Mole (the 'e' is pronounced, as in olé) is Spanish for mixture or sauce. Thought to have originated with nuns using what little they had at hand to feed an important visitor in the 17th century, it has become a national dish of contemporary Mexico, representative of its mixed indigenous and European heritage (mestizaje). With dozens of variations, classic mole poblano is a dark sienna-coloured sauce, with intriguingly savoury and sweet flavours, redolent of the dried chilli, fruits, nuts, spices and chocolate within it.
This recipe serves many so you can portion it out and keep it in the freezer to make Mexican meals in a flash. Mole is traditionally served over boiled or grilled chicken, sprinkled with sesame seeds and accompanied by Mexican rice. Try it with turkey, pork, or grilled vegetables. It's also great over eggs for brunch, and topped with cheese over enchiladas. We've served it as a sauce for chicken tacos; Spread over lightly toasted tortillas with shredded boiled chicken, red onion, chilli, coriander leaves, cheese and a squeeze of lime. This recipe will produce a thick mole but it can also be served a lot thinner by adding some stock or water when reheating.
Making a mole is a labour of love. It’s a recipe to make on a day when time is on your side and you’re in the mood to toast, grind, simmer, blend, stir, stir, stir. A mole can be many things: green, red, yellow, or a deep rich brown, thanks to the addition of chocolate, as in Warren’s version. Cooks in Mexico have their own signature recipes that have been created from ingredients they have on hand.
Makes 5-6 cups.
- In a frying pan over a low heat, lightly toast the chillies for 2-3 minutes, turning them once. Take care not to char them. Cool, remove the stem ends and shake out and reserve 1-2 tsp of the seeds. Add chillies to a large bowl and cover with 4-5 cups of boiling water. Cover with a clean teatowel and leave to soak for 1 hour.
- In a frying pan over a medium heat, lightly toast the hard spices and chilli seeds. Cool, then grind to a powder.
- In a hot oven, toast the nuts and sesame seeds then grind coarsely.
- Toss garlic, onion, tomatoes, tomatillos and red pepper in a bowl with some oil and a sprinkling of salt. Arrange in a foil-lined baking dish and cook under a hot grill until tender and charred, turning as needed (15-20 minutes). Remove vegetables and juices to a bowl.
- Drain the chillies, reserving the soaking liquor. In a food processor blend the chillies and vegetables with 2-3 cups of the liquor to a smooth paste.
- Heat butter in a large saucepan. Add the ground spices and cook until fragrant and dark. Add banana and fry for 5 minutes. Add nuts and breadcrumbs and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until browned.
- Turn down the heat. Add the chilli paste, dates, 1 tsp sea salt, and the rest of the soaking liquor. Simmer the mixture for 15-20 minutes, stirring until thickened. Remove from heat, rest for 5 minutes then blend in a food processor with extra virgin olive oil until extra smooth.
- Return mixture to a clean saucepan, add the chocolate and brown sugar and reheat until chocolate is melted, and sauce is velvety.
The list of ingredients in Warren’s recipe is long but you will see many of them are everyday items. Others, below, you may not be so familiar with.
Tomatillos are a firm, round fruit encased in papery husks. The flavour resembles that of tart apples with a hint of lemon. Canned tomatillos are available in some supermarkets and speciality food stores.
Look for dried chillies such as mulato, pasilla, ancho and chipotle in speciality food stores. Tiopablo.co.nz has a good selection.
Whole allspice are the berries of the Jamaican pepper tree, also known as pimento tree. They look like a peppercorn but taste and smell like a blend of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, hence the name allspice. Available whole and ground from some supermarkets and speciality food stores.
Anise (or aniseed) is the dried seed of an annual herb of the parsley and carrot family. Use to flavour fish dishes, breads, sauces and sweet baking. Available from speciality food stores.