The Many Faces of Mole
Mole is the generic name for several rich, dark sauces used in Mexican cuisine, as well as for dishes based on these sauces.
Classic Mole Poblano is prepared with a variety of dried chili peppers (commonly ancho, pasilla, poblano, mulato and chipotle), ground nuts and/or seeds (almonds, indigenous peanuts, and/or sesame seeds), spices, onions, garlic, dried oregano, Mexican chocolate (cacao ground with sugar and cinnamon and occasionally nuts), and salt. In Mexican kitchens charred avocado leaves may also be added.
In contemporary Mexico, the term is used for a number of sauces, some quite dissimilar to each other. The differences lie in the vegetables (tomatoes, tomatillos), chilies (chipolte, guajillo, chilhuacle, etc.), nuts/seeds (almonds, pine nuts, peanuts) and/or spices used in the recipe (chocolate is not in every mole!).
The word is also widely known in the combined form: guacamole (avocado sauce).
Listening to Chef James Cooley recall his recent trip to Mexico, you can almost hear the sizzle of meat and smell the mouth-watering aromas of roasted chile peppers wafting up from the flame of the roadside grills. His recent trips to Mexico gave him some firsthand insights into the authentic street food of this diverse culture, as well as a few new portable menu ideas to implement at his operation.
Everything tastes better outside
“The best Mexican food is the food of the people and that's what you find on the street and in the mercados (markets),” says Cooley, executive chef at Seattle University, a Bon Appetit account.
To help him recharge between sightseeing at typical tourist attractions, friends in Mexico City gave him a taste of the “real Mexico,” he says. “They wanted me to eat like the locals do so we ate in tucked-away cafes and mom and pop restaurants,” says Cooley. During his most recent 10-day trip, he recorded everything he ate along the way. (Check out Cooley's travel diary.)
Mexican in the US
“Basically I came back with two things: recipes for different mole pastes (see pg. 38) and the realization that Mexican food is still so much different than what we think it is here in the U.S.,” he says.
“I found the food there is much more diverse, flavorful, and fresher than what we generally see here represented in some so- called ‘Mexican’ restaurants.”
A key question: was Cooley able to offer these delectable authentic dishes in his own operation? “Well, sort of,” he explains. “We still had to put shredded cheese, seasoned ground beef and flour tortillas on the menu to appeal to American kids' tastes!”
One authentic dish that has been a hit with students, faculty and guests alike is the Tacos al Pastor Cooley had in Acapluco. Cooley explains that the pork in Tacos al Pastor is like the Greek meat used in gyro sandwiches. “Filets of pork are marinated in chilies, orange zest and spices. They are then stacked on a spit with fruit and onions and then grilled. They are served on the street with fresh warm corn tortillas and a variety of fresh salsas.”
At Seattle U's La Cocina Mexican station, the chefs first roast the marinated meat in the oven (to ensure food safety) then spear the meat with sliced mango/pineapple and onions on the vertical broiler spindle. The broiler adds a nice caramelized bite to the outside of the meat. The tacos, 3- 5" corn tortillas, are available with assorted self-serve condiments (chopped cilantro, lime wedges, small diced onions, queso fresca, fresh salsa, salsa roja, and salsa verde) and retail for an affordable $2.
Taking a culinary cue from Cooley, FM sought out some additional Mexican-inspired entrees that are portable enough to appeal to onsite customers, whether they seek to dine outside, enjoying the warm summer breezes or inside, chilling out in the cool air conditioning of your café, grooving to a rumba.
• Idaho Potato Shell Taco Pie
• Tacos al Pastor
• Short Rib and Potato Taquitos
• Steak Fajitas
• American Lamb Posole Stew
• Strawberry Horchata
• Steak & Egg Crepe-adilla with Roasted Poblano Salsa
• Mexican Mocha
• Ancho Pork Torta Sandwiches
• Baja Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa
• Crab Tostadas with Strawberry-Mango Sauce
• Mango Chiles Rellenos Al Carbon