Oaxaca, Oaxaca. Home to the famous 7 moles. A rich sauce, famed to be thick with chocolate but this is not always, if ever, the case. Some say there are more than 7. Some say it's a myth. I found negro, roja, alhemendra, verde, coloradito at my most favourite covered market in town - 20 de Noviembre. According to Rick Bayless, the ingredients of mole can be grouped into five distinct classes: chiles, sour (tomatillos), sweet (dried fruits and sugar), spices, and thickeners (nuts and tortillas). We made ours without sugar, sweetened only by raisins and plantains. Seriously, it needs nothing else. Especially the flavours need to veer from rumination by chemically, over sweet refined sugar. The best moles I tasted where all without sugar.
My love affair with mole has been sporadic, revisited periodically on my travels, but it's history is long. I think my first taste was at Gracias Madre in San Francisco four years ago. Their vegan mole was poured generously over the corn tortillas I'd seen made by hand in their kitchens. The mole was fiery, and complex. I was due to dash back down the Coast Road to Los Angeles that day. I had greedily ordered three dishes. I wanted to try so many things! I'd taken a 'to go' box on my long drive back down Big Sur. The new flavours were rich and memorable. I vowed to learn how to make it one day. Research informed me it's place of conception was Mexico. I was patient, and waited until the time came to visit. Booking a cooking course was number one on my agenda as I travelled to the home (or disputed between Oaxaca and Puebla) of the legendary mole.
My consistent need to fish out the most authentic experience doesn't
always turn up trumps. But sometimes what it lacks in judgement makes up for in a story. A few emails went back and forth between 4 or 5 of the most well known classes in Oaxaca. Agustin seemed the most 'real' and I was promised an all vegan menu. Which he certainly delivered.
The class was to take place in his home. It was a VERY rustic, three room apartment located above his restaurant. Reached via an iron spiral staircase. Two rather well fed and jolly Americans had signed up for the course also. I witnessed at first hand the Mexican's endearing quality for honesty. Agustin actually mused out loud as to whether they'd make it up the spiral staircase. He used his arms to measure the width of the steel stairs and said 'you'll make it up but not sure about the down'! I became typically English at this point and politely pretended I hadn't heard.
The menu for the day was BLACK MOLE, RED MOLE, ALMOND MOLE, AZTEC SOUP, CHILI RELLANOS & ENCHILADAS. Agustin had a black-board with the ingredients listed, however we were not given any recipe sheets to take home. So some frantic note taking ensued. It was all a bit confusing as he rushed through the many stages of the preparation. And there were many stages. This course is jammed full of recipes. If you are strapped for time or are avoiding fried foods you may want to try the quick RAW recipe for mole I devised back in 2012. Click here
During the day we discovered the difference between the Black Mole and Red Mole. The black traditionally uses roasted chilies. When making the red - Red Mole - you boil the chilies until soft. I think the dry heat of the black mole is what gives it the depth and warming heat. The Negro is the one I'm going to share with you now.
Oaxaca Mole Negro.
1/2 onion sliced
2 T garlic cloves
2 T canela (cinnamon)
1 t cloves
1/4 cup raisins
1 T pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 T seasame seeds
2 T ginger (dried)
1 t saffron (v.cheap in Mexico)
1 t dried oregano
1 t dried thyme
1 t anis seed
1 t cumin powder
4 avocado leaves (*substitute..see below)
1/2 large plantain
bread (sub to be gluten free and use a corn tortilla)
Gently roast (don't burn) on the stove, all but the plantain and tortilla - Now, depending on your level of zeal, you can either grind in a blender or have a workout and use a pestle and mortar.
For the 2nd part of the recipe….
Fry 1 ripe plantain and put in blender with roasted mix and 2 cups water. Now for the fun (if not a little dangerous part) TOTALLY burn the tortilla to a crisp on the stove. PLEASE use all fire precautions. Don't have a window or door open because the flaming tortilla could fly in the breeze! Add to the blender
Part 3... - Roast the chilies .Take a mix of the amount shown left. Oaxaca produces chilies you can't get anywhere else so use the following half guajillos and half a mixture of other chiles, such as pasilla and mulatos. Open the chilies and pour the seeds into a bowl. Roast these separately as they will burn easily. Roast the chilies until slightly charred. For this open the windows or your eyes may water in protest at the hot fumes! Add to the blender.
Part 4..the sauce to go with the mole (also can be used alone as an enchilada sauce, or as a base for soups).
tomatillas 1/2 cup tomatoes 1 cup - blend
1/2 onion 6 cloves garlic salt. Blend & boil. Add this to the mole mix for a final blending. Now the sauce can be used to pour over enchiladas, as a sauce for chile rellano, in a soup, over tempeh or tofu….the list goes on. Be enterprising with it. If you reduce it down to a paste it can be kept in the fridge for months, or frozen it will last indefinitely.
The cooking class with Agustin may not be for the more refined among you. You may find the cussing, inked (rather un-originally by many) on the walls, a bit offensive. The lack of decent toilet facilities, and the lack lustre kitchen hygiene a little to much to bear. If however you like to have an afternoon of unstructured, light-hearted cooking instruction, and copious amounts of free alcohol then it may just be your bag. Agustin is a nice guy and eager to please. In hindsight though, I wished I'd booked with one of the more 'serious' cooking schools. We are talking about food here, right?! Not to be down graded. BUT my vegan heart was well catered for and I learnt much. So, if I can take these receipes, perfect them and make them my own, then I'm more than happy. All of the dishes were overwhelmingly delicious, even with the mole being tainted with a slightly charred flavour as my cooking companion got a little over zealous with the preliminary roasting.
The dishes are not a five minute fling. They take time. But I love tinkering in the kitchen and building up flavours slowly. It usually means they unfold slowly too. Capturing your tastebuds.
I'll post the Aztec Soup & Soy enchiladas another day. For now, go try the Mole. I guarantee you will be using it in everything. I've made sweet mole and amaranth porridge for breakfast. And used it in countless soups, and my latest is smearing the thick, dark paste over brown rice tortillas. Folding the tortilla in half and half again before greedily tearing at it with my teeth. It transports me to food Utopia every single time.
If you choose to go and purchase some pre-made mole then make sure it doesn't contain animal products. Some add animal stock. Beware.
Post me your mole recipes/stories. As you see, I'm mole mad and I'm keen to learn more!
*there is no real substitute for the slight liquorice flavour of the Mexican avocado leaf. Some say try fennel fronds, others say a mix of basil and anise. Those of you in Mexico and some parts of the US are lucky and will find availability of the leaves. You may be able to find online. If you cannot source the leaves then I'd say try a tbs of basil leaves or 1 tbs of fresh fennel fronds. Or just omit altogether.
For Agustin Canseco's Classes in Oaxaca (ranked high on TripAdvisor!)