the base.
      - most Indian stews/curries recipes that I've tried, cook the meat with the spices. Some spice mixes are added at the end (garam masala). Other mixes are pureed and fried at the start of the dish.
      - bread and nuts are a key thickener in moles. This is also true of some Spanish sauces (remesco, Catalan picada)
      - I don't recall Indian recipes that use such thickeners. Seems the many Indian stews get their body from cooked down onions.


      3 Replies
      1. re: paulj

        You mention that using nuts as a thickener is unique to Mexican moles. Not true. My sister-in-laws are all excellent Gujurati cooks (Gujurat is a state in Western India) and they all frequently use peanuts as thickening agents in their curries. In fact, when I am cooking Gujurati dishes for friends, I make a point of asking about peanut allergies: as many of our dishes contain peanuts but the taste is not obvious.

        Well, I guess technically peanuts aren't a nut. But they are a common ingredient in Indian and Mexican cooking. Fascinating article, btw. My husband and I have long noted the similarities...and we both love both cuisines.

        1. re: janetofreno

          It should be noted that Peanuts are originally from Andean South America (Peru, Brazil etc.,) and were foraged by the various tribes... they made their way to Mexico (via the pre-hispanic trade routes).... where they were first cultivated intensively.... particularly in Central Mexico.

          The Spanish brought the peanut to Europe (where it failed as a crop)... but most importantly to Africa where it became a crucial nutrient, but played a sinister role in the Slave Trade (it was one of the things the Spanish used as payment).... the Portugese soon thereafter also found sources of Peanut in their portion of the Andes.... and similarly used it to broker slaves.... and later brought it to their colony in Western India.

          There was a point in history when Spain & Portugal were involved in a complex trading arrangement that ended bringing lots of products from the Indian sub-continent (mangos, tamarind etc.) to New Spain (Mexico) in exchange for Mexican products like Peanuts, Chiles etc.,

          Curiously.... Indian cuisine is one that my parents really took to here in the U.S.... when we "splurged" at some Indian restaurant in the burbs... I think my Dad used to like pretending that Indian dishes were actually the Mexican dishes he missed the most..... Goat Curry was a proxy for Oaxacan style Goat Barbacoa, the Chickpea is in the spicy red stew... were Chickpeas in Adobo & Chicken Tikka was Chicken al Pastor etc., etc.,

        2. re: paulj

          northern Indian cuisine uses ground almonds as thickeners in kormas. Moghul cuisine.
          e.g., http://www.whats4eats.com/recipes/r_m...

        3. thanks for the great article!

          1. Very intriguing.

            I'm not sure why I didn't make the connection when I figured out that the best way for me to approximate Spanish rice was to make a version of pilaf...

            1. I am familiar with both cuisines and I have postulated about this, too. The flat breads, the roasting of spices, reliance on some of the same spices, using ground nuts in gravies, etc. Actually, it is really quite a coincidence how much the two cuisines have in common generally speaking. I agree with the author's references to the Muslim influence, but I think the indigenous cuisines have a lot in common besides that just as a coincidence.

              Re paulj: bread would never be used to thicken and Indian gravy, but there are many traditional recipes for North Indian and Pakistani food that use nuts as a thickener. But most people use short cuts or don't make these that often.

              Many traditional Mexican sweets are similar to Indo-Pak sweets, too. Both puddings and reduction sweets (reductions of milk cooked with sugar, or nuts fried and cooked with sugar).

              The roasted and grilled meats of Indo-Pak cuisine are Mongol origin---the Mongols brought it to the Arabs, the Arabs brought it to Spain, the Spaniards brought it to Mexico.

              Though N. Indian/Paki flat breads are made with whole wheat flour or a mix of white and wheat, and MX flour tortillas are traditionally white flour, they serve the same purpose. In addition, there is an Indo-Pak corn based flat bread (makai ki roti) that is eaten daily in some regions, and also used to accompany certain specific dishes.

              Just uncanny, really.

              2 Replies
              1. re: luckyfatima

                Thanks for the great further in depth comparison. Nice expansion on the article.

                1. re: luckyfatima

                  in fact, luckyfatima, you might want to contact the authors of the article with your insights. i think they would appreciate it and it might start a really neat (chowish) dialogue!

                2. The article while providing some very good information, and an intriguing story has many, many errors... and generally a wrong assessment as follows:

                  > Mole was NOT invented in the 18th Century by Nuns... a PARTICULAR recipe for Mole was derived at the Santa Clara convent for a special occassion... Mole Poblano. It happens to be one of the most popular & commonly served moles but it certainly wasn't the first, the only or the most important. This is a mistaken widespread belief held even in mainstream Mexico... embarrasingly echoed even by culinary luminaries like Patricia Quintana.

                  > Had the Mole been invented at Santa Clara in the 18th Century... why would it adopt the generic Aztec word for sauce as its name? Specially considering that many of the nuns at the convent were of European origin (some speculate they were primarily Catalan)... and Puebla was NOT home of Aztecs / Nahuatl speakers? Even more damaging are the writings of the Spanish Conquistadors (particularly Bernal Diaz) which describe that Moles were among the dishes served to them by the Aztecs. Pre-Hispanic Moles have the same basic structure as Contemporary Moles but with slightly different ingredients... before they were thickened with Pumpkin Seed, Peanuts & Masa... now they include Bread, Almonds etc.,

                  > With respects to Agua Fresca... there may be some similiarities but not necessarily any relationship. For one.... most of the foods in Mexico (& Spain) that have a strong Muslim connection have names derived from Arab... Almendra, Ajonjoli, Alambres etc., Agua Frescas have neither... further as early as the mid 16th Century... English pirates hanging out in the Yucatan waiting for Spanish Galleons documented the fruity, slightly alcoholic drinks they would come to know by as Cocktails (because they were typically adorned with colorful bird feathers)... Agua Frescas are simply an extension of Mexico's immense fruit surplus. Further damaging to this argument.... the Spanish Conquistadors also documented that they were served sorbets (nieves) made from snow brought down from the Volcanoes & Snowy Peaks surrounding Mexico City

                  > Finally the suggestion that roasting or grilling meats was derived from the Old World is also ridiculous in face of all the archeological evidence of Pre-Hispanic roasting & high heat griddling of meats... again not disputing similarities.

                  Now, with those mistakes aside... is there an Islamic connection to Mexican cuisine? Absolutely without a doubt. The Middle East plays a key role in the Spice Route & through conquest / invasion of Souther Europe (including Spain, Greece & Italy).... it connects East & West. There is no doubt that many requisite ingredients of the Mexican kitchen (the Holy trinity of spices.... Cumin, Cloves, Black Pepper... are derived from Al-Andalus)... however, the overall analysis that Moles & Mexican dishes in general are basically Middle Eastern dishes with a few new world touches is absolutely ridiculous... although has some basis.

                  Lots of mainstream Mexican cooking is the cookery of the Creoles (those of Spanish / European ancestry)... so things like the Mexican Rice, Fideos, Alambres etc., really would fit that thesis. However these represent less than 1% of what Mexican cuisine really is. The vast majority of Mexican cooking is based on Pre-Hispanic dishes that accomodate more economical substitue ingredients (Chicken instead of Turkey or Duck, Cilantro instead of Papalo., Cloves, Cumin & Black Pepper instead of Allspice etc.

                  13 Replies
                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                    Thank you for your clarification EN. Your's was an equally fascinating read.

                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                      I always learn so much from Eat Nopal.

                      I appreciate your post.

                      Funny, I have experienced so many different Mexican cuisines all over Mexico and from so many different ethnic groups but only recently I am interested in the historical aspects. My focuas has always been the architecture and art.. this makes a lot of sense just from what I know about art history.

                      I thought this was a pretty good website on the history of food for the different regions in Mexico-

                      1. re: Lori SF

                        That is a pretty good website to gain some basic info and some basic theories... but the essays are all fairly superficial and not particularly academic. I highly recommend a subscribtion to Arqeologia Mexicana http://www.arqueomex.com/... also the various government publications on indigenous culture are extremely valuable... here is the government's main website on the topic http://www.cdi.gob.mx/

                        Overall... I find that people like Michel Fournier (a descendant of 19th Century French Barcelonnette immigrants) & Carlos Azcoytia (descendant of Spanish Civil War refugees)... are so indoctrinated in the official, post-Revolutionary discourse of Mestizaje (pushed vehemently by Jose Vasconcelos - the Intellectual pillar behind Mexico's nation building efforts in the late 1920's & 1930's - that they tend to filter their essays & available evidence to substantiate the nice, but impractical & undermining concept that Mexico is one giant Mestizaje / Fusion... and in the process they repeatedly undermine the not-modest contributions of Mesoamerica.... that is why I like to cross reference the more subjective extrapolations on Culinary & Cultural History with the more scientifically objective findings by the Anthropologists. And part of the bias is that they give a 100% weight to the Spanish account of how things came about... and are rarely in the indigenous villages speaking with people to find out the oral history. (I know some may balk at the idea that Oral History can be as accurate as Written History... but given that the surviving copy of the Popul Vuh was redacted Orally almost 100 years after conquest... and it has largely been validated by Archeologist findings at the various sites.... it shouldn't be discounted so easily


                        Unfortunately... the history of Pre-Hispanic Mexican cuisine wasn't documented as thoroughly as the Roman... and further what did exist was burned by the Spaniards (save some of the few codices remaining in European museums)... and so Anthropology / Archelogy becomes our only hope for understanding the truth.

                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                          thanks for the websites!!
                          Maybe you should start documenting or a blog..you would be great at this. I am appreciating the historical value more and more and I think it is important so we can value what is left of the indigenous people.

                          I am familar with the Huichol Indians where I once had a few meals with in Nayarit. It's a sad state of affairs what is going on there because of their exposure to all the toxins from the tobacco fields.

                          1. re: Lori SF

                            Its funny you mention that... I am working on a website / blog. One of the interesting things is that the Internet / Modern Communications is really starting to benefit the effort to preserve & help the indigenous world.

                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                              I am glad you are doing that, please let me know when you have it going. You have my email? If not I am have it published here. I want to do a blog on something different but my writing sucks!

                              Yes the internet can certainly be helpful for these issues and nothing like seeing it first hand too.

                          2. re: Eat_Nopal

                            Great contribution on this thread, Eat Nopal.

                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                              great info eat nopal.

                              i was looking for your blog but can't find it...can u give the address?

                              so true about mole, it is a nahuatl origin word, why would it be Iberian?

                              1. re: luckyfatima

                                Its a work in progress... I am currently designing the site (stuck trying to figure out Dreamweaver)... but in a couple of months it should be up with 4 or 5 essays.... and a daily recipe... and I will then add to it over time.

                            2. re: Lori SF

                              Its very interesting that you mention architecture and art... because from what I have learned the fusion of the cuisines would likely have paralleled the history behind Tequitqui & other colonial art forms:


                              "On Saturday morning, festival participants met at the IOHIO office at 9:30 and boarded a bus for the Mixteca Alta region. The first stop was the hillside community of Santa María Tiltepec, where the village church, built before 1575 on pre-Hispanic foundations, is characterized by ornate carved decoration in the tequitqui style consisting of syncretistic motifs (Mexican and European) in low, mainly two-dimensional relief. As in other village churches, we were welcomed by male elders making brief speeches. After viewing a 16th-century footed baptismal font with feathered serpent motifs and a fine set of 18th-century retablos (reredos), we ascended the “west gallery” (coro alto), though at Tiltepec, with its unconventional orientation, this was actually at the south end of the building... "

                              A very compelling & intriguing way to look at the development of colonial Mexican cuisine is to compare it with the story behind the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Here is this painting that art historians consider to be in the same caliber as the European masters of the 16th Century... and it was painted by an Aztec scribe whose convert name was Marcos Cipac less than 10 years after the fall of Tenochtitlan. The Golden Ratio is there... the perspective, the technique, and you also see some Byzantine influence from the original Virgin of Guadalupe painting.... but Cipac also created something entirely new & unique... unlike any other painting of its time in Spain (or Florence for that matter).

                            3. re: Eat_Nopal

                              Look no further for the middle eastern connection; all you need to see is El Pastor.

                              1. re: bkhuna

                                That is very different. By Al Pastor... I think you are referring to the ubiquitous Tacos al Pastor... with thin pork steaks marinated in an Achiote paste, & slices of onion roasted on Vertical spit... while basted by Pineapple juices. That dish has a very recent history in Mexico... there is another much more traditional dish that has a much longer history... I will explain briefly.

                                > Mexico received a bulk of the Catholic & Maronite ethnic groups primarily from Lebanon, Syria & Iraq during the breakdown of the Ottoman empire.

                                > In the early 1930's a well liked man of Iraqi ancestry invented the Taco Arabe in Puebla City. He basically invented a new type of flat bread... that is like a cross between lavash & a tortilla, he filled it up with marinated lamb from the Vertical spit & served it with Mexican style salsas.

                                > In the following decade someone in either Merida or Puebla (both cities have sizable Lebanese / Middle Eastern populations)... fused a traditional Mexican dish of grilled marinated pork steaks & pineapple... with the Vertical spit roasting technique and the rest is history.

                                > The more traditional dish is Cabrito al Pastor (Kid roasted horizontally over an open fire)- a regional specialty from Monterrey which was a city founded by Crypto-Jews and which to this day is full of Sephardic-Catholic-Indigenous syncretism

                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                  I was indeed refering to the vertical roaster, a la schwarma. I believe the presence of said roaster and the overall style was an import from the middle east.

                                  Again EN, thanks for all the input you give. Next time I travel to Alta California, I will be consulting you for recommendations.

                            4. FWIW.... the first time I took my parents to have some Japanese Curry (they were a bit scared after their Sushi initiation consisted of unusually big slices of Sashimi).... I described it as "Japanese Mole"... the really dug it.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Eat_Nopal


                                There is a picture in the plates of Diana Kennedy's My Mexico I think that shows a tandoor-like cooking vessel - that tortillas are slapt against - just like naan.

                                I think it is native to the west Mexican areas of Colima and Nayarit.