Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Red pepper mole

I have bad news. You know that story that you always hear about why mole is called mole? The one about the toreador who was in the middle of a bullfight when the object of his affection, upon receiving the handkerchief that she had dropped onto the horns of a raging bull and that had been retrieved with equally breathtaking amounts of danger and elan, passed him a piece of chicken that was smothered in a rich, clay-colored sauce redolent of peppers, spices, tomatoes, and chocolate, causing the toreador to stop in his tracks, and say "mmmmmmmm" until the shrieking of the crowd brought home to him the fact that the horns of the still-raging-and-now- even-more-pissed-off-than-usual bull were mere inches from his tight, shiny pants, whereupon the toreador moved rapidly (but in a carefree manner, and without ceasing the audible appreciation of his food) to the side just enough to elude the bull and fling up his cape, thereby eliciting an enthusiastic "olé!" from the crowd? That story?

Apparently apocryphal.

As you cannot help but have surmised, discovering the somewhat questionable veracity of the generally accepted etymology of mole left me devastated. The only means worth considering for restoring my bruised spirits was to make a nice mole of my own. "Mole" means, I believe, nothing more or less than sauce, so it doesn't really mean a lot to say that you want to make a mole, but when most people say "mole" (without "guaca") they mean something slightly more specific. Recipes for this type of sauce abound, and my very favorite is in a cookbook that I own but can't always find. It was written by one of the two women who wrote the Silver Palate cookbooks, and it was published not long after they feuded about something or other and went their separate ways. It has many, many ingredients and is proportionately delicious, though for obvious reasons, it's not as good if you can't make it because you can't find the book.

But no matter. I knew the types of ingredients that were in my favorite mole recipe, and I figured that if I had peppers and onions and tomatoes and nuts and fruit and spices and chocolate, I'd probably come up with something tasty. The main innovation I wanted to test had to do with the initial cookbook. In the no-longer-a-Silver-Palate-chef's book, a small amount of oil was used to successively fry a great many ingredients. I reasoned that I could more easily chop all the ingredients, toss them in a bowl with some olive oil, and then roast them all together in the oven.

And this method turns out to work just fine. I'm not sure that my specific ingredients were really ideal (I think that using both a banana and the prunes was not necessarily inspired, though either of them alone would have been just fine), but when I was done adjusting the seasoning, I had a mole that I liked, and when I went a few steps farther by making a batch of my turkey meatballs and then cooking them slowly in the mole, I had something that I would happily eat for lunch every day this week (as, indeed, I am doing). I will probably make some minor adjustments before I make another batch, but since this batch gave me ten cups of sauce and since two cups of mole are plenty to sauce six lunch-sized servings of meatballs, it may be a while before I get around to making more.

Red Pepper Mole

4 sweet red peppers, roughly chopped
1 large white onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, halved
1 ounce pine nuts
1 ounce almonds
10-12 prunes, halved
1 banana, sliced
2 T. olive oil
1 t. salt
1.5 cups tomato puree
1 quart chicken broth
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
3 t. ground ancho chile
2 t. smoked sweet paprika
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3 corn tortillas, torn
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Combine the first seven ingredients in a bowl. Add the olive oil and salt and toss well to coat. Transfer to a large baking dish and bake for approximately forty minutes.

Transfer the roasted vegetables to a large pot, and add the tomato puree, chicken broth, and spices. Puree with a stick blender. Simmer for about half an hour, and add the chocolate and tortillas. Simmer for another fifteen minutes and use the stick blender again. Correct seasoning.

How thick you want your mole will depend on both your personal taste and on what you'll be serving it with. I ended up with something pretty thick, but I'm eating the mole and meatballs without anything else, so thicker is better. You could easily put the whole thing over some spaghetti to give an amusing reinterpretation of spaghetti with meatballs, and then you'd probably want a thinner sauce. Just add more broth.

You can use the mole to sauce a lot of different things, but when I first made it and tasted it, it really seemed to lack something that would best be provided by meat, and it was much better after the meatballs than before, so if I were going to use it on something else, I would likely swap out some of the chicken broth for beef broth.


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