The wonderful world of mole
- Published on Saturday, 14 May 2011 08:37
- By Daniel Fridman
A soothing rumble from giant simmering pots is accompanied by a complex bouquet of herbs, spices, fruits, nuts, chilies and chocolate. This is what awaits anyone who enters the kitchen at Los Pacos, a Oaxacan restaurant famous for their home-made moles.
Often misunderstood by foreigners as a spicy Mexican chocolate sauce, such a description does a great injustice to the rich, multifaceted deliciousness that is mole.
To make mole, one must carefully combine more than 35 ingredients in a cooking process that can take five days. Laura Canseco, owner of Los Pacos, explains that their moles begin every Tuesday with the removal of the veins from the chilies. The chilies, and many other ingredients, are each fried and then ground separately. This is a delicate and time consuming process.
“If the chilies are not toasted properly and fried properly, the mole will give you heartburn,” she says.
On Wednesdays all the ingredients are carefully combined and the mole is cooked for four days to meld the flavours.
Oaxaca is often referred to as “The Land of the Seven Moles.” This, however, is a myth propagated by foreign food journalists. In fact, there are only two kinds of mole: negro (black) and colorado (red). Mole negro is made with four varieties of chillies (all black) while the colorado is made with two varieties of red chilles.
The other dishes, which include verde (green), amarillo (yellow), chichilo, and estofaldos (almond or caper) while delicious, are not made with the variety of ingredients nor are they cooked in the same time-consuming process that makes a mole a mole.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Since preparing mole is so labour and ingredient intensive, homemade mole is a dish reserved for special occasions, and every family has their secret recipe.
The moles at Los Pacos are no different. Each recipe is based on one that was passed down through the generations.
Starting with recipes from Laura’s Oaxacan grandmother, Laura’s mother modified and perfected each recipe and, 25 years ago, Laura’s parents opened Los Pacos. Today, Laura continues to share her family’s traditional mole with the world.
A QUICK FIX
If you lack the time or the courage to tackle your own mole at home, Laura says you have no need to fear.
“All the moles we prepare can be taken home as a paste, dissolved and in twenty minutes you have a mole dish served,” she says. “They have a shelf life of 15 months.”
Even though not all seven dishes have the honour of being called a mole, each have a role in Oaxaca’s rich culinary tradition. They can be sampled for lunch at Los Pacos, located at Belisario Dominguez 108, Col. Reforma.
Moles and Sauces: A Guide
Mole Negro (Black)
Served with poultry and made with four varieties of peppers, this mole is rich and spicy with deep chocolatey notes which makes it slightly bitter.
Mole Colorado (Red)
Served with poultry, this dish is a lighter alternative to the Negro. Still rich and complex, but a bit sweeter.
Pork and white beans accompany this fresh and light dish, made from herbs such as parsley, epasote and hierba santa. A few drops of lime juice makes it great.
Laura’s favourite, this slightly spicy dish is often served with Chayote and green beans and made from chillies from the coast. The predominat flavour is the hierba santa.
Served with beef, the flavours of this semi-bitter dish are tempered by the addition of avocado leaves, which are slightly sweet and licoricey.
Estofado Almendrado (Almond)
Served with chicken, this sweet-and-sour dish is prepared by adding chiles and vinegar to a base of tomatoes, almonds and olive.
Estofado Alcaparrado (Capers)
This exquisite semi-sweet dish, often served with chicken, is made from a combination of green tomatoes, capers, olives, chiles, sugar and cinnamon.