Monday, March 9, 2009

"The Cuisines of Mexico" by Diana Kennedy - Mole de Olla - Mole cooked in a pot

Date I made this recipe: March 8, 2009

The Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy, foreword by Craig Claiborne
Published by: Harper & Row, Publishers
© 1972
Recipe: Mole de Olla – Mole cooked in a pot – p. 160-161

People, I have been having some weird dreams lately and this latest one takes the cake (no pun intended).

Despite my taking Tom Colicchio of Top Chef to task a few weeks ago for having Top Chef contestants cook venison to represent Green Bay Packer food, he invited me to have dinner with him, (“in my dreams" takes on a new meaning, doesn’t it?) and of course, I accepted.

So in my dream, we ate at this very opulent restaurant with cathedral ceilings and beautiful chandeliers. To my left sat a female food writer but darned if I could tell you who she was, and to my right sat Tom.

And so there we were in this beautiful setting and the food came and it was…and I’m desperately trying to recall this…something akin to either a Monte Carlo sandwich or an egg on top of a steak covered in mushroom soup sauce.

So in my dream, Tom turned to me to ask what I thought and I said something to the effect that the meal was too casual for such an opulent setting. Tom agreed and promptly called over the owner…or a server…or the bus person, who knows, and that person invited me and Tom to another dinner (a secret dinner?). So Tom accepted and then turned to me and said something to the effect of “Oh, it’s too bad you don’t have the right credentials to go to this dinner.” I confidently and quickly replied that I did have the right credentials—I worked in the kitchen of Sacred Heart School (while failing to mention I was mostly the pot and pan gal) when I was in sixth grade. And that seemed to do it and we laughed ha ha and then I woke up! (Note to Tom: Call me!)

And so after waking up, the first thing I did was to go to The Splendid Table’s website - http://splendidtable.publicradio.org/ - to make sure Diana Kennedy, the inspiration for this week’s meal, had indeed been a guest last week and whew, she was! (Note to self: is a cocktail adjustment in order before bedtime?)

For those of you who don’t know, Diana Kennedy is an Englishwoman who has been living in Mexico and writing about its food for years and years. She’s published several books, of which the book I used, The Cuisines of Mexico, is one of them. And after listening to her talk to Lynne Rossetto Kasper I decided to make something from her book. And might I just say that I was in trouble from the get-go.

Now by trouble I mean that while I am not necessarily a health nut, I didn’t want to buy lard for one recipe only to have it sit unused in my refrigerator and folks, a vast majority of the recipes call for lard.

Not to be deterred, I thought I’d make a mole but my mole and Diana’s mole are two different moles. I was thinking of mole that contains Mexican chocolate or coco (and not for one second should you equate Mexican chocolate to American; we’re not talking Hershey Bars here) but Diana’s didn’t contain one ounce of that ingredient. Instead, it contained a puree of green tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onion and it was very good but there were still issues, the biggest one being sourcing the remaining ingredients.

I’ve mentioned before that Minneapolis and St. Paul have some very good Hispanic markets, El Burrito Mercado being one of them - http://www.elburritomercado.com/. And so we stopped there thinking (correctly) that they would have what we were looking for. And yet this “panel” of me and my husband was still stumped. We found the chayote (vegetable pear) easily enough and then we found the chiles we were looking for, anchos and pasilla, but then had to stop and re-read the recipe because the peppers we found were dried and we weren’t sure that was correct. Here’s what the recipe said:

“…toast the chilies well, turning them frequently so that they do not burn. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the seeds and veins-do not soak them-and put them in a blender.”

Read one way, it sounds as though fresh chilies are required, especially when it comes to the instruction "remove the seeds and veins” but if read another way, the “do not soak them” directive seems to indicate that the chilies would indeed be dried.

So we hemmed and hawed and hemmed and hawed and finally decided to go with comparable fresh chiles. So we used Anaheim and poblanos and the taste was just fine but I can’t help wondering if we should have used the dried.

The next problem was the requirement to use 1 cup of tomates verdes, drained—basically, green tomatoes but green tomatoes are not readily available in the winter. Let me just reiterate again how much I hate unclear instructions! In this case, we decided to go with canned tomatillos and I think that is what Diana intended us to use but who can know for sure?!

When we finally got home from our exhausting little adventure in Mexican food shopping, I looked at the copyright date on this book, 1972, and marveled at the fact that Diana must have had confidence that these ingredients would be readily available outside of Mexico. I’m no food historian, but I can declare with total confidence that NONE of this stuff was available in my hometown in 1972…or 1982…or any other year thereafter. As to the Twin Cities, I’m not a native but I’m guessing it was probably hard to source some of this stuff here as well.

And so I hope Diana approves of these little substitutions because the dish was very tasty and I had a hard time stopping myself from eating the entire pot - “6 servings” might be a tad too generous!

By the way, "mole" is pronounced "mo-lay," not mole (as in the rodent). Minnesotans of Scandanavian background might be tempted to pronounce it "mo-lee" but that's because "Ole" (pronounced O-Lee) is a common Sandanavian male name and poor Ole is usually part of a series of jokes that either being with "Sven and Ole..." or (more popular) "Ole and Lena ..." (to read Ole and Lena jokes, click on this link: http://www.surfminnesota.net/olelena.html)

Mole de Olla (Mole cooked in a pot) – 6 servings (Note: this mole is a cross between a soup and a stew)
3 pounds pork neck bones or 3 pounds boiling beef (brisket or a shoulder cut), with bone
2 quarts water
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
A comal or griddle
4 chiles anchos
4 chiles pasilla
A blender
1 cup tomates verdes, drained
½ medium onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 pinch of cumin seeds or dried cumin
A small frying pan
3 tablespoons peanut or safflower oil
½ pound zucchini squash (2 medium)
¼ pound green beans
1 large ear of corn (or frozen corn kernels, thawed)
1 small chayote (1/2 pound)
3 small potatoes (1/2 pound)
3 sprigs epazote for garnish
Salt as necessary

Have the butcher cut the meat and bones into serving pieces. (This is Diana’s direction; I cut the meat myself). Cover them with the water, add the salt and bring to a boil. Lower the flame and simmer the meat, uncovered, until it is tender – about 50 minutes for the pork and 1 hour and 10 minutes for the beef.

Meanwhile prepare the chilies. Heat the comal (or griddle or, if using fresh chiles, roast them over a low flame) and toast the chilies well, turning them frequently so they do not burn. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the seeds and veins – do not soak them – and put them into the blender. Blend the chilies with the rest of the ingredients until smooth.

Heat the oil and fry the sauce for about 5 minutes. Add it to the meat in the pan.

Clean and trim the squash and cut them into halves, then into fours lengthwise. Trim the beans and cut them into halves. Cut the corn into 6 pieces (or thaw corn kernels and add a few handfuls to the mix). Cut the chayote open and remove the core, then cut into ¼-inch wedges. Skin the potatoes and cut them into cubes. (Note: I don’t know that the chayote added much in the way of flavor to the dish so if you can’t find it, don’t stress).

When the meat is tender, add the vegetables and cook the mole slowly, uncovered, for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked. Add the epazote about 5 minutes before the mole is ready, and add salt as necessary.

Serve in large, deep coup bowls, with hot tortillas, wedges of lime and finely chopped onion on the side.

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