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Mexico's regal sauce.

MOLE POBLANO MAY BELONG TO PUEBLA, but all of Mexico honors it as one of the nation's finest dishes. This rich, thick sauce of chilies and other indigenous ingredients also contains chocolate--to the uninitiated, a rash choice; to the knowing, an inspiration.

The word mole actually has broader meaning. It comes from mulli in the language of the pre-Colombian Nahuatl Indians in Mexico, and loosely translates as sauce. An example of an everyday encounter is in guacamole, Mexico's ubiquitous avocado sauce.

The Pueblans named their mole for themselves; poblano means the people of Puebla. In addition to mole poblano, the area is known for several other moles with chocolate, all characteristically thick and complex.

Moles, however, are not exclusive to Puebla. The Mexican state of Oaxaca is famous for moles of a distinctly different kind, including seven moles often called the Seven Sisters.

Mole poblano has a precise birthplace and exceptionally detailed, though contradictory, dates of origin. Usually, the inventor is a 17th-century nun, Sister Andrea de la Asuncion, at the Santa Rosa Convent. The Mother Superior called upon her to create a special dish for visiting dignitaries expected on a Sunday sometime between 1657 and 1688, or later, depending on the source. Legend has it that the request came on short notice, and Sister Andrea had to scramble to come up with something new from her existing supplies of ingredients. It seems fairly obvious that she, or more likely the native women helping in the kitchen, started with mixtures they all knew well, like local chili paste blends, herbs, seeds, and vegetables. But the big leap from standard mole to mole poblano was the chocolate that Sister Andrea or one of her assistants added, which gave the mixture a uniquely mellow, sophisticated complexity. It's not surprising that a native woman would find chocolate to be a perfect ingredient in a dish for regal gentlemen: in Aztec culture, chocolate was reserved for royal males.

Turkey, a native bird, was used in the first mole poblano; chicken and other meats and even vegetables are commonly used now. But the mole takes no back seat to the meat. First-time tasters of mole poblano (or any kind of mole) may be daunted by foods swimming in sauce. But Mexicans view the sauce to be as important as the meat and scoop the abundance freely onto tortillas or ladle it over rice tasty combinations, we agree.

Sister Andrea is, no doubt, still savoring her success in Heaven. But the guests bestowed upon the convent a lasting material award. They had the kitchen refurbished with magnificent tiles. This tiled kitchen was a first in the New World.

You can still visit it in the former convent, now the Museo de Artesanias, at 12 Poniente and Calle 3 Norte; it's open 10 to 5 daily except Mondays.

One wonders if it was pride in these tiles that spurred the development of Puebla's renowned ceramics.

Among moles, mole poblano is usually quite mellow, slightly sweet, and certainly regal. Each Pueblan cook personalizes the balance of flavors, and our own version captures the essence of various interpretations.

Blends of chilies bring warmth; assorted vegetables, including corn in tortillas, give volume and flavor; fruits and aromatic spices sweeten, perfume, and soften the impact of the chilies; nuts and seeds add not only nuances of taste, but also thickness and body.

Finally, all the potions are poured into one large pan and simmered to unite the flavors. Then comes the magic ingredient, chocolate, adding its elusive presence to the sauce.

Traditional moles of Puebla often include volumes of lard. To accommodate today's tastes, we opted to dry-roast rather than fry components; the results are comparable in flavor and significantly lighter in calories.

Mexican chocolate (sweetened and flavored with cinnamon) and dried chilies for mole are available where Mexican foods are sold; many chilies are found in supermarkets.

One mail-order source for a wide selection of chilies is Coyote Cafe General Store, 132 W. Water St., First Floor, Santa Fe 87501; for costs, call (505) 982-2454 between 11 and 7 mountain time. You may need to order the green tomatillos at a produce market.


Four steps create the sauce; each element can be made a day or so ahead. A fifth tells you how to use the sauce.

Finally, we offer a simple but traditional menu featuring mole poblano.

1. Roasting the Chilies

1/2 pound (about 16) dried mulato

chilies 1/4 pound (about 8) dried ancho


2 ounces (about 3) dried pasilla


1 dried chipotle chili (or 2

teaspoons minced canned

chipotle chilies)

Lay dried mulato, ancho, pasilla, and chipotle chilies in a single layer in 10by 15-inch pans (add canned chipotle later). Bake in a 300 oven until chilies smell lightly toasted and are flexible, 5 to 8 minutes. While they are still warm, discard stems and shake out seeds.

Rinse chilies and put in a large bowl; add 8 cups boiling water. Let stand until soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain; save liquid. Smoothly puree chilies (and canned chipotle), a portion at a time, in food processor or blender. Add a total of 2 cups reserved liquid. (In processor, use a little liquid to get mixture moving; add rest when pureed.) Rub firmly through fine strainer into a bowl; discard residue. Use, or chill airtight up to 1 day.

2. Roasting the Vegetables

2 large (about 1 lb. total) onions,


1 medium-size (about 1/2 lb.) tomato

1/2 pound tomatillos, husked and


1 medium-size (about 3 oz.) head

garlic, cut in half horizontally

2 corn tortillas (each about 7 in.)

In a 10- by 15-inch pan, combine onions, tomato, tomatillos, garlic (cut side down), and tortillas. Bake in a 450[degrees] oven, turning occasionally, until the vegetables and tortillas have dark browns pots or edges. Let cool. Pull off vegetable skins and discard.

Smoothly puree mixture in a food processor or blender; add a total of 1 cup reserved chili-soaking liquid, from step 1. (In processor, use a little liquid to get mixture moving; add rest when pureed.) Rub firmly through fine strainer into a bowl; discard residue. Use, or chill airtight up to 1 day.

3. Cooking the Seasonings and Thickeners

1/2 cup sesame seed
2 tablespoons salad oil
1 small (about 1/2 lb.) ripe plantain

(skin is black), peeled and

chopped 1/2 cup each dry-roasted almonds

and peanuts 1/2 cup chopped, pitted prunes 1/3 cup raisins

2 sticks cinnamon, each about 2

inches long

1 teaspoon each coriander seed

and anise seed

In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan over medium heat, stir sesame seed until toasted, about 4 minutes; set aside.

To pan, add oil, plantain, almonds, peanuts, prunes, raisins, cinnamon, coriander, and anise. Stir often over medium heat until mixture is richly browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Smoothly puree mixture and sesame seed in a food processor or blender. Add remaining chilisoaking liquid, from step 1. (In processor, use a little liquid to get mixture moving; add rest when pureed.) Use, or chill airtight up to 1 day.

4. Assembling the Mole

Roasted chilies (preceding),

Roasted vegetables (preceding)

Seasonings and thickeners

(preceding) 2 cups regular-strength chicken

broth 4 ounces Mexican chocolate (or 4

ounces semisweet chocolate and

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon)

In a 5- to 6-quart pan, mix chilies, vegetables, seasonings and thickeners, and broth. Bring to a simmer on medium heat; cover and simmer to blend flavors, about 2 hours, stirring often.

Chop chocolate; mix with sauce until melted. Use mole as suggested, following; or chill airtight up to 1 week or freeze up to 3 months. Makes 10 cups; allow 1 to 2 cups for a serving. Per cup: 412 cal.; 13 g protein; 19 g fat (4 g sat.); 59 g carbo., 46 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

5. Serving Mole Poblano

The Morales family in Puebla served us this easy-to-duplicate dinner (once the sauce is made) featuring mole poblano with cooked chicken. This festive dish is a favorite for family gatherings and holidays, and is often served in their tree-shaded garden.

String Cheese Guecamole

Warm Corn Tortillas

Mole Poblano with Poultry

Hot Rice

Refried Beans with Cheese
 Green Salad Hard Rolls
 Pineapple Watermelon

Start with string cheese and guacamole to eat with tortillas. Also, serve tortillas with the mole.

Sprinkle beans (canned or homemade) with crumbled cotija (a Mexican cheese) or grated parmesan cheese.

To present mole poblano for 6 to 8 servings, pour 6 to 8 cups warm mole poblano sauce over 6 to 8 warm, poached or baked skinned chicken breast halves (about 3 lb. total) or 1 1/2 to 2 pounds warm, sliced cooked boned and skinned turkey breast. Scatter toasted sesame seed, fresh cilantro (coriander) sprigs, and thin onion slices over sauce. Offer salt and lime wedges.


Ladle the warm sauce over slices of any cut of roast, grilled, or unseasoned braised pork. Mole also suits grilled beef such as skirt steaks, flank steaks, and tenderloin.

Mole in Mexico

While in Puebla researching mole poblano and other regional moles with noted culinary authority Patricia Quintana, a Sunset team dined well on moles both in homes and in restaurants. The following restaurants, recommended to us by local residents and Senora Quintana, were particularly memorable. Only limits on time and endurance kept us from savoring moles at every turn. No two tasted exactly alike; all were intriguing. Dinner companions, who balked at first at chocolate with meat, quickly became as avid taste explorers as our food writer.

In Puebla

Bola Roja (3 locations): 17 Sur 1305; Dorada and Loreto shopping centers.

Fonda de Santa Clara (2 locations): 3 Poniente 307; 3 Poniente 920.

Las Fuentes: Privada 9 Sur 4306.

Nevados Rincon de San Angel: Avenida 5 Oriente 1202.

In Tlaxcala (18 miles north of Puebla on Highway 119)

Las Casuelas: Mexico Highway 136.

Albergue de la Loma Restaurant: Avenida Guerrero 58.

(For more information about visiting Puebla, including accommodations

and restaurants, see page 60 of the February 1991 Sunset.)
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:mole poblano; includes recipe and related article
Author:Bateson, Betsy Reynolds
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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