Mole (pronounced Mo-lay, gringo) is generally associated with two places in Mexico: Oaxaca and Puebla. Mole Poblano, the national dish of Mexico from Puebla is often incorrectly associated with Aztec cuisine. But the savory brown, chocolate-laden sauce that is infamous for its apocryphal origin story of being thrown together at the last minute and served over turkey to a surprise guest, is a more modern invention. As my ex-girlfriend Maria (not you Maria, the other Maria…) used to say, “Abraza la morena, gringo…Embrace the brown, whiteboy.” I never knew if she was talking about the food or her, so I did both. To more or less great failure. She may be gone today, but I still have Mole and I finally think I’ve struck upon a recipe that works.
I am a fiend for the spicy, salty, savory, smokey, Picante of Jalapeños, Habaneros, Cascabeles, Serranos, Chilhuacle Negros, Guajillos, and especially the manly yet delicate, earthy yet crisp flavor of the precious Poblano.
So it was with much salivating of chops and rubbing of hands like many a cartoon wolf during that two-hour Amtrak ride from L.A.’s Union Station (a few days in from Hong Kong), that I exited the train station in Oceanside (North County S.D.) to be picked up in my uncle’s 1969 Volkswagon Beetle, blue as the sea at dawn, and told him to stop at the first market we passed. Of course it was some organo-hippy granola-fest mini-market stacked to the ceiling with 22 dollar bottles of Guano Extract Shampoo, Chia-drenched Kombu Hallucinogenics and Non-GMO soybean-based condoms for aisles in all directions.
It was the bright reds and luscious greens of the produce which drew me in first. There after my long journey westward, where I selected 10 poblanos, 15 limes, 20 jalapeños, 4 bunches of cilantro, 2 red onions and a vine of tomatoes, I came to know peace. Shaking now from excitement, I looked down and felt as if I’d been hit by a Vegetable Oil Converted Volvo. Tomatillos! In three years living in the lap of leeks the size of small children, the Okinawan dildo-gone-wrong Goya and the greatest sweet potatoes ever (Praise be to Imo), I’d completely forgotten the little green beauties even existed. Slapping myself, and nearly tumbling over a mountain of melon-sized mangoes, I quickly filled my basket and limped away toward the cheese, tortillas and beer. 20 minutes and one very pissed off uncle later, I emerged in a fugued-out trance of recipe preparation strategies and we cruised the Coast Highway south to Encinitas, where lay the kitchen in which I would hatch my plans of salsa picada and mole poblano, (among other kinds of) world domination.
In your big American oven, roast the peppers, all of them, naked on broil (450°F/230°C), carefully watching and turning them to a insure uniform char. Go ahead and throw in the garlic at the same time, wrapped in foil and well-oiled, along with the dehusked tomatillos, though be wary of the differing cooking times.
After roasting (anywhere from 5-20 minutes) toss your peppers into a bowl, cover with a damp dishtowel for 5- 10 minutes to allow the skin to separate and set aside. Before peeling, destemming and deseeding your chiles, and while you wait for the post-roast steam-a-thon to finish, go get a beer. May I suggest some kind of Saison (a bit more European style), or the HUB Lager?
Though roasting tomatillos is similar to roasting tomatoes, tomatillos are not unripe “little tomatoes” as the name suggests, they are fruits and actually grow in a papery husk which should be peeled before preparation. They are generally of a firmer consistency, have less water and are much more tart than you might expect. This is the prime reason they remain the main ingredient in salsas verdes, salsas crudas and my own roasted picadas as tart mixes very well with heat. Like all my exes and me.
Now finely chop your fatty red onion, a vine-ripened tomato and go ahead and slice a lime up just to have ready. Here’s the fun part: do you want a salsa cruda with its fresh raw feel or a more smooth and traditional salsa verde? The only difference is merely a finely diced former, or a pureed latter. I prefer the crisp and cool texture of the raw cut, the picturesque juxtaposition of your garden’s range of colors, the saltiness of the tortilla chip balanced perfectly with the sour of the tomatillo, the acid of the lime, the heat of the jalapeño, the warmth of the garlic and all of it rounded out nicely by the fortitude of the patriarchal poblano. So for me, it’s la cruda. Pero la verde es muy rico tambien.
I haven’t talked about Cilantro yet. Coriander, Dhania, Ketumbar, Chinese Parsley, Kothamir, Llaksa, however you say it, it’s everywhere. In my 10 or so years preparing Mexican and Asian foods, I’ve found that there are two camps of people: those who love cilantro and those who don’t. Those who don’t are equally as stubborn in their opinions as those who do, though luckily those who do love the fresh citrusy twang of the embattled herb far outnumber any haters. And you haters, would it please you to know that through no fault of your own, but rather due to an enzyme which alters the flavor due to a genetic disposition, you cannot help but hate the plant? Doesn’t that make you feel bad- hating a plant? So, if this is true, it seems your genes just aren’t good enough to like it. You Are Deficient. As a genetically healthy person who should produce cilantro-eating offspring, it remains mandatory for my food, as- in the proper dosage- it is good in almost anything. Just ask Ethiopia!
Cilantro should be shredded or ripped by hand and then ground in a mortar as opposed to using a knife, the steel of which undoubtedly alters its natural flavor. If it were me I wouldn’t even bother making this gorgeous yet manly salsa without cilantro. Like auto-eroticism without the self-flagellation…just not worth it. Now on to the Mole.
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons ground Pasilla chili powder
- 1 cup cooked black beans
- 1 cup chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup Mirepoix
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed
- 2 teaspoons lime juice
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1.5 oz. Mexican Chocolate
- S & P
In a small skillet, toast the cumin seeds, oregano, sesame seeds, and chili powder, stirring constantly for three minutes (or until golden), and then blend, or crush in a mortar with pestle for a more authentically tiring feel. Add the beans, tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, Mirepoix, honey, cilantro, lime, butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Puree until smooth and liquidy brown. Transfer the mole to a saucepan and slow heat for as long as you can stand it. Make sure to stir regularly so as not to scorch the bottom. Serve any number of ways including (but not limited to): dip, topping on seafood, rice, base sauce for Pizza. That or just stand around with Day of the Dead Craft Beer and lick it off your fingers. We will be making fish tacos. Because even though it may be tradition to serve it over fowl, breaking tradition, if done deliciously, can be a wonderful thing.
Finish making the tacos by warming up your tortilla of choice, a bit of guacamole on the bottom for stability, place your protein (monkfish perhaps?) down next, plenty of mole on top, top with salsa cruda, crema and cilantro.