Mole Is One Of The Most Recognizable Foods In The World. Here’s How It Came To Be
Literally all we know from our Mexican childhoods is that mole is the special sauce that mami brings out for special occasions. Like the day after Thanksgiving, or Noche Buena. I come from a family of lazy Latinos, so we never make mole from scratch, but somehow, it was still always reserved for blow out meals. No back story, just thick, spicy, chocolate sauce all over turkey leftovers.
Nobody really knows the origin of mole, but Puebla and Oaxaca claim that they are the sauce’s home.
There are dozens of different types of mole sauces, but the two most popular come from Puebla and Oaxaca. If you’ve ever had mole negro, you’ve had the most complex and savory moles around, from Oaxaca. What makes it different is the hoja santa, a native plant to the region that tastes like a combination of eucalyptus, licorice, anise, nutmeg, mint and black pepper.
Like every Latino origin story, nuns are at the center.
There are a few different legends, but the most famous takes place in the colonial period in Puebla at the Convent of Santa Clara. The nuns were told an archbishop was going to unexpectedly join them for a meal. The broke nuns started praying and started combining bits of what they had on hand: chili peppers, spices, old bread, nuts and some chocolate.
God answered their prayers and with that, mole was born.
They killed an old turkey and served the sauce over him/her. The bishop loved it and asked the name of the dish. She just said, “Me hizo un mole,” i.e. “mix” and the name stuck every since.
On average, moles require an average of 20-30 ingredients.
Mole poblano uses an average of 20 ingredients while Oaxacan moles can use over 30 ingredients. The chocolate is always added at the end of cooking, if used at all.
Back in the day, all the women in the family would come together to make the sauce.
Traditionally, it would take a whole day to roast and grind the chiles, tomatillos, dried fruits and spices by hand. This is why it’s something reserved for special occasions. You have to make it in a large batch for it to all be worth it.
Thank God for Doña María.
I am certain that it doesn’t taste as good as fresh mole, but ain’t nobody got time to spend a whole day making sauce. Unless you dare tell your mama you’re bored and then she’ll put you to work.
Fact: mole goes on turkey if formal and chicken if casual.
It’s just how it is. It’s how the nuns did it, so the turkey is more sagrada or something. Either way, remember to mmmm and ay, que rico after the first bite or you’ll cause a fight with the chef.
Don’t worry, veganos. Mole is easily veganized.
Instead of using chicken broth to dilute the paste, you can use veggie broth or water, and top it over some roasted delicata squash. Disfrute.
Fun fact: Mexico City airport once admitted that mole can register a positive for explosives.
As visitors leave Mexico City with pounds of mole powder and pastes that carry a very strong odor, they are often stopped by security agents are alerted. Our stomachs are steel.
One step removed from tradition is pouring it over enchiladas.
And by “tradition,” I mean the old tales of nuns killing old turkeys to impress an old guy. In my carb-loving opinion, enchiladas are far superior to any kind of meat.
Mole belongs on literally everything. Try me.
It’s the American way. Replace protein with fried corn chips. You’re basically looking at a metaphor for you, the Latino-American.
Some chefs have started to use mole sauce in lieu of tomato sauce for Mexi-pizza.
I am 100 percent here for that. Tomato sauce is the mayo of the sauce world. Bring on the mole.
Go ahead. Pour that mole on your fries.
Again, here we go replacing tomatoes with chiles and chocolate. It’s a no-brainer which one will taste better, because mole simply tastes delicious on everything.
Meet the Mexican Benedict:
I’m screaming. Yes, that’s a poached egg doused in mole over braised lechón on a sope on a “bed” of refried beans. Someone make this for me.
Another example of how you can use mole in lieu of ketchup for every occasion:
I mean, am I wrong? If you live in LA, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a burger joint that doesn’t have a “Mexican-style” burger that is not covered in (probably Doña María) mole sauce.
Some Mexican spots are experimenting with Thai fusion.
The Blank Ant in New York City serves mole over deep fried egg rolls and it looks incredible. It’s deep fried, so it’s effectively Mexican.
An NYC restaurant has been reported serving mole over crispy duck dumplings.
Chef Mario Hernandez at The Black Ant NYC has been serving “Holy Mole to Mexican Crispy Duck Dumplings.” He opts for a Oaxacan mole negro, pears and sprinkles of creamy queso fresco.
If you’ve heard of the Black Ant before, it’s because they’re known for serving ‘gourmet’ insects.
Claro, se puede ponerlo en burritos.
It’s a given, but it’s worth mentioning the next time you consider getting Chipotle. Remember: they don’t have la salsa sagrada.
Use it as a base for chili.
At that point though, you might as well just toss in a few Doña Marías. I mean, all those tomatoes are straight up drowning out the flavor, but who am I to judge?
I pray for a world where we can just buy traditional mole in bulk.
Oh, espera. That world exists. It’s Mexico, baby, and next time I go, I’m setting off all the TSA alarms.