Tuesday, March 25, 2014

CHOLULA, PUEBLA: Climbing the Great Pyramid and Chicken in Mole Sauce:

Popocatepetl Volcano in Puebla, Mexico

     We climbed the Great Pyramid in Cholula to the church at the top. My "Fitbit" pedometer told me we had climbed the equivalent of 20 flights of stairs, which was quite strenuous at this altitude of over 7000 feet. This temple is said to be the largest pyramid in the western hemisphere, measuring 1,312 feet square at the base and 213 feet high. It appears from a distance to be just a hill since little of it is has been excavated. It is actually a man-made hill, constructed over 1000 years before the Spanish Conquest. The Spanish then built this beautiful Catholic Church on top of the Great Pyramid, combining two religious temples.
     Mole sauce is popular in Mexico, especially in the mountainous states of Puebla and Oaxaca. The traditional recipe has 20 to 30 ingredients and takes a full day to prepare. The combination of ingredients seems very unusual when looking at the recipe and the flavor is unique, but delicious. Mole sauce is an acquired taste, and the more we have eaten it here in Mexico, the more we enjoy it. 
     One common legend of its creation takes place at the Convent of Santa Rosa in Puebla early in the colonial period. Upon hearing that the archbishop was going to visit, the convent nuns went into a panic because they were poor and had almost nothing to prepare. The nuns prayed and brought together the little bits of what they did have, including chili peppers, spices, day-old bread, nuts, and a little chocolate. They killed an old turkey, cooked it and put the sauce on top; the archbishop loved it, when the nun was asked the name of the dish, she replied, "I made a Mole". Mole was the ancient word for mix.
      The first two times Jon and I tried Chicken in Mole Sauce in Mexico, Jon didn't think it was his kind of Mexican food. But, I had heard Mexican Nationals and North Americans alike raving about how special this dish was, so I decided to try making it and serving it to Jon without telling him what it was called. He raved about the meal, saying it was the best thing I have ever prepared! I was glad the recipe made enough to freeze half for a future meal. It freezes beautifully!
     For the vegetarians, like my daughter, Michelle, and my son-in-law, Chris, I have included a vegetarian version of the recipe at the end.
(Easier, Quicker Version from the Food Network, modified by Terry L. Turrell)
Total Time: 1 to 4 hours (15 to 45 minutes prep time plus 15 minutes cooking, plus an additional 3 hours in crockpot, if desired)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 chipotle pepper with 1 teaspoon adobo sauce from can (or more to taste), chopped
½ cup raisins (up to 1 cup raisins if preferred)
6 to 8 Roma tomatoes, roasted (See roasting notes below) (or 2 cups canned, chopped tomatoes to shorten prep time)
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter (or 1/4 cup unsalted peanuts)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (or 1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate)
1 rotisserie chicken, meat removed and shredded (skin and bones discarded)
1/4 cup roughly chopped peanuts, for garnish
1 teaspoon sesame seeds, for garnish
1 orange, zested, for garnish
Fresh cilantro, for serving
Lime wedges, for serving
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced, for serving
Corn tortillas, for serving (Flour tortillas can be used as well, but corn tortillas are traditionally served with Chicken Mole in Mexico)
     Place a pot over medium heat and coat with the oil. Add the onion and garlic, stirring to soften for 5 minutes. Add the chipotle with adobo, raisins, and tomatoes, stirring to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
     Carefully pour the mixture into a blender. Add the peanut butter (or ¼ cup peanuts), broth, chili powder, and cinnamon. Puree the mixture until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste, if desired. I find it doesn't need additional seasoning, especially if using a roasted chicken or barbecued chicken from a local Pollo Asado stand, which is already highly seasoned.
     Return the mixture to the pot over medium heat. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth (or the chocolate and stir until melted).
     At this point it is ready to add the chicken and serve. I prefer to prepare this dish ahead of meal time, then pour it into a crock-pot and heat on low for 3 hours to blend flavors. Add the shredded chicken and heat through, another 15 to 30 minutes.
     Transfer the mole to a serving dish and garnish with peanuts, sesame seeds, cilantro, and orange zest. Serve with lime, avocado, and tortillas.
     Roasting Notes for Roma tomatoes: After soaking tomatoes in a Microdyn solution (8 drops per liter or quart) for 10 minutes, cut tomatoes in half lengthwise. Heat barbecue on high. Roast tomatoes skin side down for 10 minute. Turn tomatoes over and remove skin. Roast 10 minutes more on each side.
     Vegetarian Variation: Mole sauce is commonly used on other foods in Mexico, such as poured over enchiladas. To make a Vegetarian Enchilada with Mole Sauce, substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth in the mole. Pour mole over cheese enchiladas made with corn tortillas. Garnish as above and serve!
COPYRIGHT © 2014 by Terry L Turrell
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