Ole Mole!

At the end of every semester when I taught English for ten years at the University of New Mexico in Taos, each of my classes celebrated with a pot luck buffet. But these were no ordinary pot lucks. They were also writing assignments.

Not only did each student bring a platter of food to share, they also had to write a short essay on the story behind that dish. “Everything – and everyone, too – has a story,” I would tell them. “Always look for the story.”

Their food offerings were spread out on long tables against one long wall of the classroom, and their one-page stories were tacked on the wall above each dish. This way we could both savor and learn.

These pot lucks were meant to be lessons in observation and curiosity – really noticing the things around us, which we might otherwise ignore or take for granted – and then inquiring about them and digging into their deeper meanings. These celebratory lessons were part of what I’d been striving to convey all semester, the importance of critical thinking in our everyday lives.

I was reminded of this this week when I made my very first homemade Mexican mole (pronounced MO-LAY) sauce, using the new, sturdy Oster blender that Santa Claus (via my friend Ron visiting from L.A) brought me for Christmas.

My new blender

Chef and restaurateur Rick Bayless, author of the classic cookbook Authentic Mexican, calls mole “probably the best sauce in the Mexican repertoire.” And, given the fact that Mexican cuisine is considered one of the five finest in the world, that is saying something.

There are in fact many moles in the Mexican repertoire – more than three hundred, some say – including green, red, yellow, and black, each made slightly differently, depending on the grandma (abuela) making it at home (think: American meatloaf).

Mole poblano with rice and black beans

Black mole poblano from Oaxaca state in southern Mexico, which is considered the national dish of Mexico, is my favorite mole by far; and it’s the one, I’m proud to boast, I made this week at home. What a feat! It took me one full afternoon.

But if you’re like me and you enjoy playing in the kitchen (rather than in front of a computer screen), you’ll understand why I found it great fun.

Mole poblano, I learned by doing, includes more than twenty different ingredients – dried chiles, Mexican chocolate, lots of spices, a variety of nuts and vegetables and even fruit – all toasted or roasted or fried, then blended and cooked down to a rich sauce made with love and care and served in Mexican families at special fiestas.

And, oh, does mole have a story!

According to cocinacorazon.com, mole originated in pre-hispanic Mexico, when it was called mulli and was made with turkey and served in Aztec rituals and other festive occasions. Most of the main ingredients used in moles today are the same as those used by the Aztecs in their day – chocolate, chiles, peanuts, tomatoes, and tomatillos – because most of these ingredients originated in Mexico thousands of years ago.

How exciting to think that the Aztecs, who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica from the 14th to the 16th centuries, ate so well – and we, so many  hundreds of years later, can emulate them.

Diego Rivera’s “The Grinder” — the way mole was made before blenders were invented

Here are a few photos from my mole-making experience this week. I won’t share my long and complicated recipe because I still need to perfect it. But I’ll share two videos you might like to follow – one quick and easy and the other (Rick Bayless’s) more authentic and involved. Of course, the simplest thing to do is to use the tried and true Doña Maria prepared brand, which is available in grocery stores just about everywhere.

Olé mole! Feliz fiesta!

My homemade mole’s mise-en-place
Tomatillos, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and cinnamon stick — toasting on comal
Frying plantain slices
My finished mole sauce

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YouTube videos:

  • How to make mole sauce (quick version):


  • How to make mole sauce (Rick Bayless’s longer, authentic version):


23 thoughts on “Ole Mole!”

    1. Yes, I agree, Victoria. I think I’ll be making it, eating it, and sharing it with friends and neighbors a LOT in the near future! It’s my current culinary obsession. 🙂

    1. Gracias, querida Kim. It seems to me that the basic recipe is very adaptable in that way: to make it vegetarian, substitute veg. stock for chicken stock; for gluten-free, substitute a tortilla (to thicken) for toasted bread; for people with a peanut allergy, substitute almonds for peanuts. The overall taste, texture, and pleasure will be about the same! 🙂

  1. I am living in Oaxaca right now, the land of Mole, Mezcal, and chocolate! Mole is on the menu in nearly every restaurant, even the fast food joints. For me it’s the nectar of the food gods. Can’t get enough. A woman I was just speaking with told me that some recipes have 58 ingredients and take days to prepare. I’m prepared to happily gain 5 pounds in mole and chocolate!

    1. LUCKY YOU, querida!!! If you can manage it, try to get an invite to a Mexican home where they’re preparing it ahead for Christmas festivities (then tell me about it). I’m having a lot of fun trying to make it myself in my new kitchen, and I’m proud of the results. 🙂

  2. Oh BonnieDear, how I wish I could have been with you to taste test your very first mole. It looks beautiful! I wonder how many more times you’ll make it, tweaking and no doubt coming closer to perfection every time. How fortunate you are to be such a wonderful cook. xoxo

    1. BeDear — I’m happy to report that my second batch tastes even better than the first and was even more fun to make (because I had a bit more confidence). I’m loving this new obsession! Wish you were here to taste my creations. — xoxox

      1. And did it take you all afternoon or was it quicker this time? Ron must be very happy knowing how happy you are. Your mole will be the best in the world by the time he comes again. xoxo

        1. It was quite a bit quicker. But I didn’t really time it. Next week Edith will be coming here to show me how SHE makes it! I’m excited to see her authentic Mexican method in action. 🙂

  3. Dear Bon,
    What a wonderful gift! You and Ron must have had so much fun cooking together. Your mole looks so delicious. I like mole very much, but I think the quick version would be for me.

  4. Dear Bonnie,
    A remarkable effort on your part! I’ve never tasted mole, but it must be superb to generate so much envy from your readers. Do you think its the chocolate in the sauce, that has them salivating?

    1. Thank you, dear Loula. To answer your question, I think it’s the whole combination of ingredients in this luscious, out-of-the-ordinary, savory sauce — the nuts, chiles, vegetables, fruit, spices, as well as the Mexican chocolate. Maybe you might be able to find the Dona Maria brand in a grocery store there in Sydney??? If so, give it a try. I’m sure you’ll love it. 🙂

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