Mexican mole is a contentious dish, subject to endless debate over authenticity and correct preparation. The king of moles, mole poblano, deserves all this attention: made the traditional, long way, it’s a symphony of flavors. However, it’s also an investment of many hours (possibly days) of work, starting with 26 different ingredients.

Luckily, I make no claim to authenticity with my mole; I can only say that it’s tasty, rich, complex, and not grossly out of line with traditional Mexican cooking. It’s based on other non-canonical dark moles I’ve had, and it features “only” 13 ingredients and takes 2-3 hours to make.

Ingredients

  • 7 dried pasilla chiles
  • 3 dried ancho chiles (or substitute mulato or New Mexico chiles)
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, peeled, unsalted
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/2 medium onion, sliced thick
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1.5 oz unsweetened chocolate (preferably Mexican)
  • ~10 black peppercorns
  • ~6 cloves
  • 2-3 segments star anise (not whole stars)
  • 1.5” cinnamon stick (or 2 tsp ground)
  • 3 cups chicken stock, unsalted (preferably homemade)

Directions

Put on your kitchen gloves and remove the stems from your dried chiles, then slice into them and pull out the seeds and any dried pith. Reserve 1 tbsp seeds. Tear the chiles in half and flatten them a bit. Discard the gloves.

Fill a large bowl with about 2 cups of hot water. Heat 1 tbsp neutral oil (grapeseed, corn, or canola) in a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. Add the chiles and fold once to coat with oil, then press against the bottom for a few seconds to fry. After 1-2 minutes the chiles should be fragrant; as soon as you see any smoke, drip them off, pull them out onto a paper-towel-lined plate, and pat dry. Place in the hot-water bowl and cover with a plate to keep them submerged. Rehydrate them like this for 15 minutes up to an hour.

Add the raisins and the reserved chile seeds to the same pot and fry for 1-2 minutes, until the raisins begin to inflate a bit. Add to the same water bowl with the chiles.

Next, add the pumpkin seeds to the pot and fry for 2-3 minutes, folding occasionally, until they’re browning just a bit; don’t let them burn or blacken. Place in a large mixing bowl which will eventually hold all your ingredients.

Add the chocolate to the mixing bowl.

Add another tbsp of oil to the pot if it’s dry and fry the whole garlic cloves and the sliced onions for about 5 minutes, until soft and slightly golden. Add to the large mixing bowl with the pumpkin seeds.

Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat and add the peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, and star anise. Toast for 2 minutes or until fragrant, tossing occasionally. Give them a few minutes to cool down, then grind in a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or small food processor. Add to the mixing bowl.

Toast the sesame seeds in the same nonstick pan for 2-3 minutes, until slightly golden but not brown. Add to the mixing bowl.

Drain the chiles and raisins and add to the mixing bowl. Fold everything until evenly mixed; don’t do this step in the blender bowl from the next step as the blades will make mixing difficult.

When the mix has cooled down to no more than slightly warm (this should only take a few minutes) add it to the jar of your blender. Add 1/2 cup of chicken stock and begin to blend. If the mix is too dry to move smoothly in the blender, first try turning off the blender and mixing a bit more using a spatula; if that doesn’t work, add a bit more stock. (Avoid adding too much stock since liquids don’t get ground properly.) Blend for 1-3 minutes, pausing occasionally to scrape down the sides of the jar. The final blending time and the smoothness of the product will depend on your particular blender, but do your best to get it to a smoothie consistency. There should be no visible chunks, pieces, or seeds.

Run the mix through a chinois or a fine-mesh strainer, working in small batches to make the task of pushing the thick mass through easier. Set aside up to half an hour for this step; it’ll feel like real work. You can add a tbsp of chicken stock to the strainer to help things move, but don’t do this too much.

You’ll be left with up to a cup of unstrained solids. For extra credit, you can add this back to the blender with another 1/4 cup of stock, then blend and strain again. Don’t forget to scrape the outside of your strainer’s mesh with a clean spatula to get all the mix that has stuck to it.

Wipe the Dutch oven with a paper towel; just remove any solids you don’t want in the final, smooth mole, but don’t worry about the burnt coating on the bottom. Heat 1 tbsp of oil (or lard) in it over medium heat, then carefully add the smooth mix. As it heats up, it will bubble in strange ways. Adjust the heat to keep it moving, but not violently popping. Fold and fry for 5 minutes, scraping the sides of the pot, until the mix loses some of its moisture and darkens and thickens a bit.

Slowly pour in the remaining chicken stock and stir to form an even sauce. Add 2 pinches of salt. Turn the heat down to low (adjusting again to make sure it moves but doesn’t burn or roll) and simmer for 30 minutes, folding and scraping down the sides occasionally. It should thicken, darken, and developer a deeper, more savory flavor. This process will continue in the fridge over the next day or two, so feel free to make the mole ahead. Before you serve it, fold to make sure it’s even and, if needed, thin down with a bit more chicken stock. Salt to taste.

Mole is traditionally served over roasted turkey or chicken. When doing so, I prefer to cut up the de-boned meat into bite-size pieces, then fold it into the mole. (If you’re not serving all of the mole right away—and it keeps in the fridge quite well—combine and heat the meat and a smaller amount of mole in a different pot.) It’s a great way to dress up leftover roast chicken or Thanksgiving turkey.

This will feed 4-6. Serve on tacos or with a side of Mexican rice and black beans and our pickled onions. Sprinkle with sesame seeds for garnish, and keep a napkin handy—mole is one delicious mess.

Notes

Most decent supermarkets should carry dried Mexican chiles. If yours doesn’t, look for a Hispanic store. (Larger Asian markets often cater to the same community, so check there as well.) Look for leathery, slightly shiny peppers; avoid anything with a dusty or chalky appearance. Pasillas and anchos often get confused; pasillas are long and skinny, while anchos look more like dried versions of green bell peppers. Neither of these chiles is particularly hot, but I still recommend wearing gloves when handling them, as the seeds can sometimes be quite potent.

Toasting and grinding your own spices makes a noticeable difference in dishes where they shape the flavor so prominently. That said, if you have to use the ground stuff, go ahead.

If you don’t have a blender, you can use a food processor, though it may not work as well. It won’t affect the quality of the dish too much, but it’ll make straining more difficult. It’s still doable, however. Whichever tool you use, don’t overfill the jar/bowl.

Note that this recipe is almost vegan and can be made so by using vegetable stock if desired.

Coming soon, my recipe for a perfect companion to mole: corn tortillas.