Lucy Popescu

freedom to write, review, travel…

Holy Mole!

Posted by lucypopescu on April 15, 2009

Holy Mole!

My love affair with Mexico began in 1991, when I first read Laura Esquivel’s homage to home cooking Like Water For Chocolate. After her mother forbids her from marrying the man she loves Tita transfers her passion into cooking delectable dishes and finds that she has the ability to infect those that enjoy her food with the same emotions she experienced when preparing it. I was a meat eater at the time and the book, aptly subtitled A Novel in Monthly Installments, with Recipes, Romances and Home Remedies not only set my mouth watering but consolidated my desire to visit that part of the world and sample some of its culinary delights. Ok, to be honest, up til then I had thought Mexico’s main staples were burritos and beans and cheesy enchiladas.

Little was I to know that by the time I finally got here I would be vegetarian. But although I don’t eat meat or fish I still love good and imaginatively prepared food. Sadly, my first experiences proved hugely disappointing. Vegetarianism in Mexico is evidently a novel concept and although I discovered restaurants that offered the chance to fill-up on lunchtime buffets most of them were, frankly, inedible: bread like bricks, dried out rice, and overcooked vegetables. Another time, experimenting with a meagre knowledge of Spanish, I ordered a sandwich served with “mermelada de fresa y papas” little thinking that it would be a strawberry jam bread roll served with (cold) chips. I also visited a vegan cafe that proudly advertised the use of soya but evidently suffered from a failure of imagination when they served huge chunks of the stuff, resembling giant meat balls that tasted of rubber. But Mexicans are nothing if not entrepreneurial and things have slowly improved. Now, it seems, each month there is a new restaurant attempting to serve tasty vegetarian options with a modern twist.

Mexican cuisine is perhaps most famous for its mole – a thick sauce made up of ground chilli peppers, various herbs and spices and a dash of chocolate that adds another layer of complexity. I am yet to try this national dish because invariably it is served with meat. However this is all set to change.

When I read Like Water For Chocolate almost twenty years ago I had no idea that I would end up with a Mexican partner and living in his capital city. The upside is that I can enjoy the benefits of home cooking. But my ability to COOK good Mexican food remains untested. This year, his mother and grandmother have promised to reveal to me some of the secrets of Mexico’s finer cuisine that is suitable for vegetarians. I want to learn how to make the chocolate mole, which I will serve with setas – Mexico’s pungent oyster mushrooms. A good accompaniment is rajas – a particular green chilli, de-seeded, soaked in water to remove its heat and cooked in cream; while for a prefect starter I would like to be able to make tamales – corn dough stuffed with beans and chillis wrapped in banana leaves and steamed; Chilaquiles, fried tortilla chips with a green tomato salsa, fresh cream and smothered in melted cheese, are a divine breakfast and perfect hangover cure, if you have indulged in too much tequila the night before: Whilst empanadas, a smaller, more delicate version of the Cornish pasty which I would fill with courgette flower and goat’s cheese, make the perfect snack. And here you eat with the seasons, so from month to month different dishes grace your table.

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One Response to “Holy Mole!”

  1. Pauline Cannon said

    I have found a mole recipe for you to try: it sounds so good I am going to give it a go.
    mole sauce recipe…

    4 1/2 cups chicken broth
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    1 cup finely chopped onion
    3 tablespoons chopped garlic
    1 teaspoon dried oregano
    1 teaspoon ground cumin
    1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    2 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
    3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (Hershey Special Dark, it has a sweetness that mellows the sauce)
    Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium low heat.
    Add onion, garlic, oregano, cumin and cinnamon.
    Cover and cook until onion is almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
    Mix in chili powder and flour, stir for 3 minutes.
    Gradually whisk in chicken broth.
    Increase heat to medium high.
    Boil until reduced, about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.
    Remove from heat.
    Whisk in chocolate; season with salt and pepper, if desired.

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