The Milkweed Diaries

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Making Mole - Tasty Tonic Food for Winter Well-Being

This year we grew heirloom Pasilla Bajio peppers (pictured at left), a mild, sweet-hot, long, wrinkley, dark green pepper that turns deep chocolate brown as it ripens. Its one of the many types of peppers traditionally used in Mexican mole.

Mole (pronounced "moe-lay") means "sauce" in Spanish - read more about mole here.

Last night, I decided to try my hand at a mole paste, which I will describe after the following disclaimer:

*Disclaimer!* There are an almost infinite variety of highly personalized mole recipes, incorporating regional traditions and generations of mole-making expertise handed down from mothers to daughters, guarded as family secrets, perfected and adapted, with each mole sauce embodying the unique culinary magic and heritage of the person (usually a woman) stirring the pot. This is NOT one of those moles. I humbly acknowledge that it is a non-traditional, bastardized, white-Southern-hippie-anarchist-vegetarian-novice first time gringa mole. Traditional moles can require a whole day in the kitchen, sweating and toasting and grinding and stirring. Mine takes a little more than an hour. Although I think it tastes pretty darn good, it is not in the same universe with traditional moles.

Peppers toasting in the skillet

So. This mole only uses one kind of pepper rather than 3, 4, or 5 varieties. If you use more varieties, you can achieve complex subtle pepper flavor combinations. I also used only pumpkin seeds rather than the blends of almonds, sesame seeds, and other seeds and nuts that may be included in other moles. I wanted to use as many local ingredients as possible, and pumpkin seeds are nutritious, affordable, and locally plentiful. I used honey instead of sugar, and left out the chopped bread/cookies/crackers and/or tortillas that some moles include.

Spices awaiting grinding

Without further ado, here is the recipe:

Gringa Mole Paste

Makes about 1 quart

20 Pasilla Bajio peppers
20 cloves of garlic
3 oz. raisins*
2 generous tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. oregano
1 Tbs. cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cloves or 7 or 8 whole cloves
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4- 1/2 tsp cayenne powder depending on how hot you like it
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/3 cup honey
1 cup pumpkin seeds
3 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate

  • Wash the peppers under cold water. Remove the seeds and stems.
  • Heat up a cast iron skillet and toast the peppers in batches. Use a tiny bit of oil in the skillet -- I used virgin coconut oil. Cook the peppers just until they soften and brown a bit. This is going to make your house smell really good.
  • Meanwhile, roast the garlic. I usually do this in the toaster oven. Leave the garlic unpeeled to roast - you can peel it after roasting.
  • When all of the peppers are cooked, put them in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Add the raisins and cover with a cloth or dishtowel. Let sit for 1/2 hour or until everything is soft and the raisins are "plumped up."
  • While you are soaking the peppers and raisins, toast the pumpkin seeds lightly, until they're golden brown.
  • Drain the peppers and raisins and retain the soaking water.
  • Grind all of the spices together with a mortar and pestle.
  • Melt the chocolate. Peel the garlic.
  • Blenderize or process in a food processor the pumpkin seeds, honey, garlic, and spices, adding a little soaking water to make the blades turn if necessary. Add the peppers, raisins, and melted chocolate, and continue adding soaking water until you achieve the desired consistency.

The final result should be a thick paste that you can dilute with water, stock, or tomato sauce (or any combination of these), adding sauteed or roasted onions and garlic to make delectable sauces for whatever you are cooking up.

Throw a dollop in your refried beans, use it to spice up burritos or enchiladas, mix with stock and tomato paste as a spicy/sweet marinade for baked beans, or use in the traditional way, as a sauce in which to slow-cook meats.

Mole paste can be refrigerated and used over a few weeks, or frozen and used through the winter as a way to bring your summery chili peppers from the garden to the table through the cold months.

Finished mole paste in a jar

More to Mole than Fabulous Flavor?

As I was making the mole, I was thinking about what a great tonic food it is -- a medicinal combination of foods perfect for fall and winter well-being. The ingredients are a perfect nutritional blend to help keep the immune system strong through the changing seasons and to keep us feeling good physically and emotionally as winter arrives.

Local honey and garlic are well-known immune boosters.
Peppers contain capsaicinoids, which trigger the release of endorphins which can help fight seasonal depression. Capsaicinoids also increase metabolism, which seems perfect for the arrival of winter, when we have less opportunity for physical activity. Raisins are high in phenols--powerful antioxidants that are also found in chocolate. Pumpkin seeds contain phytochemicals with anti-inflammatory properties, and are packed with protein and nutrition. Dark chocolate is full of the aforemmentioned antioxidants, and triggers the release in the brain of oxytocin, a hormone and neurotransmitter that is linked to feelings of well-being.

Oxytocin is a facinating biological phenomenon -- it's released during breast feeding and is linked to mother-child bonding. It is also released by hugging, social bonding, sexual arousal and orgasm, and by sharing food in low light. The release of oxytosin is triggered more by certain foods than others. At the top of the list of foods that cause the body to release oxytosin: chocolate and peppers.

Could mole be the perfect fall and winter tonic food to supercharge your immune system, keep you healthy, boost your metabolism and lift your spirits?

Maybe so. But beyond the punch it packs for winter wellness, it is worth eating for taste alone. My nontraditional gringa batch turned out rich, complex, and fabulously delicious. I used some last night to make a hearty stew of black beans, onions, greens, and sweet peppers, which we served with mashed sweet potatoes, guacamole, raw cheddar cheese, sour cream, and tortillas. Mmmmm.


*A note on raisins: I used all organic ingredients for my version, but if you're not going to go 100% organic, you might consider making sure that at least your raisins of the organic persuasion, since non-organic raisins, affectionately known in my family as "pesticide pellets" contain high levels of toxic chemicals.


Dana said...

Well well well. We must be on the computer at the same time as I jsut finished writing about my "project" and then you commented. So I "dashed" over to your site and read your mole entry, which was impressively thorough and packed full of information, with a dash of good humor. I would like to try your mole. I have to say, I have never liked mole, but it is one of those things I really want to like because it sounds so good. I really like how you broke it down and explained how it is a perfect seasonal tonic. I am really into the tonics these days. In fact, at this very moment I am cooking myself an herbal roots tonic, and I am fixing to concoct a mutual friend of ours a "cynicism tonic," which was inspired by a special comment made on election night. Anyways, this is practically turning into a letter, which perhaps was the format I should have chosen for you this evening. Maybe next time. Squeeze her EZ. D

Melinda said...

Wow, that sounds FABULOUS. Mmmmmm. We're just about out of pasillas for the season : ( so I will have to remember this for next year. I grew pasillas for the first time this year and I love them - they're one of my new favorites!

And mole - yes, I agree there is definitely something lovely that is triggered while eating mole! There is a wonderful restaurant here that serves vegetarian mole, and it is divine. And surprisingly, we always have a good time when we go there! : )