Mole is much more than just a delicious dinner
By Erika Hernandez
Many view mole as just part of a delicious meal. In fact, mole poblano, or mole from the Mexican state of Puebla, is much more than that, a pre-Hispanic tradition that has united families for many generations. Most of us go to Mexican restaurants without knowing the story behind this complex dish. In modern times, we are losing many traditions like this, but none of us will forget seeing our grandmothers make mole from scratch.
“For his birthday, I’m going to make a molito,” was one of the common phrases I used to hear growing up.
Mole is very prevalent in restaurants throughout Puebla. It is typically made with guajolote – which is a breed of turkey. The sauce is made from three kinds of chiles (chile pasilla, chile mulato, and chile chipotle). It also contains almonds, peanuts, and other nuts, as well as cinnamon, anise, cumin, clove, plantains, chocolate, tomatoes and other flavors. Lard was brought from Spain, and is now typically added as well. Although ingredients have changed over time, a typical mole now has around 24 ingredients, but families often switch some, depending on their preferences. The sauce regularly takes 2 days to produce.
Mole comes from the indigenous Nahuatl word mulli, related to the verb in Spanish moler, also to grind or mix at the metate (a manual grinder). In the past, mole used to be prepared for religious celebrations, since Puebla is known to be one of the most religious states with the most churches in Mexico. For instance, at weddings, families would celebrate and prepare mole at the bride’s and groom’s homes, separately. Now, it’s a culinary treat that everyone enjoys without there being a celebration.
“There is a cultural battle between the states of Puebla and Oaxaca because both of them have renowned dishes worldwide. Part of that battle includes moles,” said chef Ernesto Montaño, who works at the French restaurant Route des Vins in Puebla.
The Puebloan and Oaxacan versions share 80% of the ingredients. However, mole poblano contains roasted tortilla and a bit more chocolate, making it sweeter. Mole negro (from Oaxaca) is spicier and contains roasted pan de yema bread instead of tortillas, with additional kinds of chiles. Oaxaca has 9 types of moles while Puebla has 7.
I talked to 3 different chefs in Puebla, and they all learned to make mole while growing up. Chef Ernesto indicates that the mole-making tradition goes back in his family at least two generations. He remembers his mother and grandmother roasting and grinding chiles, and that all members of the family had a specific task in making mole. Chef Adriana Vidal states that the current version of mole was created in 1681 at the Santa Rosa monastery in Puebla by a Dominican nun, Andrea de la Asuncion, for the visit of Viceroy Tomás Antonio de la Serna y Aragón. Adriana prepares her own mole and packages it without preservatives.
Traditional mole is prepared in clay pots. However, “clay pots have memory,” says Ernesto. It is important that cooks prepare mole in the same clay pot because the flavor deepens over the years.
Ernesto would help prepare mole with his mother but sometimes roasting chiles would make his eyes water, so he would go peel tomatoes instead. He would then stir the sauce inside the pot with a wooden spoon bigger than him. Chef Adriana learned how to cook it with her mother when she was 15. Chef Jasarmavet Hernandez from the restaurant El Mural de los Poblanos in downtown Puebla says that he was only 8 when he began to learn how to make mole, including how to prepare the turkey.
“Mole poblano is a dish that represents us worldwide. So the mole that is typically consumed abroad is mole poblano,” said Ernesto.
With the goal of tasting traditional mole poblano, I went to El Mural de los Poblanos. Chef Hernandez said that the restaurant typically prepares 30 pounds of mole a month for their clientele and does it all year round. Another culinary delight that they prepare is chile en nogada, a stuffed chile with a walnut cream sauce.
In her mid-thirties, Adriana lost her job, but mole and poblano food gave her life a new purpose – she finished culinary school at 40, and now has a catering business called Banquetes Mulli that is slowly growing. During the pandemic, it was hit hard but she has managed to hold her own through offering taquizas, or taco get-togethers. Today, Adriana prepares her own artisanal and authentic mole poblano. She packages it without preservatives, and can ship to the U.S. If you wish to order artisanal mole, you can check her website at www.banquetesmulli.com.
“We have exceptional tastes and amazing culinary dishes that are among the best in the world,” Adriana said.