Mole: The Delicious Quest
I love mole. I think it’s heavenly. In fact my plan was to use the title, “Holy Mole,” for this story, but Chef Rick Bayless, the renown American chef of Mexican cuisine, beat me to it. I suspect he feels the same way I do about mole. It’s an appropriate title for a number of reasons, but before I get into that I should probably start with first things first.
One of the great mysteries of the world is why a dish so common and beloved in Mexico should be so little known in the United States. By any measurement Mexican food is a smashing success in the U.S. Ask any American about tacos, enchiladas, tostadas and he can tell you about them. But mole’s fate up to now has been less certain.
What is Mole? (Moe Lay)
Part of the reason mole hasn’t made the same impact in the US as other Mexican foods is it’s a little hard to define, although you certainly know it when you see it. It always includes chiles. Most folks, though not all, agree it’s a sauce. I’ve never been served a bowl of mole by itself, it always enhances something. Many exotic locales in Mexico claim its origin and mole can be vastly different, especially from region to region. In fact mole isn’t just one thing, there are many moles.
The most famous moles come from Puebla and Oaxaca. In Puebla, mole poblano, as it is known, is a rich, dark, spicy, sweet, sour, nutty, and savory sauce that can be made from upwards of 30 ingredients like onions, tomatoes, and chiles, but also raisins, almonds, fennel seeds, tortillas, and chocolate to name a few. Traditionally it is served with turkey, but commonly it’s served over chicken or even vegetables. Certain mole types are served with fish. In Oaxaca, at least six distinct types of mole are identified mostly by their colors-such as colorado or red and verde or green-which reflect differences in ingredients.
Another likely reason moles are rarer in the US is they are difficult to make and even more to perfect. Just the number of ingredients makes mole a labor of love. But in addition, getting the ingredients right isn’t enough, the proper roasting, frying, straining, simmering, and cooking of the ingredients is critical to a successful mole, so just adding them all to the pot won’t work.
I suspect another reason moles have been slow to spread in the States is it may have been difficult, until very recently, to simply find each and every ingredient folks needed to make mole the way their mamas did back home.
So Why Holy Mole?
Well, first it’s just so divinely yummy, and the best moles give the same type of pleasure the complexity of well-aged wines do! Then there’s the legend. Growing up in Mexico, popular legend had it that the poor nuns at the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla prayed for help in providing a meal to the visiting archbishop. After praying about it they basically threw everything at the problem, save for the kitchen sink-spices, fruit, nuts, chiles, vegetables, chocolate- and it was a hit.
Lastly, and more to the point, the best moles, with their complexity, depth, richness, and exotic, roasted flavors are just heavenly, which means searching far and wide throughout Mexico for my favorite is like the quest for the Holy Grail. It’s all about the delicious journey.
If you would like to see or even test your culinary chops on a yummy, traditional mole recipe from Puebla, here’s a link to a post by one of my Mexico Today colleagues, Brad Johnson, who shares his favourite mole recipe from a restaurant in Puebla.
And here are a few leads in your quest for Mole, both in the US and Mexico:
In Puebla, The International Mole Festival is aimed at foodies, tourists, cooking professionals, and students from the more than 20 culinary schools in Puebla. English and Spanish simultaneous translation will be available. Look for it near May 5th each year.
In San Pedro Atocpan, the National Mole Festival (Feria Nacional del Mole) in October, from the community where reportedly 60% of the mole consumed in Mexico is now made.
In Los Angeles, CA, La Feria de los Moles (The Festival of Moles) takes place on Olvera Street and continues growing each year. This year is the 5th annual event and takes place on October 7th, 2012. Check out www.feriadelosmoles.com for more details.
In Querétaro, the Feria del Mole y Tortilla (The Mole and Tortilla Festival) occurs in July.
In Coatepec de Morelos, Zitácuaro, Michoacán, Feria de Mole (Mole Festival) in April.
In Chicago, the 4th annual mole cook-off and street festival entitled Mole de Mayo took place on May 26th-27th and takes place in May each year.