Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 2.12.2009


Holy Mole
The spicy chocolate love paste 
by Ari LeVaux

It wasn’t Valentine’s Day when Tita prepared turkey mole (pronounced “mow-lay”) with chocolate, almonds and sesame seeds in Laura Esquivel’s novel Like Water for Chocolate. It was a mole that, if Cupid had his way, would have been for her to eat alone with Pedro, the man she loved. Instead, she made the mole for a banquet honoring the firstborn child of Pedro and Rosaura, Tita’s sister, Pedro’s wife. 

“The secret is to make it with love,” Tita tells a guest who wants her recipe. And she means it. As Tita grinds the almonds and sesame seeds together, Pedro walks into the kitchen and is transfixed by the sight of Tita’s body undulating as she gracefully works the grinding stone. They share a passionate gaze and can no longer hide their ill-fated love.

 The word mole comes from molli, an Aztec word that translates as sauce, mixture, or concoction. There are as many ways to concoct mole as there are kitchens in Mexico, but essentially it’s a ground paste of roasted chile peppers, nuts, seeds, fruit, spices and, in most cases, chocolate. 

 Mole, which refers to both the sauce and the dish in which it is used, is a celebratory dish, served at the most special of occasions, where it often headlines the meal. The idea of chocolate in a main course might seem odd, but historically chocolate was served bitter and spicy — like the Aztec brew that was served to Hernando Cortes, the Spanish conquistador. It was only after Cortes brought chocolate back to Spain that the sweetened version was created. Modern mole, meanwhile, incorporates many ingredients the Europeans brought to the New World, including cloves, anise, almonds, and raisins.

I’m going to share a mole recipe that was inspired by Tita’s, though the book leaves some parts of her recipe unexplained, so that it’s impossible to know exactly how exactly her mole was made. I’ve tweaked the recipe for Valentine’s Day by increasing the chocolate and paired the mole with chicken instead of the walnut-fattened turkeys Tita used because chicken is easier to come by. But if you can get turkey, by all means do. It’s exceptional with wild game as well, either venison or birds. 

 Add a chicken, or parts, to a pot of boiling water. After 10 minutes drain the water and pull off the skin. Fill the pot with fresh water bring to a boil, and simmer with a few carrots, an onion and salt. When the chicken is falling-apart cooked (1-2 hours), remove from heat and let cool.

 To make the mole, heat a heavy pan on medium. Toast, and then set aside, the following: 1ž4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted until they start to pop; 1ž4 cup almonds; 1ž4 cup pecans; 1ž4 cup sesame seeds; 1ž4 cup cocoa seeds or nibs; and 1ž4 cup peanuts, all toasted until brown.

 Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan and fry half a cup of raisins, stirring often, until they puff up.

Remove the stems and seeds of three dried pasilla chiles, three dried anchos, and one mulato (or substitute poblano or guajillo). Break the chile skins into pieces and then toast in the pan until crispy but not burnt. Set aside. 

 Toast the chile seeds until dark brown and set aside. 

 Add more oil, sauté five cloves garlic and a medium onion, chopped. Tear apart a bread roll, toast the chunks, and then fry them for 10 minutes with the garlic and onions. 

 With a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, grind two inches of cinnamon stick, a teaspoon each of black peppercorns and coriander, half a teaspoon of anise seeds and five whole cloves. 

 Put the roasted nuts and seeds in a food processor and run it until they’re pulverized and then begin adding the shards of chile.  If at any point the food processor’s contents get too thick, add broth from the chicken pot. Add three tablespoons unsweetened chocolate powder (double that if you couldn’t find cocoa seeds or nibs to roast). Add the fried onion garlic bread and half of the ground spices.  Keep adding just enough chicken broth so it all keeps getting sucked through the blades. 

 Pull the bones out of the chicken, tease apart the flesh and reheat it in a pan with enough broth to cover it.

 Add a cup of your mole paste into the cooking chicken, and mix everything really well. After it’s simmered together for 10 minutes, taste it. Add more ground spice from the mortar if you want. Add sugar, one teaspoon at a time, stirring, mixing and tasting until it just starts to taste sweet. Mole, like love, is bittersweet, and its flavor depends on this delicate balance. 

 Salt to taste. Cook until it thickens enough to coat a spoon — the consistency of melted chocolate.

A glass of red wine makes a great accompaniment. The wine’s acidic earthiness enhances the flavors of the mole, while inebriating your Valentine.