Chilies: The history of Mexican Mole
After living Mexico I became fascinated with Mexican mole. As you all know how passionate I am about global culture and traditions. When it comes to delicious cooking, one simply has to go back and have a look at the recipes that have been around for a while. I am talking about those recipes no one ever gets tired of and cannot stop eating as the years go by because they are simply irreplaceable. If you have ever been to Mexico or even a Mexican restaurant, you might have had the opportunity to taste mole (which is pronounced moe-lay). This is Mexico’s national dish and has been around since the 16th Century. That is a long time considering all the delicious meals that came after that.
Now, let’s take a little look at the history of this iconic dish:
There are two legends going around about how mole was first created and there are camps supporting each one of these. Anything that causes a bit of controversy is worth looking into, right?
The first legend says that nuns from the Convent of Santa Rosa heard that the archbishop was visiting and had no food prepared. They looked around the convent and basically threw whatever ingredients they had on-hand into a pot and let it simmer. By the time the archbishop arrived at the convent, the sauce was thick and delicious and this is what they served him. It was served over turkey (which they killed earlier that day).
Then we have the second legend, which seems to have a greater following that they first. It states that mole was invented by a monk named, Fray Pascual, who also made the sauce for the archbishop. I think we can now establish that the archbishop was somehow involved because it seems to come up a lot. The legend says that while the monk was busy cooking, a strong wind knocked over some spices into the pot he was preparing the turkey in. The spices and the juices from the turkey, then magically created what we now know as mole.
Is it not fascinating how much controversy one dish can create? There are even 3 cities in Mexico claiming that mole was first created there. Chocolate is one of the ingredients in mole and both the Aztecs and the Mayans consider chocolate a sacred ingredient. This is why chocolate is usually only served to priests and royalty. There are still some places where they create mole as a community to honor a patron saint. These places also use mole to celebrate a local holiday.
Now that was a mouthful of facts but necessary to understand why people are so passionate and intrigued by this dish or sauce as many call it. The first time I experienced mole was with an abuela (Grandmother) who happened to be Mexican. I was visiting her in Los-Angeles, California. Let me tell you, I never forgot that taste and I knew I had to recreate it. After attending culinary school, I attempted to make it myself for the second time. Now, my mole will never taste like hers, but I came pretty close.
When I make mole these days, I save it for special occasions and equally special guests.
I recently hosted a dinner and this was one of the star dishes.
We decided to pair it with chicken and fish and both options tasted amazing.
We all should have an arsenal of dishes we know will please the crowd and make them feel a little special. This is my arsenal dish and it never fails. A good mole sauce has a perfect sweet and spicy balance. The chilies gives it the spiciness and the chocolate helps with the sweetness. If made correctly, mole poblano contains around 20 ingredients. No wonder it is as special as it is. Those nuns must have had a lot of ingredients lying around if the legend is true.
Mole include one or more of the following chili peppers:
I can see you jumping up and down because you know what chipotle is. Other ingredients used include garlic, cumin, sesame seeds, black pepper and many more. Do not let the number of ingredients stop you from trying to make this sauce. Everything that is good requires time and effort and let me tell you, this is definitely one to invest some time and effort into.
The great things about this sauce is that it also contains a lot of vitamins and nutrients and an excellent source of the following:
– Vitamin B
This is just more reason to try this sauce out for yourself. Another great things about mole is that it pairs well. Unlike what the legends say, in modern times, mole is often served with chicken. You can also try paring it with enchiladas, beef or over a rice dish. That is the great thing about food. You can do what works for you and there really is nothing wrong with how you chose to enjoy your meals. Happy cooking fellow Gastronomers. Let me know if you tried to make mole and share your thoughts on the taste, texture and everything in between.