When Tita prepared turkey mole (pronounced ‘mow-lay’) with chocolate, almonds and sesame seeds in Laura Esquivel’s novel ‘Like Water for Chocolate.’ it was a dish that, if Cupid had his way, would have been for her to eat alone with Pedro, the man she loved. Instead, she made the mole for a banquet honoring the firstborn child of Pedro and Rosaura, Tita’s sister and Pedro’s wife.

     ‘The secret is to make it with love,’ Tita tells a guest who wants her recipe. And she means it. As Tita grinds the almonds and sesame seeds together, Pedro walks into the kitchen and is transfixed by the sight of Tita’s body undulating as she gracefully works the grinding stone. They share a passionate gaze and all inhibitions were lost.

     The word mole comes from molli, an Aztec word that translates as sauce, mixture, or concoction. There are as many ways to concoct mole as there are kitchens in Mexico, but essentially it’s a ground paste of roasted chile peppers, nuts, seeds, fruit, spices, and in most cases chocolate.


     Mole, which refers to both the sauce and the dish in which it is used, is a celebratory dish, served at the most special of occasions, where it often headlines the meal. The idea of chocolate in a main course might seem odd, but historically chocolate was served bitter and spicy – like the Aztec brew that was served to Hernando Cortes, the Spanish Conquistador. It was only after Cortes brought chocolate back to Spain that the sweetened version was created. Modern mole, meanwhile, incorporates many ingredients the Europeans brought to the New World, including cloves, anise, almonds, and raisins.

     I’m going to share a mole recipe that was inspired by Tita’s, though the book leaves parts of her recipe unexplained, so it’s impossible to know exactly how exactly her mole was made. I’ve tweaked the recipe for Valentine’s Day by increasing the chocolate, and pairing the mole with chicken instead of the walnut-fattened turkeys Tita used, because chicken is easier to come by. But if you can get turkey, by all means do. It’s exceptional with wild game as well, either venison or birds.

     Valentine’s Mole
     Add a chicken, or parts, to a pot of boiling water. After 10 minutes drain the water and pull off the skin. Fill the pot with fresh water and bring to a boil, then simmer with a few carrots, an onion, and salt. When the chicken is falling apart (1 to 2 hours), remove from heat and let cool.

     To make the mole, heat a heavy pan on medium. Toast, and then set aside, the following:

     1/4 cup each of pumpkin seeds, toasted until they start to pop; almonds; pecans; sesame seeds; cocoa seeds or nibs; and peanuts, all toasted until brown.

     Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan and fry half a cup of raisins, stirring often, until they puff up.

     Remove the stems and seeds of 3 dried pasilla chiles, 3 dried anchos, and 1 mulato (or substitute poblano or guajillo). Break the chile skins into pieces and then toast in the pan until crispy, but not burnt. Set aside. Toast the chile seeds until dark brown and set aside.

     Add more oil, sauté 5 cloves garlic and a medium onion, chopped. Tear apart a bread roll, toast the chunks, and then fry them for 10 minutes with the garlic and onions.

     With a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, grind 2 inches of cinnamon stick, a teaspoon each of black peppercorns and coriander, half a teaspoon of anise seeds, and 5 whole cloves.

     Put the roasted nuts and seeds in a food processor and run it until they’re pulverized, then begin adding the shards of chile. If at any point the food processor’s contents get too thick, add broth from the chicken pot. Add 3 tablespoons unsweetened chocolate powder (double that if you couldn’t find cocoa seeds or nibs to roast). Add the fried onion garlic bread, and half of the ground spices. Keep adding just enough chicken broth so it all keeps getting sucked through the blades.

     Pull the bones out of the chicken, tease apart the flesh, and reheat it in a pan with enough broth to cover it. Add a cup of your mole paste into the cooking chicken, and mix everything really well. After it’s simmered together for 10 minutes, taste it. Add more ground spice from the mortar if you want. Add sugar, one teaspoon at a time, stirring, mixing and tasting until it just starts to taste sweet. Mole, like love, is bittersweet, and its flavor depends on this delicate balance.

     Salt to taste. Cook until it thickens enough to coat a spoon – the consistency of melted chocolate.

     Chicken mole is often served with rice or tortillas. I prefer to tear a few corn tortillas into pieces and add them to the mole 5 minutes before it’s done cooking, and then serve it in a bowl, garnished with chopped onions.

     A glass of red wine makes a great accompaniment. The wine’s acidic earthiness enhances the flavors of the mole, while inebriating your Valentine.

     You can also do a vegetarian mole, using water or veggie stock to facilitate the food processor stage, and serve the mole any number of ways – including straight out of a spoon. Or combine with equal parts mayo to make molennaise, which works great as a spread or edible body paint. Mix this molennaise with salsa for a great dip for corn chips. For dessert, pour hot mole on vanilla ice cream, or mix with sweetened yogurt.

     Tita’s mole did not create the passion that she and Pedro shared, but allowed it to surface. So too will your spicy chocolate love paste whet the appetite of the passions.

     Hopefully this love will be less star-crossed than Pedro and Tita’s. And maybe with any luck you and your date will grind together like almonds and sesame seeds on Tita’s stone.


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