Mole is a traditional Mexican sauce that is most commonly served with meat dishes. It has a rich, complex flavor and comes in many varieties. Mole is a staple of Mexican cuisine and an important part of Mexico’s culinary heritage. The word “mole” comes from the Nahuatl word “mōlli,” meaning sauce or concoction.
What are the Origins of Mole?
The origins of mole can be traced back to the ancient Aztecs and Mayans. It evolved over centuries as indigenous ingredients like chilies, seeds, nuts, spices and chocolate were combined with Old World ingredients brought by the Spanish, like cinnamon, cumin, garlic and onions. Each region in Mexico developed its own distinctive mole recipes using local ingredients.
Main Types of Mole
There are many types of mole in Mexican cuisine, varying by region and ingredients. The main types include:
– Mole Poblano: Considered a national dish of Mexico, it originated in the state of Puebla. It contains over 20 ingredients including chili peppers, cinnamon, cloves, nuts and chocolate.
– Mole Negro: A dark, rich mole from Oaxaca made with dried chilies, banana, plantains, onions, garlic and chocolate.
– Mole Coloradito: A reddish mole from Oaxaca featuring ancho chilies, plantains, pecans, seeds and chocolate.
– Mole Verde: A bright green mole made with pumpkin seeds, parsley, cilantro and green tomatillos. It’s a popular mole variety.
– Mole Amarillo: A yellow mole with guajillo and yellow chilies, tomatoes, garlic, cumin and cloves.
Main Ingredients in Mole
While mole recipes vary greatly by region, some key ingredients are commonly used including:
– Chili Peppers: Such as ancho, mulato, pasilla, guajillo and chipotle peppers. They provide flavor, heat and color.
– Nuts and Seeds: Such as peanuts, almonds, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds. They add richness and texture.
– Spices: Like cinnamon, cloves, cumin and black pepper. They add depth of flavor.
– Fruits and Vegetables: Such as tomatillos, plantains, garlic, onions and tomatoes. They enhance flavor and texture.
– Chocolate: Used in small amounts to provide subtle richness, complexity and color to the sauce.
– Broth or Water: Used to thin and combine ingredients to the desired consistency. Chicken, beef or vegetable broth are commonly used.
How is Mole Made?
Making mole from scratch is a labor of love, involving multiple steps over several days. Here is a general overview:
– Toasting and Rehydrating Chilies: Chilies are toasted to impart flavor and then soaked in water to rehydrate.
– Cooking Vegetables: Aromatic vegetables like onions, garlic and tomatoes are sauteed to add depth.
– Grinding Spices and Seeds: The dried chilies, spices and seeds are ground into a fine paste.
– Simmering the Mole: The mole paste is simmered and stirred for a long time, anywhere from 30 mins to a few hours. More broth is added to reach the ideal consistency.
– Adding Chocolate and Seasoning: Once thickened, chocolate and additional seasonings are stirred in right at the end.
The result is a thick, smooth, flavorful mole sauce ready to be served! It’s also common to purchase ready-made mole pastes to use at home.
Types of Meat Served with Mole
Mole complements and is commonly served with various meats, such as:
– Chicken: Chicken mole is a classic pairing. The rich mole balances the mild flavor of chicken beautifully.
– Turkey: Another popular choice, turkey mole is often served for celebrations and holidays.
– Pork: Most commonly pork loin or shoulder, which soaks up the mole flavor nicely.
– Beef: Braised beef or shredded beef pair great with the depth of mole.
– Lamb: Gamey lamb is nicely offset by the complex mole sauce.
The meat is usually slow-cooked or braised first to make it extra tender and flavorful for the mole sauce.
How is Mole Used in Mexican Cooking?
Mole is extremely versatile in Mexican cuisine. Here are some of the most common ways it is used:
– As a sauce for meats: Served with chicken, turkey, pork, etc. This is the most popular use.
– With rice and beans: Mole is served ladled over rice and beans as an entree.
– With tamales: Used as a rich filling or topping for savory tamales.
– As a flavoring: Added to enchilada sauces, soups, stews and other dishes.
– With vegetables: Paired with sauteed or roasted vegetables like squash or eggplant.
– On tortas and enchiladas: Topped on Mexican sandwiches (tortas) or enchiladas.
– As a dip: Thinned with water or broth for dipping chips and vegetables.
– In moles speciales: Elaborate plates featuring different colored moles on a single dish.
The possibilities are endless for cooking with mole in Mexican cuisine!
Popular Mexican Mole Dishes
Here are some of the most popular Mexican dishes featuring mole sauce:
– Poblano Mole Enchiladas: Corn tortillas filled with chicken or cheese, topped with mole poblano.
– Mole Poblano con Pollo: Chicken thighs or breasts cooked in mole poblano sauce.
– Turkey Molitas: Open-faced turkey sandwiches topped with refried beans, mole and cheese.
– Chiles en Nogada: Roasted poblano peppers filled with pork and fruit, topped with creamy walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds.
– Tamales de Mole: Savory tamales with mole sauce used as the filling.
– Tinga de Pollo: Shredded chicken stewed with mole and served on tostadas.
– Codzitos en Mole: Fried baby mojarra fish smothered in mole sauce.
– Mole Coloradito Oaxaqueno: Meat or chicken braised in an earthy Oaxacan red mole.
These iconic mole dishes are just a sample of what you’ll find in Mexican restaurants around the world.
Mole in Mexican Restaurants
Mole is a star player on the menus of Mexican restaurants for many reasons:
– It has an iconic status as Mexico’s complex, flavorful national sauce.
– Mole dishes reflect a restaurant’s culinary heritage and Mexican authenticity.
– It allows chefs to showcase their mole recipe through traditional dishes.
– Mole plates have wide appeal and diners actively seek it out on menus.
– It pairs deliciously with various meats, vegetables and sides like rice, beans and tamales.
– Mole is suitable for all occasions from everyday dining to celebrations.
– It accommodates many dietary needs with vegan and gluten-free versions available.
– Custom mole pairings like chicken mole tacos attract adventurous diners.
At authentic Mexican eateries, mole often has a permanent spot on menus. Certain restaurants may even have mole specialists who have perfected specific regional mole recipes.
How is Mole Served in Restaurants?
Mole is adaptable as an ingredient, so it can be served in many creative ways at Mexican restaurants:
– As a topping on enchiladas, tamales and tortas sandwiches.
– Ladled over roasted or braised meats like chicken, pork and beef.
– Served with sides like Spanish rice, beans, plantains or fried yuca.
– Stuffed into chiles rellenos or used as a filling for quesadillas or empanadas.
– Paired with rich stews and pot dishes like pozole, menudo and birria.
– As a sauce for seafood, especially fish fillets.
– Accompanied by fresh cheese like queso fresco or Mexican crema.
– Poured over vegetable medleys like roasted squash, onions and peppers.
– Thinned into a zesty mole soup or bisque.
– Served as an 8-10 oz ramekin for dipping chips, veggies and meat.
Diners can enjoy mole in an endless combination of traditional and creative plates at Mexican restaurants.
Popular Mole Entrees at Mexican Restaurants
Here are some of the most ubiquitous mole dishes found on Mexican restaurant menus:
– Chicken Mole: Bone-in chicken or boneless breasts served with mole sauce.
– Enchiladas de Mole: Corn tortillas stuffed with chicken or cheese, topped with mole.
– Mole Poblano: Mole poblano sauce ladled over chicken with rice/beans.
– Pork Pibil: Slow-roasted pork marinated in achiote paste, served with mole coloradito.
– Carnitas en Mole: Braised, shredded pork carnitas smothered in mole sauce.
– Mole Tacos: Chicken or shredded beef mole served in soft tortillas or fried shells.
– Mole Frito: Battered fried chicken strips topped with mole.
– Mole Chilaquiles: Corn tortilla chips cooked in mole sauce and topped with cheese.
These are classic Mexican restaurant dishes that allow the rich mole sauce to take center stage.
Tips for Making Mole at Home
With patience and the right techniques, an authentic mole can be made at home. Here are some tips:
– Use Traditional Ingredients: Follow an authentic recipe with ingredients like Mexican dried chilies, spices, nuts and seeds. Don’t take shortcuts.
– Toast the Chilies: Develop deep flavors by dry-toasting chilies, spices and nuts before blending.
– Simmer Slow & Low: Cook the mole gently for a long time, at least 30 mins up to a few hours.
– Use Good Broth: A flavorful chicken or beef broth enhances the mole as it simmers.
– Add Chocolate Later: Only add chocolate in the last 10-15 minutes so it doesn’t burn.
– Adjust Thickness: Add more broth as needed if the mole gets too thick while simmering.
– Taste Frequently: Add salt, spices and acid as needed to balance flavors as it cooks.
– Make Ahead: Most mole recipes taste even better the next day once flavors meld.
With the right recipe and some time, you can create rich, authentic mole sauces at home.
Buying Ready-Made Mole Pastes
For quicker mole dishes at home, ready-made pastes provide a convenient option:
– Wide Availability: Sold at Mexican markets, many major grocery stores and online retailers like Amazon.
– Different Styles: Can find pastes for mole poblano, mole negro, mole verde, etc.
– Brands Like Doña María: Well-known Mexican brands produce quality, authentic pastes.
– Just Add Broth: Simply stir paste with warm broth until smooth and simmer briefly.
– Use in Any Recipe: Works perfectly substituting homemade mole paste in recipes.
– Customizable: Can tweak ready-made pastes to taste with extra spices, garlic, etc.
– Saves Time: Reduce prep from hours to minutes compared to making from scratch.
– Good Flavor: Retains authentic mole flavor since high-quality ingredients are pre-toasted and blended.
With minimal effort, ready-made mole paste lets anyone whip up delicious mole at home.
Storing and Reheating Leftover Mole
Here are some tips for storing and reheating leftover mole:
– Storage: Transfer leftover mole to airtight containers and refrigerate for 3-5 days or freeze for 2-3 months.
– Separate Ingredients: Store mole sauce separately from meat and other ingredients to prevent sogginess.
– Reheat Gently: Cook in a saucepan over medium-low, stirring often, until heated through. Add broth if too thick.
– Microwave Carefully: Microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring between each, to prevent separating or burning.
– Bake Dishes: For mole casseroles or enchiladas, cover and bake at 350°F until hot, 20-25 minutes.
– Avoid Boiling: Don’t overheat or boil mole sauce which can cause it to curdle or separate.
– Add Fresh Garnishes: When reheating, garnish with new herbs, cheese, crema, etc. to freshen up.
With proper storage and gentle reheating, leftover mole tastes just as delicious the next day.
The nutritional value of mole varies widely by ingredients, but in general:
– High in Calories: Around 200-300 calories per 1/2 cup serving. The oil, nuts and seeds contribute significant calories.
– Good Plant-Based Protein: The nuts and seeds provide 5-8g protein per serving.
– Rich in Fiber: Contains 2-4g of fiber per serving from chilies, fruits, vegetables and seeds.
– Vitamins & Minerals: Provides A, C and B vitamins plus iron, calcium and potassium from fresh produce.
– Heart Healthy Fats: Contains mono and polyunsaturated fats from plant oils, nuts and seeds.
– Antioxidants: Chili peppers, chocolate, seeds and herbs provide antioxidant compounds.
– May be High in Sodium: Some recipes and ready-made pastes can be high in sodium.
– Use Lean Meats: Balance the sauce nutritional profile by pairing it with lean protein.
In moderation, mole can be part of a healthy Mexican-inspired diet when made with quality whole food ingredients.
Mole is a quintessential part of Mexican cuisine with complex layers of flavor. In restaurants, the rich, hearty mole sauce takes center stage in many beloved dishes. Mastering techniques like toasting chilies and simmering the sauce develops mole’s signature depth. While homemade mole is ideal, ready-made pastes provide convenience for weeknight cooking. With so many varieties, meat pairings and uses, mole is a versatile Mexican staple. Both traditional and creative mole recipes have earned it a permanent place in Mexican restaurants and home kitchens.