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
- 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.
- 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.
- Cook the tomatoes and tomatillos together in 1 C. water for 10 minutes. Reserve liquid.
- Peel the garlic after it is toasted.
- Soak the chiles in the tomato water until soft.
- 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.
- 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.
- Add onions, chile and garlic to the metate and crush.
- Grind bread into a fine crumb.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Break the chocolate into pieces and add to the casserole. Stir until dissolved. (Magdalena roasts her own cacao beans and makes her own chocolate.)
- 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.
- Correct the seasonings. Taste. You may need to add a little more salt, more chocolate or a tad of sugar according to taste.
- Toast 3 avocado leaves and add them to the casserole and stir. If needed, add the remaining breadcrumbs.
- Serve with rice, tortillas and steamed fresh vegetables such as choyote squash, carrots, green beans, broccoli and cauliflower.
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.
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.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Food & Recipes, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture, Teotitlan del Valle, Travel & Tourism
Tagged blogsherpa, chile, cooking, food, Mexico, mole rojo, Oaxaca, sauce