The theme for today's lunch was Mexican. The menu featured Mole Poblano with chicken, black beans in chipotle sauce, Spanish roast vegetables with pinto beans, yellow corn, crumbled Colby cheese and sticky brown rice.
Let's begin with the word mole. It may refer to a small burrowing mammal, Avogadro's number, or a traditional Mexican sauce said to have originated in the Convent of Santa Rosa. The original Mole Poblano contained over a hundred ingredients drawn from Spain, Mexico and Asia. The version I made yesterday was much simpler, but still full of surprises and incredible flavor.
1/2 - 3/4 cup organic lard (or olive oil)
1 lb tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
7 pasilla chiles, seeded and torn into chunks (I found these long, dried chiles at Whole Foods)
2 Tablespoons ancho chile flakes (the recipe called for whole ancho chiles, but I was only able to find the flakes in the spice section - packaged as a pizza seasoning)
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup walnuts
1 ripe plantain, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup green pumpkin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
2-inch cinnamon stick
2 quarts homemade chicken stock
3 ounces dark chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 60%)
Sea salt to taste
Equipment: spice grinder, blender, sieve
What an ingredient list! Many of these are not common to the average American kitchen, but I was able to find them all at Whole Foods. Unfortunately, Whole Foods did not have the whole ancho or mulato chiles called for in the original recipe, so I substituted extra pasillas. All of these are dried chiles; see pictures here. Plantains look like giant bananas. Look for green pumpkin seeds or pepitas among the nuts.
Begin by oven-roasting the tomatoes, onion and garlic. Slice and spread them on a baking sheet, drizzled with olive oil, and bake in a 350 F oven until soft.
In a heavy pot like a cast-iron wok, fry the torn pasillas and ancho flakes over medium heat for about thirty seconds. Remove chiles from the pan, cover with hot water, weigh them down with a plate and let them soak for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, fry the raisins, walnuts and plantain slices in the same pan in batches, then set them aside.
In a dry frying pan over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds, shaking the pan constantly until they are fragrant and golden - about two minutes. Set these aside in a separate bowl. Toast the coriander seeds, cloves and cinnamon stick in the same dry pan, shaking constantly until fragrant - less than 30 seconds. Add these to the bowl with the sesame and pumpkin seeds. In batches, grind the seeds and spices to a powder and set aside.
Return to your chiles; puree them in a blender with the soaking water. Heat 6 Tablespoons lard or oil in a heavy pot and push the chile puree through a metal sieve into the pan, scraping with a spoon. A food mill would also work well for this. Discard solids. Fry until the puree is thick enough that you can see the bottom of the pan when you scrape it. Add two cups of chicken stock and keep everything at a simmer.
Puree the roasted tomatoes, onion, garlic, raisins, walnuts and plantain in batches, adding a cup of chicken stock to each batch. Add to the simmering chile mixture together with the ground spices. Lastly, add the chocolate and simmer for an hour.
I refrigerated the mole overnight and baked the chickens on Sunday morning. The chickens, which I purchased at the farmers' market on Saturday, had been sitting in brine in the refrigerator all day. To bake them, I cut them into large pieces, piled them in my 6-quart stockpot, put the lid on and baked them at 300 F for about 4 hours. I removed the meat from the bones and mixed it with boiling mole sauce and some of the roasted onions and peppers and garnished it with crumbled Colby cheese and parsley.
For the rest of the menu, I sliced and roasted eight bell peppers, three pounds of onions, a butternut squash, four green zucchini and a pound of crimini mushrooms. I also cooked a pound each of black and pinto beans, which had been soaking at least eight hours. I mixed the pintos with the roasted vegetables and seasoned them with smoked Spanish paprika. The black beans received a deliciously smoky, garlicky...
1 lb. roasted tomatoes
2 dried, grated chipotles soaked in a Tablespoon of cider vinegar
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Puree in a blender.
My purpose with this menu was to expand my perception of Mexican food beyond the usual fajitas, burritos and enchiladas, fantastic as they are. It was a marvelous learning experience that I loved sharing with our guests. The process of preparing food is about so much more than just eating - it's sharing a culture and a tradition. There's a whole world of culinary traditions to explore and I can't wait to try more.