Moles, pronounced mo-lay, are traditional Mexican sauces made from a range of ingredients that can include chilis, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and spices. They span the culinary rainbow in color and flavor from the bright green tomatillo-based mole verde to the chocolate-enriched, almost black mole negro.
I call this sauce a “mole” in quotation marks because it’s really a mash-up, putting to use my favorite ingredients from the different sauces rather than just staying true to one combination. That being said, every mole reflects the hand of the cook and a great deal of pride is taken in making the sauce one’s own. Use this recipe as a starting point, but don’t be afraid to tweak it to your taste. The best mole is your mole.
Makes about 1 Quart Mole
1 ancho chili, stemmed and seeded
1 tablespoon mild paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup shelled raw pumpkin seeds (also called pepitas)
2 tablespoons neutral tasting vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
1 mildly spicy chili, such as poblano, diced (about 3/4 cup)
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
28 to 32 ounces whole canned tomatoes (preferably home canned)
or as many fresh tomatoes
Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Remove from the heat and submerge the ancho in the hot water to soften. Set aside while you prepare the rest of the mole.
Combine the spices, oregano, and cocoa powder in a small bowl and set aside.
Toast the pumpkin seeds in a large, dry saute pan over medium heat, tossing constantly to avoid burning the seeds, until lightly browned and fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
In the same pan over medium heat, saute the onion and chili pepper, seasoned with salt and pepper, in the oil until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about one minute. Add the spice mixture and saute for about a minute to release their essential oils. Add the tomatoes, toasted seeds, and rehydrated ancho to the pan (reserve the soaking liquid) and stir to combine. Lower the heat and simmer until thickened, about 45 minutes, adding the reserved ancho soaking liquid or water to the pan as necessary to keep it from sticking. (Using the soaking liquid will up the heat ante, so use water for a milder mole). Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
Puree in a blender, working it in batches if necessary. Thin with more of the soaking liquid or water as necessary to reach the consistency of a thick tomato sauce. Use immediately, store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 6 months.
Sherri Brooks Vinton is the Chair of Slow Food Los Angeles and the author of a number of farm-to-table cookbooks including “Put ‘em Up! A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook” and “Eat it Up! 150 Recipes to Use Every Bit and Enjoy Every Bite of the Food You Buy”.