After a year of living and travelling around Mexico, I don't believe there is a dish that is quite unique or possibly any more Mexican than mole.
I know that tacos are Mexico's most well known and popular export, but nothing is as wonderful as a mole, made from scratch using nothing but local ingredients - the most significant are those wonderful combinations using some types of chillies that are only found in the country.
Mole is a word that is derived from the Nahuatl (native language of the Aztecs) word ‘molli’ which means mixture or sauce. It is a dish that differs from region to region, reflecting ingredients that are in abundance locally and in season. It is argued that Mole was invented only after the Spanish arrived in 1520, however there is evidence of traditonal style moles such as Huaxmole, a dish using Guaje seeds, that originated in Tehuacan before the conqusitadors.
The basis of all moles
Moles are an amalgamation of a few or many ingredients to create a unique flavour profile that is very distinct. Each ingredient is prepared individually to bring out the strongest flavour profile possible. The mole protein most commonly used is pork and chicken which is boiled initially with the herbs and spices, taken out, rested and then added to the final paste.
Most ingredients for preparation are either fried or dry roasted before and can be narrowed down to chillies, sweet, sour, spice and thickeners, however overall and in more detail, there are about 9 categories that make up a mole;
Dried Chillies which are always used in complex moles. They add heat, smokiness, sweetness, colour and depth to the sauce.
Spices add complexity and aroma to moles. Black pepper, coriander seeds, allspice, cloves, cumin, anise and cinnamon are commonly used. Spices are roasted and ground to extract maximum flavour.
Nuts and Seeds are elements of mole that are remisicent of Medieval Spain. Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds are added to the mixture to add richness and body. They are usually dry roasted or ground before adding.
Thickeners in the form of bread, tortillas or crackers are toasted dry or fried before grinding and slowly added towards the end of mole preparation.
Vegetables such as onions, (or those classified as vegetables in mole making) tomatillos, tomatoes and garlic are used as basic seasoning vegetables which are roasted or char grilled to impart a smokey flavour.
Fruit, both fresh and dried are added to moles to give both sweet and sour notes. Raisins and prunes are commonly used dried fruits as well as plantains. In manchemanteles, apples and pineapples are added at the end to finish off the mole.
Fat. In the form of rendered animal lard is traditionally used, however, modern recipes tend to use a fruity olive oil.
Water or meat broth is used to thin out the mole. Chilli water is also used after chillies have been roasted and soaked and the excess is drained off.
Brown loaf sugar or piloncillo which has a deep caramel earthy flavour will be added at the end of the mole to finish it off after the sweetness from the fruit and vegetables is gauged. White sugar can also be used.
Chocolate is not used in all moles. It gives richness and earthiness to the mole. Commonly used chocolate is bitter and has cinnamon already mixed into it.
A Wonderful Story of Mole Poblano.....
Mole, well the infamous Mole Poblano is said to have originated in the central east part of Mexico in a state called Puebla. Apparantly, there was to be an impromptu visit from Bishop Manuel Fernandez of Santa Cruz (Oaxaca) to the Santa Rosa nunnery. The nuns couldn’t figure out what to cook.. they looked at the turkey running around the yard and raided their pantry of nuts, bread, chocolate, herbs and spices – and mole Poblano was born! Whether or not this story is true, it’s a fantastic story and mole has become a national historic dish.
Moles such as mole poblano are said to have originated in Mexico after the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors (after 1520). This is evident in the ingredients that are used in moles such as native chillies, fruits and seeds combined with more exotic fruits, bread and nuts. Moles around Mexico vary from state to state and can use a variety of ingredients numbering from about 10-34!!
Moles are a combination of both Mesoamerican and Spanish influences and has resulted in many variations around the country. Notable types of moles around Mexico are those from Michoacan (west), Puebla (central east) and Oaxaca (south west). It is a dish that combines fruits, nuts, chocolate, herbs, chillies and spices that can paired with poultry or pork, and also red meat, however the latter is not traditional.
Mole in Oaxaca
Oaxaca, the land of the seven moles is one of the 31 states of Mexico located in the sothern part of the country. It is a state that is still to this day rich in strong cultural heritage and claims ownership to the development of 7 significant types of Mole, the most significant, being the Mole Negro, or Oaxacan Black Mole.
Mole Negro Oaxaqueño is a black sweet stew that is complex in flavour and traditionally ground on a metate (Mexican version of a mortar and pesel where the surface for grinding is flatter). Mulato dried chillies are used in this version as they are fruitier and contain significantly more flesh. Traditionally made with seasoned chicken and flavoured with garlic, white onion, mulatos, tomatoes, cloves, all spice, fresh thyme, marjoram, mexican oregano, lard, seasame seeds, peanuts, almonds, raisins, plantain, corn tortillas, cinnamon and mexican drinking chocolate.
Mole Verde (Green Mole), is a version of Mole you will find in many different regions around Mexico. Variations of this type of Mole will depend on the availability of ingredients in that particular region. The Oaxacan green mole has a rough or more 'rustic' consistency with a more complex flavour using green chillies, herbs, green tomatoes, garlic and seasonal greens. It is traditionally cooked with chicken or pork and is served with chochoyote (masa dumplings).
Red Oaxacan Mole (Coloradito) is a sweet mole made with guajillo or chilcostle chillies, tomatoes, lard, mexican oregano, cloves, allspice, onion, garlic, plantain, bread, Mexican chocolate, sugar and cinnamon (cannela). The cinnamon creates a wonderful red tinge to this version of mole which contains complex flavours and presents itself in a rather thick sauce. The leftovers from this mole are used to make enchiladas.
Mole Amarillo (Yellow Mole) is more the colour of a light red and can vary depending on the chillies used. Guajillos are usually readily available therefore commonly used. Amarillos, chilhuacles, chilcostes and costeños were once used in older recipes and are unique to Oaxaca. As well as chillies, Amarillo Mole contains cumin, green tomatoes, onion, allspice, cloves, masa and coriander.
Mole Rojo (Red Mole), is the spiciest of all the moles. It includes ancho and guajillo chillies as well as almonds, raisins, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, oregano, epazote, bay leves, garlic, salt, chocolate and masa harina.
Mancha Manteles (Tablecloth Stainer), is a mole that is both sweet and sour and is bright red in colour. Ancho, Guajillo and costeño chillies contribute to this mole's vibrant colour and the unique flavour is a combination of walnuts, amlmonds, tomatoes, sesame, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, peppercorns and raisins. The final dish is then finished with apples and pineapples.
Mole Chichilo (Black Mole), is a different style mole with the stock predominately flavoured by beef. Chilhuacle chillies are used as well as mulatos, pasillas, avocado leaves, cumin seeds, garlic, allspice, potatoes, onions and tortillas.
Other Moles around Mexico
We cannot forget the many other variations of moles around the country. That may or may not be classified as a mole such as Chimole, from Yucatan which contains black recado (a mixture of strong, smoky blackened spices which can include arbol, ancho, achiote, cloves, epazote and Mexican oregano.
Mole Xiqueño from Xico in Veracruz is brown black in colour and contains ingredients such as tortillas, mulatas, pasillos, chocolate, nuts and xolonostce or prickly pear cactus.
Huaxamole, Guaxamole or Mole de Guaje - whatever you call it is traditional to mixteca poblano. The string beans in this type of mole are known as guaje. It is one of the more traditional pre hispanic moles originating in Tehuacan.
The list of mole variations goes on and on and with history and traditions, every family has their own secret ingredients that are significant to them in some special way. Each mole that is prepared has a story, a tradition and this is the most important, the most wonderful and significant thing about mole. The most unique and iconic dish of Mexico.