Devour This: Mole

Nothing says ‘love’ like this chocolate love paste

People had a way of responding emotionally to the cooking of Tita de la Garza, in Laura Esquivel’s food epic Like Water for Chocolate. Denied love and marriage by her mother, Tita made love in the kitchen, and to anyone who ate her food.

It wasn’t Valentine’s Day when Tita prepared a mole (“mole-ay”) of walnut-fattened turkey, but it might as well have been. Had Cupid been running the show, that meal would have been for just her and Pedro, who loved Tita back just as much. Alas, he was married to her sister Rosaura, and the mole was to celebrate the baptism of the couple’s first child, Roberto. Tita made love to Pedro the only way she was allowed: from the inside, with food.

Pedro, drawn to the kitchen by the smell of browned almonds, finds Tita on her knees, grinding almonds and sesame seeds with a stone. He spots her breast dangling in her shirt, and his gaze magically fills it with milk. This is extra-convenient, because Rosaura is dry, and the wet nurse was just hit by a stray bullet in a skirmish between the federales and the revolucionarios.

The word mole comes from molli, an Aztec word that translates roughly into sauce/mixture/concoction. Today, mole is a celebratory dish that often headlines the feast. At the baptism of Roberto, Esquivel reports, Tita’s mole filled the guests with joy, and helped them “… forget the bullets flying in the village.”

The idea of chocolate in a main course might seem odd, but original Aztec chocolate was served bitter and spicy. Mole is traditionally made in a molcajete, which is like a wider mortar and pestle, similar to what Tita used, words that also come from molli.

There is something undeniably sexy about the shapes involved in the grinding of chile, nuts and spices in a molcajete, and how they grind together. So to help you get in the mood for Valentine’s Day, here is an extrapolated version of Tita’s recipe as channeled by Esquivel, tweaked for V-Day by upping the chocolate and with added walnuts to compensate for the fact that walnut-fattened turkey is hard to find these days.

Tita’s Turkey Mole
½ cup almonds
½ cup walnuts
½ cup sesame seeds (raw or toasted)
½ cup pumpkin seeds (raw or toasted)
8 dried red chile pods, of as many varieties as you can (pasilla, ancho, mulato, poblano, guajillo, Anaheim, New Mexico, etc.)
2 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 anise pods
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
4 inches cinnamon stick
4 tablespoons chocolate powder, or substitute nibs
5 cloves garlic, chopped
An onion, Tita’s favorite ingredient, chopped
A tortilla or old piece of bread
Olive oil, butter

Cook a turkey, or some turkey parts, any way you wish. If using a frozen turkey, put it in the oven at 350 and turn when the top becomes brown. Bake until it’s soft enough to pull the bones out once it cools—the texture of a rotisserie chicken. This can be achieved through boiling or other ways, but I like the flavor of crisp skin.
Set the meat aside, and put the bones, skin, cartilage and whatnot in a pot of water, along with some whole carrots, lengths of celery stalk, and an onion, cut in half. Simmer for as much time as you have.

Clean the dried chiles, removing the stems, seeds and membranes. Tita roasts and uses the chile seeds, and you can follow her if you dare. (Fair warning: The story ends with Tita literally burning away in a flame of passion.)

In a heavy pan on low/medium heat, add the almonds and pecans, and let these brown slowly. So slowly that you can almost afford to forget about them while you attend to a second pan, on medium heat, to which you add the coriander, black pepper, anise, cinnamon and chile seeds. Stir these often until they start to brown and the coriander seeds begin to pop. Remove the spices from the pan and add the cleaned chile, ripped into pieces about an inch long or smaller. Turn the pan down and lightly roast the chile.

When the nuts begin to brown, add the sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds. When they brown, turn off the heat and let them cool.

Now, gather the nuts, spices, seeds and chile into a nice stone mortar and pestle, take a picture, and then put it all in a food processor with the chocolate. Let it rip, and when the mole gets too thick, add turkey stock until it’s the consistency of very creamy peanut butter.

Add oil and butter to one of the pans, on medium heat, and sauté the garlic and onion, along with a pound of turkey and a crumbled roll or tortilla. Add broth as necessary to prevent burning. When the onion is translucent, add a half cup of mole and turkey stock, stirring it together as best you can, and cover so the mole melts. Add more mole and stock if necessary. Season with salt.

So, too, will your own guests melt when they eat this mole—truly the most love you could give someone with your pants on.

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