Monday, 9 January 2012

Mole poblano 1: The Meaning of Mole

[First published on 9 January 2012]

I have made the mole poblano. It really does take four days.

Out of respect for the epic (or baroque) undertaking that is mole, I will be posting this episode of my culinary adventure in several parts so you can experience, as much as possible, what it was really like to create this dish.

I would also like to point out that I prepared the sauce entirely from scratch with the following three exceptions:

1) the turkey was leftover Christmas turkey, which I didn't cook (that was my lovely wife)

2) the slice of stale brioche was from a store-bought loaf; I don't know how to make brioche (though I did make some killer French toast over the holidays)

3) the stale corn tortilla I bought from Lupe Pintos (Cool Chilli Company brand); I do know how to make tortillas, but  I didn't want to make a entire batch of tortillas just to let one go stale

I didn't end up making the mole on Christmas Eve as I originally intended. I was busy making carrot and star anise soup (our starter for Christmas dinner), and the rest of the time the kitchen was a flurry of prepping the Christmas veggies, making bread sauce, and preparing Christmas Eve's dinner (saumon en croute).

Mrs MexiGeek also made port wine jelly for dessert, so it was definitely worth delaying my own cooking plans.

So my ingredient odyssey begins on 30 December, when my wife picked up some tomatoes, onion, and garlic for me from the local shop, along with the brioche, pumpkin seeds and whole almonds.

The next day was Hogmanay, and I a trip into town to visit Lupe Pinto's. As expected, they had the holy trinity of chiles: anchos, mulatos, and pasillas (and if they hadn't, no one else would've).

I also picked up some unground coriander seeds and, from the Co-op across the street, raisins and sesame seeds. That, combined with what I already had, completed the ingredients list. It doesn't sound like a lot now, but a full catalogue follows in the next instalment.

Now, I hope you will forgive me a moment of baroque grandeur when I insist that the meaning of mole is manifest in its ingredients.

Mole poblano may be Mexico's national dish, but it is not its most frequently eaten and is certainly not its oldest.

Instead, mole dates back to the colonial period, when Mexico was ruled by Spain. The factual origins of mole have long vanished behind a much-questioned but oft-repeated legend that a nun called Sor (Sister) Andrea was tasked with preparing a special dish for a visiting Spanish cardinal.

She tried to concoct something new. Something that no one had ever tasted before. Something that no one could have tasted had Spain not established a great empire in five continents (two of which were entirely new to Europe), and spread the culinary riches of each throughout their territories.

Mole, you see, combines the best of the New World with the best of Africa, Asia, and good old Europe. It is both an expression and celebration of the extent of Spanish power. How strange that it should in time become an expression of national pride for Mexico, which fought so hard to free itself from Spain.

Next time I will list each of the 20+ ingredients of mole, along with their significance.

In the meantime, here is a picture of the three chiles. The large, somewhat reddish bunch on the left are the chiles anchos (wide chilies). The smaller, black chiles in the middle are chiles mulatos, which I don't have to translate. The long dark chiles on the right are pasillas ("little raisins").

And lastly, for my non-Scottish readers, Hogmanay is New Year's Eve. It is a noun, not a greeting. And though its etymology is unknown, it is probably not Gaelic.