Mole poblano (for spinach & potato enchiladas)

If you’ve ever found yourself staring into your store cupboard, wondering precisely why you have three separate mostly-used packets of cashew nuts, or a whole unopened bag of sesame seeds you don’t remember buying, or just why you have four types of lentil, then you’ll find my Sunday morning quite familiar.

“I should really” I thought “just use some of these bloody things to make some space”. Enter: mole poblano. A dry-goods tidy in sauce form. Well, if your dry goods include various nuts, seeds, and berries of unremembered provenance, and some fancy chiles. This ain’t helping with the lentils. Seriously, when do I ever use the big, non-puy green ones? What was I thinking?

Mole poblano is a Mexican classic, for years better known in the US than the UK. It’s fruity/sweet/smoky, thickened with nuts, and can take you most of a day to make. This is a veggie version, adapted both from Rick Bayless, and to what I had to hand. The nuts are different, and I’ve de-clawed the spice. It also takes less time.

That turned out to be good, because after tweeting about the annoyance of Bayless’ quarts/cups/imperial measure bobbins original, I needed that time back to block (or at least roll my eyes at) a parade of mansplaining neckbeards with no ear for tone.

Anyway, the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable stock, 1L (you might need a bit more)
  • Tomatoes, 1/2 tin
  • Onion, 1 large
  • Cashew nuts, 50g
  • Peanuts, 50g
  • Walnuts, 25g
  • Raisins, 75g
  • Garlic, 3-4 cloves
  • Bread, 2 thick slices (about 100g, stale or dry for preference)
  • Dark chocolate (80%), 40g
  • Ancho chili, 2 large
  • Sesame seeds, 2tbsp
  • Coriander seeds, 1tsp
  • Black peppercorns, 1tsp
  • Cinnamon, 1tsp
  • Allspice, 1/2tsp
  • Oregano, 1/4tsp
  • Thyme, a hefty pinch
  • Cloves, 4
  • Optional: chipotles in adobo and a dollop of the sauce, to taste

A note on the nuts. Many recipes use both fewer kinds and less overall. I think the mole is pretty forgiving to a clear-out, and the walnuts add body. You can probably get away with 70-100g of a mix of almonds and peanuts, skewed to almond.

This makes about a litre and a half, maybe a shade more. It’s comfortably enough sauce to feed 6 for many of the things you’d do with it. On Sunday it went 4 ways over mildly indulgent enchiladas (see later).

Instructions:

The short version is: toast like things in batches, blend, fry, let out with stock, simmer. Now, the 600 word version:

Tear the ancho chiles into pieces, discarding the seeds. In a sturdy frying pan over a high-ish heat, toast them minute or two until they sizzle and start to blister, and the air above the stove is thoroughly weaponised. Remove them from the heat, and put the pieces to soak in some of the stock for at least an hour. This both gives a smoky edge, and lets them plump back up so they blend later.

Roughly chop the onion and garlic. Tear the bread into chunks.

Put the tomato, chocolate, cinnamon, allspice, thyme, and oregano in a bowl or blender.

Toast the nuts & sesame seeds in the pan at a medium heat, until lightly brown. Add them to the bowl.

Quickly toast the peppercorns, coriander seeds and cloves. Roughly grind them, and add to the bowl too.

Over a medium heat with a good slug of oil, fry the onion gently for about 10 mins, until soft. Raise the heat and add the garlic. Cook for another couple of minutes until starting to brown. Add the raisins, and fry for a minute until they go kind of puffy. Remove all of this to the bowl.

In the remaining oil (or adding a splash more), and at a high-ish heat, fry/toast the bread until it picks up any tasty residue and colours. Add this, also, to the bowl.

Once the chiles are good and soft, add them with their liquid. Add the chipotles here, if using.

Add a little of the vegetable stock, say, 200ml, and puree the mixture. Do this either in a sturdy food processor, or with an equally serious stick blender. It’s a feisty paste, and my long-suffering Kenwood finally gave up the ghost on a batch of this. If the blender is struggling, add a bit more liquid, but not the whole lot at first. Gradually work it to a very smooth puree, as thick as you can keep it to start with.

If you’re feeling brave, press it through a sieve. I never bother. It gives you a better texture. But it also gives you blisters, a ruined arm, and a pervasive sense of resentment toward the universe. Plus, I don’t mind a little crunch from some of the seeds.

Heat a little more oil in a pan, and add the sauce. It will sizzle and probably spit. Stir carefully and let it thicken a little, say 4-5 mins. Stir in the remaining liquid, carefully, a bit at a time, and let it simmer very low, for about 30 mins. It may thicken more, and the colour will deepen.

Check for seasoning, and if you want a bit more body, give it some more chocolate, or adobo from the chipotles if you’re using them.

The mole is now ready. It’ll keep for a while, and the flavour will improve as the ingredients meld. It should be sweet-ish and really quite rich, a red-ish brown. Mine tend to come up pale, I think because I really double down on the nuts.

What to do with it?

You can do a lot with a batch of mole poblano, and baking poultry in it is pretty traditional. Also: delicious.

It makes a tasty pour-over sauce for grilled meats or vegetables. Put it on the side of seared aubergines, perhaps, or some barbecued big flat mushrooms. Roasted cauliflower would be amazing, and I’m tempted to cook a leg of lamb in it until it falls apart.

I like to use a simpler mole as an enchilada sauce, so I gave it a go with the heavy duty version.

Briefly: Cook some potatoes until just tender. Drain them and roughly cube. Wilt some spinach, and press out the liquid. Rough chop. Chop some garlic. Dice an onion, and fry until soft. Add the garlic, a load of cumin seeds and smoked paprika, fry for a bit, and add the potatoes. Fry these until gaining some texture, then give it a big handful of pumpkin seeds, some seasoning, and work the spinach back in.

You roll that up in corn tortillas, pour over the sauce, and bake it with loads of cheese on top. It’s heavy, but it’s delicious.

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