Mmmmm. Mole sauce. Good. Before moving to Chicago, I don’t believe I’d ever heard of, much less tasted, mole sauce. And when I tasted mole, good mole, I didn’t imagine being able to make it. Such a deep, complex flavor seemed impossible to recreate at home. Because I knew it wasn’t really just chocolate. Then I found Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen. (http://www.powells.com/biblio?inkey=1-0684800063-26)
I’m not sure whether I would love this cookbook quite as much if I didn’t live in Chicago, where all of the ingredients, including these beautiful ancho and guajillo chilies, are available down the street, at least in all the neighborhoods I’ve lived in. The recipes are time-consuming and call for about a million ingredients. But man–I’ve never been disappointed by the results, including what I made today.
This time-consuming dish is traditionally reserved for special occasions. In the past, back when I was partnered up, I made mole for a few dinner parties and once as holiday gifts. But today? There’s no special occasion. Not really. It’s just me, at home, cooking for myself. Yet I had the day off, to celebrate presidents. And I feel celebratory. Filled with gratitude. Because here I am, working every day to build a meaningful life on my own, in a way that brings me joy. Which is really cool. Plus I love all-day cooking projects. Lots of dancing in kitchen. So what the hell. I decided to make my own special occasion by making mole sauce, celebrating myself, in my new life, with some of my fancy heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo. (www.ranchogordo.com)
Rick Bayless’s original recipe for this particular mole sauce calls for scarlet runner beans, which I didn’t have. But I had two bags of Ayocote Negro, or black runner beans, which, according to Rancho Gordo’s Steve Sando, is supposed to be “the perfect salad bean.” This is because they’re quite starchy, I think. But it also makes sense because they’re absolutely gorgeous. So I’ll definitely save the other bag for a salad some warmish day. However, since Steve Sando tells me that all of the different varieties of runner beans can be used interchangeably, it worked out perfectly to use one bag for this dish.
Tonight, I served the mole over rice with cauliflower steaks and sauteed kale. (Here’s a bad photo, which perfectly demonstrates why one should not include photos of food unless they’re good. But I digress.) Bayless suggests “a good cheese, hot tortillas and a salad.” He also says that the beans in mole make a good taco filling if you simmer the sauce longer, until it is thick. I think next time I’ll take this advice, as honestly, the kale and cauliflower weren’t perfect matches. You could also skip the beans entirely and use the mole as a sauce for enchiladas, tamales, grilled chicken, braised pork loin, etc. But whatever variation you choose, if any, read the recipe through a couple of times first. It’s not difficult. And it’s really very satisfying. But there are several steps. Including the sneaky non-step step of stemming and seed the chilies beforehand, which is only noted in the ingredient list yet takes some amount of time. So you’ll need to plan accordingly.
12 ounces (about 2 cups) scarlet or black runner beans
2-1/2 t. salt
6 medium dried ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded
3 medium dried guajillo chilies, stemmed and seeded
1 med-small round or 3 small plum tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 T. sesame seeds
1/2 t. cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela (I didn’t bother)
1 generous t. dried oregano, preferably Mexican
Scant 1/2 t. black pepper, preferably freshly ground
3 T. (about 3/4 oz.) coarsely chopped Mexican chocolate
3 to 3-1/2 c. chicken broth
1-1/2 T. olive oil or lard
1 T. honey (original recipe calls for 2-1/2 t. sugar)
1. Rinse the beans, transfer into a large pot or slow cooker. Add 1-1/2 qt. cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer gently for 2-3 hours. Alternatively, cook in the slow cooker on high for about 5 hours or until tender. Check the water level and add more water as necessary to keep the liquid a generous 1/2 inch above the beans. Season with about 1 t. salt.
2. Make the mole while the beans are cooking. Heat a heavy skillet or griddle over medium heat. Toast the chilies a few at a time by laying them flat and pressing down with a metal spatula for a few seconds, until there is a crackle or perhaps a thin wisp of smoke. Turn and toast the other side. Transfer the toasted chilies to a medium bowl, cover with hot water, and allow the chilies to rehydrate for about a half hour. Drain and discard the water.
3. While the chilies are soaking, toast the sesame seeds for about two minutes, being careful not to burn. Transfer the seeds to a plate to cool. Toast the garlic and tomato in the skillet or griddle, turning, for 10-15 minutes, until soft and blackened in spots. Cool slightly, peel off the skins, and transfer to a blender (ideal) or food processor (adequate but won’t grind up the sesame very well). Add the sesame seeds, chilies, cinnamon, oregano, pepper, chocolate, and 1-1/2 cups of broth. Process until smooth. The original recipe says to strain the sauce in a medium-mesh strainer. I didn’t strain the sauce today, because I don’t have a medium-mesh strainer and I don’t really care about perfectly smooth sauce. But you may. Mine definitely had texture, mostly sesame seeds.
4. Heat the oil or lard in a heavy, medium-sized saucepan over medium-high. Once the oil is hot enough to make a drop of the puree sizzle, add the puree all at once and stir for 3-4 minutes, until it’s thickened a bit. Add the rest of the broth, stir, partially cover, and simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1-1/2 teaspoons, and honey or sugar.
5. Stir the drained beans into the mole. Simmer for about 20 minutes, for the beans to absorb the flavors, adding more broth if necessary. Taste for salt and serve.