March 2, 2011

A Taste of Mexico: Mole Poblano!

Salsa might be the food most commonly associated with Mexico, so it's only fitting that one of its variants is the national dish. Mole Poblano was literally a meal fit for a king (or, at least, his representative in Mexico) and legends abound as to its origin.

Mole Poblano
Mole Poblano

Before anyone starts panicking here, mole has nothing to do with a small, sightless mammal, which lives underground. It is pronounced 'mo-lay' and it is actually the sauce that is, traditionally, poured over turkey. However, it does have one strange ingredient - chocolate!

Mole Poblano is a rich and very tasty dish, which utilizes at least twenty components. These include turkey, tomatoes, chocolate and chillies, within a spicy mixture of black pepper, cinnamon, pepper, cloves, anise and garlic. It is known as 'fusion food', because of these ingredients, as they range from home-grown produce to those exported from Europe. How they came to be mixed together is the stuff of legends.

Mole Poblano
Mole Poblano, with some of its ingredients

The most pervasive story involves those celebrated nuns of the Convent of Santa Monica, in Puebla (aka Santa Rosa). These were the devout ladies who later became famous again, when it was learned that they had continued to exist, in subterranean tunnels, after their existence had become illegal. (The Underground Nuns.) A century before that, the nuns were not only accepted by the State, but there chosen for a visit by the Spanish Viceroy. A good meal was clearly required.

The Convent's kitchen had turkey to use, along with the trimmings, so all that was really needed was the salsa to accompany it.Kitchen at the Convent of Santa Monica The available foods and spices were laid out, and then someone added chocolate.

There are those that say that it was a divinely inspired nun, who just knew that it would work; others say that it was a mischevious novice, who sneaked into the kitchen and sprinkled in cocoa as a prank; yet another version tells of a window left open and a freak wind blowing across the table, knocking the chocolate into the mix (God did it?); while a fourth story was that a team of nuns worked tirelessly for days, experimenting with all that they had, in order to make an impression with a unique sauce.

There was a fifth telling, but that has been largely discredited by historians. That one said that a folk-memory of an Atzec dish had been carried into the Convent by a nun. They just had to reproduce it. This one is seen as unlikely, as chocolate was sacred to the Aztec. It would have been like a Christian using Communion wafers like nachos. It would have been just short of heresy.

Mole Poblano
A street vendor serving from a vat of Mole Poblano

Puebla may take the credit for the invention of Mole Poblano, but these days it can be found all over Mexico. The idea of chocolate and turkey together may sound bizarre, however the proof of the sauce is in the tasting. Mole Poblano always passes first time.

A recipe for Mole Poblano may be found here.

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