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Look What I Made: Mole

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Mole with carnitas (photos by Travis Awalt)

This week’s post may as well be the sequel to last week‘s. At least in the sense that both recipes feature tomatoes and dried chilies prominently, and both of their names end with an appropriately festive ‘ole.’

Ole indeed.

But mole, if more common than posole, seems the more shrouded in mystery of the two. I mean there’s no real leap of faith involved in enjoying the various flavors of posole getting together, but chocolate in a savory sauce? WEIRD. (It’s not weird, I’m making a point) At some point, all of us – whether you’re a dainty food sophisticate or you have a hobo gutter palate – thought of chocolate as strictly the turf of sweets and, as such, the notion of chocolate serving as the linchpin of a pan-savory extravaganza probably seemed  at first…off-putting. Not gum-mixed-with-popcorn off-putting, but still, like I said, weird.

What a bunch of ignorant slobs we were! The more you think of the components of mole, the more chocolate makes sense. When it comes to mole, we usually see a core group of ingredients that includes dried chilies, tomatoes, chicken stock, onion, garlic, a mixture of nuts (usually peanuts, almonds and sesame seeds), toast, raisins and plantain or banana. Now, forget about the chicken stock, tomatoes, onion and garlic. The rest of it is a bunch of different stuff that we pretty well know to play nice with chocolate. When you think of it like that, a savory chocolate sauce hardly seems like a leap of faith. Now, nougat as a savory ingredient? That’s a leap of faith.

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Eeeew! Chocolate!

For this mole, I made a few changes from the norm. Not because I’m some dashing, brash, food genius (although if we’re being honest, I am), but because I was looking to make something primarily out of on-hand ingredients…. because I was too cheap and lazy to hit up Fiesta last weekend. The changes were good and mostly minor (raisins became dried cherries, I added some coffee, etc.) although the use of canned enchilada sauce is highly likely to draw a few eye-rolls. But I’m including it here anyway, because I had some, tried it and it worked*. Use a puree of tomatoes and tomatillos if a can of enchilada sauce bums you out. For further reading, Rick Bayless has a great traditional recipe, as does Gourmet, both of which were interesting reads that I borrowed from.

Finally, I served this mole with carnitas and I highly recommend you do the same. Carnitas are a story for another day, when you’re older. Enjoy.

Mole

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Ingredients:

(note: I used a few ingredients – chicken stock, pepitas, peanut butter, bacon fat – that already had some salt, so I didn’t have to add much. If you follow this exactly, keep that in mind.)

5 or 6 dried chilies
1 or 2 cups chicken stock
small can of enchilada sauce
half an onion, sliced
2 tsp granulated garlic
1/2 cup coffee
1 tbsp dried cherries
1/4 cup pistachios
1/4 cup pepitas
1 tbsp peanut butter
1 slice of stale bread or equivalent in toasted bread crumbs
1/2 a ripe banana
2 oz baker’s chocolate and a sliver of cinnamon stick or 2 oz Mexican chocolate
1/4 cup-ish bacon fat or lard or vegetable oil
Season 2 of Walker Texas Ranger on VHS (optional, just wanted to see if you were still reading this incredibly long list)
1/2 tsp coriander seed
salt

Instructions:

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Toasting pistachios

1. Get toasted. Not you, you red-nosed drunk! Well, maybe a little… Toast the pistachios in a dry skillet for a few seconds over medium heat, shaking them around. Then toast the pepitas the same way, then the bread, the coriander, then the dried chilies for a few seconds per side (the order of all this doesn’t really matter). Next, with a sheet of foil over your skillet (Bayless explains this better in the aforementioned recipe), toast the onion a couple of minutes per side until it’s getting nice and dark. Set the onions, garlic, bread, toasted pepitas and pistachios, the peanut butter, coriander, cinnamon stick and banana aside together.

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Reconstituted chilies, almost ready to puree

2. Soak it in. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Pour some aside and plump the cherries up, about 10 minutes and add the cherries to the bowl with the nuts and onion et al. Drop the toasted chilies on the boiling water, remove from heat and cap. Let them stand for about 30 minutes, after which they will have plumped considerably and gained back some color.

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3. Oh yeah, you blend. Remove the reconstituted chilies from the water and discard the stems and, if desired, seeds. Puree the chilies with the coffee until smooth. Strain this mixture through a sieve, lightly tossing it until there’s nothing left in the sieve but pulp. Meanwhile, puree the onion/nut/etc contingent with enough stock as needed to form a smooth paste. You can do all of this in advance and refrigerate your purees.

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Last step: stir in the chocolate

4. End game. Heat the bacon fat in a pot or dutch oven. Add the chili puree and fry over medium heat a couple of minutes, then add the other puree and fry another few minutes, stirring often. Your kitchen will smell pretty damned awesome at this juncture. Add the enchilada sauce, then add enough chicken stock, maybe a scant cup, to thin out the sauce to where it’s smooth but still has some heft. Bring everything to a boil, then drop it down to a lazy simmer, stirring every few minutes until the sauce  coats the back of a spoon, about an hour. The sauce will feel heavier but move more freely as you stir it than another sauce of similar thickness. Right before you’re ready to serve, stir in the chocolate until incorporated.

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Mole in enchilada form, also highly recommended.

*It makes sense too – enchilada sauce is just a fried tomato sauce, which is effectively a component of mole.