Monthly Archives: March 2012

Rhythms of Making Mole Rojo with Josefina Ruiz Vazquez

We are in the garden at Las Granadas Bed and Breakfast in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.  A huge pomegranate (las granadas) tree is laden with ripening fruit.  The fruit is suspended and hanging like Christmas ornaments, their color varying in shade from deep red to lime green, depending upon their maturity.

Grandmother Magdalena is at the comal, the outdoor cooking stove that is fueled with wood.  This is her favorite spot in the entire family compound.  It is where she prepares the fire for making fresh tortillas and today she is stoking it to fuel the embers that will cook the mole rojo.  I have watched her preparing food at this comal for seven years and each time is a new experience.


Magdalena’s granddaughter and Josefina’s daughter Eloisa is trained at the culinary school in Oaxaca.  She says she likes this mole rojo recipe because the flavor is very special and part of her family’s tradition.  We smell the sesame seeds as Josefina kneels at the metate and incorporates the seeds into the chile paste.  The paste is the a rich color of deep purple.


We take our turns at the metate, mano de metate in hand.  Pushing the mano de metate requires rhythm, strength and endurance.  In the background, Eloisa’s husband Taurino is at the loom weaving a large floor rug.  We hear the clapping rhythm of the harness and his weight on the two pedals, back and forth, back and forth.  The loom beats to the rhythm of Ranchero music.


Zapotec is spoken between the three women.  We are kneeling, trying to learn  the rhythm of the ancient metate, used to “se muele”, to mash, crush, grind.

The technique is not easy.  Eloisa kneels beside me.  Puts her hands on mine to guide the movement of wrists.  She is twenty years old and experienced in these things.  I push with my upper arms and body, leaning over the metate as I rotate my wrists in a small, rhythmic rocking motion.  I feel the work of women over the centuries and know that the women I am with today are strong and will endure.  They work beside each other, three generations, in harmony.

Smell the smokiness, I note to myself.   Absorb this moment.  The chiles are smokey.  The wood fire gives off the scent of earthy smoke.  Feel the chile paste like clay.  Josefina puts her finger to her mouth to taste the paste.  Muy rico, she says.  See Eloisa making bread crumbs on the metate.  See Josefina’s hands red orange from the chile paste.


Hear the grind of the metate stone, stone of the river, piedra del rio.  Josefina tells me it is not a commercial stone, but an ancient river stone, natural and shaped by an ancestor’s hand.  Watch Magda position the cazuela (casserole) on the comal.  I yield to the tradition of making mole rojo and honor the women who feed the generations.


Recipe: Making Authentic Mole Rojo in Teotitlan del Valle


My Australian friend Tracey Ponting came back through Oaxaca this week on her way from San Cristobal de las Casas to Distrito Federal and on to England to visit her parents.  Tracey and I met on the bus to San Cris in January when we stayed at the same posada.  From there we traveled together to Palenque.  I convinced her to spend a couple of days in Teotitlan del Valle for rest and relaxation before starting the next leg of her journey.  In April she will begin a seven-week pilgrimage on the Camino Frances part of the Camino Santiago de Compostela in Spain before going back to Perth.

What better way to relax than to settle in at Las Granadas Bed and Breakfast and get instruction from some of the best cooks in the village, the magic trio of Josefina, Magdalena and Eloisa?  Tracey asked for Oaxacan Mole Rojo, which is her favorite of Oaxaca’s seven moles.  I participated with her and I’m happy to share this incredible recipe (receta) with you!


Josefina Ruiz Vazquez’ Family Recipe for Mole Rojo 

  • 75 grams (2.6 ounces) ancho chiles
  • 26 grams (0.91 ounces) pasilla chiles
  • 55 grams (2 ounces) guajillo chiles
  • 50 grams (1.75 ounces) sesame seeds
  • 75 grams (2.6 ounces) raisins
  • 25 grams (.88 ounces) almonds
  • 4 to 5 medium sized fresh red tomatoes
  • 150 grams (5.25 ounces) tomatillos
  • 100 grams (3.5 ounces) cooking chocolate, semi-sweet (preferably Oaxacan chocolate, which includes cinnamon, almonds, sugar)
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 pieces of dried ginger
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 5 grams (0.18 ounces) cinnamon sticks
  • 1 small onion, halved
  • 20 grams (.70 ounces) garlic (or one small head)
  • 1 T. dried thyme (can use 2 T. fresh)
  • 1 T. fresh oregano
  • 2 slices toasted white or wheat bread or 1 toasted medium dinner roll
  • 1/2 C. olive oil
  • 4-6 chicken thighs and legs
  1.  Toast the chiles over high heat on the comal, over a gas flame or in a shallow frying pan until charred and soft.  Remove seeds and stem.  De-vein.  Take about 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of the chile seeds and toast them.  Set chiles and seeds aside in a bowl.
  2. On the comal, toast together the onion, garlic (with peel), sesame seeds, raisins and almonds until browned.  Add the herbs and spices to this mix.  Stir and toast.
  3. Cook the tomatoes and tomatillos together in 1 C. water for 10 minutes.  Reserve liquid.
  4. Peel the garlic after it is toasted.
  5. Soak the chiles in the tomato water until soft.
  6. On the metate (or in a machine) combine the raisins, thyme, oregano, cloves, cinnamon, peppers, raisins.  Once the paste is fine and all the ingredients are indistinguishable, add all the roasted sesame seeds.  Continue mashing until seeds are pulverized into paste.  You are looking for the consistency of clay.  Remove paste to a small bowl.
  7. In a 6 quart pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil with 1 T. salt, 3 cloves of garlic and 1/2 onion.  Add the raw chicken parts.  Bring water to a simmer, cover and cook for 30-45 minutes until chicken is tender. (Do not use breast meat, warns Josefina. It does not have enough flavor.  You can substitute turkey, but it will take 1 to 1-1/2 hours to cook.)  When finished cooking, remove chicken and reserve stock.
  8. Add onions, chile and garlic to the metate and crush.
  9. Grind bread into a fine crumb.
  10. Put olive oil into a large sautee pan or casserole over medium heat.  Add 1/2 C. of mashed tomatoes and mole paste to oil.  Sautee the paste for 2 minutes until oil is absorbed.  Strain the chile juice into the tomatoes and add this to the cooking paste.
  11. At this point, you can keep the past for 2 months in the refrigerator, but if you add all the tomatoes as follows, you will need to use immediately.
  12. Add a third of the mashed tomatoes and 2 C. of the chicken stock to the mole paste.  Continue adding the tomatoes in thirds, stirring until liquid is reduced.
  13. Break the chocolate into pieces and add to the casserole.  Stir until dissolved. (Magdalena roasts her own cacao beans and makes her own chocolate.)
  14. Add 1/2 the breadcrumbs, stir and correct for thickness.  The mixture should be like a very thick sauce that sticks to a wooden spoon.
  15. Correct the seasonings. Taste.  You may need to add a little more salt, more chocolate or a tad of sugar according to taste.
  16. Toast 3 avocado leaves and add them to the casserole and stir.  If needed, add the remaining breadcrumbs.
  17. Serve with rice, tortillas and steamed fresh vegetables such as choyote squash, carrots, green beans, broccoli and cauliflower.
Serves 4-6.

Josefina attributes this recipe to her grandmother Rufina Gabriel and her mother Marina Vasquez Gabriel.  She knows her grandmother learned it from her mother and the mothers before her.  It is made completely by hand using the stone metate and mano de metate.  Less ambitious and weaker cooks will want to pull out a food processor or blender.  Just beware that the texture of the paste will be different, says Josefina.


She also notes that different families use different quantities and types of ingredients.  Some mole rojos are sweeter, some more picante, some don’t use organic vegetables.  Josefina prides herself on the face that she grows her own tomillo (thyme), oregano, tomatoes and onions.  Mole rojo is reserved for special occasions like Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and Fiesta de Julio Sangre de Cristo (the village saint day) since it takes about three or four hours to shop for and prepare the ingredients.

Of course, we are wearing our Zapotec aprons (mandils):  left to right, Norma, Josefina, Eloisa and Tracey.

Incommunicado: No Internet in Teotitlan del Valle

Why?  Last Friday a huge thunderstorm came through and lightening struck the Telmex box that provides Internet service to most of the village, including the house where I live. It is really difficult to write a blog post on an iPhone and the cost to use 3G here in Mexico is prohibitive.  So please bear with me. We are waiting for service to be restored. There’s some administrative procedure needed that I don’t understand. Life is both easy and complicated here. Right now, I’m at  a restaurant where my iPhone has WiFi but I can’t get my computer  online. Which means no blog posts and no Skype. Aye yay yay.

Postscript:  I conquered it!  Now online and ready to go again, reporting from El Descanso Restaurant in Teotitlan del Valle, at the corner of Avenida Benito Juarez and Hidalgo!

How to Felt Wool: For Beginners

Ten women gathered together at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca for a felting workshop with Jessica de Haas from Vancouver, Canada. All but one of us were raw beginners. I had knitted and then agitated my wool in a washing machine, but Jessica was quick to say this is NOT felting. Rather it is called fulling–which is the process of creating the wool structure first and then agitating it. Felting, on the other hand, is when you put wool fibers together to create structure.


The Felting Process

1. In a large 2-3 gallon basin, add room temp water and some liquid soap, about 1T. Put aside.
2. Cover a work table with bubble wrap, bubble side up, taping it securely to the underside of the table. Work on a concrete floor or outside. The floor will get very wet. Jessica covers her floors with old towels.
3. Put a bamboo mat on the table. We used a placemat. You can use a mat for rolling sushi.
4. Cut merino wool roving into 8-12″ lengths. We used wool that had been dyed the day before with indigo, pericone, cochineal, and then overdyed to get purple, moss green and brown. The wool was prepped by separating the fibers until it was fluffy. Note: merino wool is softer and also faster to felt.
5. Pull the wool fibers gently until you get a transparent piece about 4-8″ long.
6. Lay the fibers onto the bamboo mat In ONE DIRECTION each overlapping with the one before.
7. You can mix colors and do sections in different thicknesses. Patch areas that look thin.




8. For the second layer, lay down your wool pieces in the opposite direction. You will be creating a horizontal layer if your first layer was vertical or vice versa.
9. For the third layer, it will go in the same direction as the first layer.
10. 3 to 4 layers are preferred for strength and durability.
11. You can add wool, silk or cotton threads for texture.
12. The thinner your layers the stronger your fabric will be.
13. The cloth will expand when wet, and shrink up to 50% when dry.
14. Push the wool evenly into a square when completed, then cover with a clean piece of synthetic window screening.
15. Get a plastic bag and use it to dribble water –in thirds– over your screen covered mat.
16. Pat down each section with two hands u til wool completely absorbs the water. NO RUBBING. ONLY PATTING.


17. Use the plastic bag (vegetable bag) to rub the water into the wool cloth using a circular motion. Do this for about 5 minutes, keeping the cloth constantly wet with the sudsy water. The wool has to be completely saturated for the fibers to begin to break down. Remove the screen.
18. Fold the thin edges over so they are the same thickness as the rest of the square.
19. Roll up the mat with the wool square I side of it and then roll it back and forth in a rocking motion with two hands, using some force like you are rolling dough with a rolling pin. Count to 50.
20. Unroll the mat. Add water. Rotate the mat so you are rolling it up again from the other direction. Repeat Step 19.
21. Repeat Step 20. Do this process for about an hour until the felted wool fibers cannot be pulled from the fabric. From time to time, you can rotate the wool cloth inside the mat to make your cloth more even. Note: there will be wrinkles, but don’t worry. Just dribble more water on and these will even out.
22. Rinse your material in hot water. Squeeze out water. Hang to dry.



I’ll write another post about how to make a felt flower.







Felting Wool at Museo Textil de Oaxaca

Textiles and fiber arts are the primary reason I landed in Oaxaca. It started years ago when I learned to weave in San Francisco, California. Now that I am here in Mexico almost full-time, I get to take advantage of the great workshops at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca organized by education director Eric Chavez Santiago.

Yesterday was a felting workshop taught by Canadian designer and artist Jessica de Haas. She makes incredible felted clothing. Our task was to felt a piece of fabric and make a flower. I was the only one with guts enough to cut into the felt I made. The result, two flowers to adorn a hat or collar or whatever!



Jessica studied batik in Indonesia and has won numerous awards. She is in Oaxaca for an artists residency sponsored by Foundation Archetopia. She will have a show of her work at the textile museum on April 13, 6 pm. She may even be convinced to sell some pieces!

Felting wool is an ancient process that began in Mongolia. With a slide presentation to start, Jessica showed us the yurts, clothing, and blankets for humans and animals that originated there. She then showed us examples of her stunning work. Jessica has a retail store, Funk Shui in Vancouver, BC where she sells felted clothing and shibori.

I’ll be posting more about the felt making process as soon as I can get back to my computer keyboard!