Friday, December 21, 2007

Mexican Christmas dinner menu and recipes

My family blends a variety of traditions, from around the world. So our get-togethers are rather unpredictable. Since I was giving my son tips on cooking the meal (he's the chef in his house), I also promised you recipes from this year's Christmas menu: Mexican.

First, the menu.
  • *Mole poblano de guajolote: Turkey in Mole Sauce.
  • Arroz rojo: Red Rice
  • Shredded Lettuce Salad
  • Frijoles de olla: Mexican Stewed Beans.
  • Café de olla: Cinnamon-Spiced Coffee
*There will be plain turkey on the table for the two or three whose digestion can't handle the mole sauce.

Next, a recipe or two: Mole Poblano, old style, and my style.

Mole is a traditional Mexican dish, served primarily at Christmas, Day of the Dead, weddings and other celebrations. The name, "Mole", is derived from the word "moler", to grind, and refers to the chiles, peanuts, chocolate and other spices that are ground together into a fine paste. Different regions of the country have their own interpretation of it, giving us green mole, red mole, Oaxacan black mole, etc. But the one my family is most familiar with is the version from the central state of Puebla, "Mole Poblano".

The dish probably derives from Aztec times, when chocolate was not restricted to dessert and sweets, but other legends have been passed along purporting to give its origin. (See below.)

The recipe for Mole Poblano:
(More or less as the older members of the family would make it. My tips in red, short-cuts in blue. A super-fast version at the end.)

Ingredients for 12 servings:
  • 1 turkey, cut in serving-size pieces, browned in oil, then simmered with the onion and garlic in salted water to cover until cooked.
  • 11 ancho chiles ("wide" dried chiles, a dark red/brown colour; relatively mild, fruity)
  • 6 mulatto chiles (same as ancho, but almost black. Use ancho if you can't find them.)
  • 5 pasilla chiles (same colour as the "mulattos", but long and skinny. Make sure you get all the seeds and veins out, if you want your mole to be mild.)
  • 4oz. almonds
  • 4oz. peanuts
  • 8oz. sesame seeds
  • 2oz. pumpkin seeds
  • 1 ounce sweetened dark chocolate
  • 6 allspice
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • approx. 10 tomatillos (or tomatoes, even canned)
  • 2 med. onions
  • garlic to taste
  • 3 corn tortillas
  • 1 slice stale white bread
  • oil for frying (They always say lard; oil is better for you. Don't use olive oil; the flavour clashes.)

Cook the turkey. (May be done earlier. Or use leftover baked turkey, simmered briefly in a good broth. Keep the broth; you will be using it.)

Mole sauce:
  • Toast the sesame seeds on a griddle.
  • In a frying pan, with a little oil, toast the bread and remove from pan; toast the tortillas. Remove.
  • De-seed and de-vein the chiles. Use disposable gloves, or wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. (You'll thank me for this tip.)
  • Briefly fry the chiles together with the pumpkin seeds, peanuts, almonds, and spices. Grind them in a blender together with enough broth to allow good mixing, but not enough to make the purée liquid. (Short-cut: on the stove-top simmer unblended chiles, etc., in enough broth to cover. Add bread and tortillas. When soft, cool, and blend. Then go on with the tomatillos.)
  • Toast tomatillos on the dry griddle until skin blisters (theirs, not yours); remove the skin. Add to blender, with another onion and garlic to taste.
  • Add toast and tortillas. Blend thoroughly.
  • Return to heat and slowly mix in one quart of your turkey broth. Thicken over very low heat, stirring continually to prevent sticking. Add more broth, as needed, to make a thick paste, about the consistency of heavy gravy.
  • Add the chocolate, broken up. Stir until completely melted and mixed in.
  • Add the turkey, stirring well. Let sit on very low heat, stirring occasionally, until thick. Do not allow to burn. (Cheat: simmer in the oven, unlidded, at 300 deg. or thereabouts.)
  • Remove from heat. Serve on a plate with Mexican red rice. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds or chopped onion, if desired.

Many hands / light work.

Super-fast version; don't tell anyone if you did this. Buy Mole Paste. It comes in 8-oz jars or glasses. Get the chocolaty-brown kind. Liquify it by stirring in, bit by bit, your turkey broth, over low heat. Keep adding broth and paste alternately until you get as much as you want. (For a few people, a couple of tablespoons of paste is enough.) Add a teaspoon or so of cocoa powder, the same amount of sugar, and a couple of tablespoons of creamy peanut butter. Adjust liquid, simmer for a bit more. Add your turkey, heat through. You're done! Pretend you slaved all day over the stove.


How did anyone ever come up with this recipe? Well, they told me this story ...

Way back, in the 17th century, in a monastery in the colonial city, Puebla de Los Angeles (City of the Angels), young brother Pascual worked in the kitchen. Being the youngest, he was assigned the lowliest duties, washing and chopping and fetching. And they kept him hopping!

Not that he minded; he was a cheerful, bouncy boy, and hopping was to his taste. So much so that they called him El Bailón, the Dancer.

One day the whole monastery was in an uproar; the Archbishop was coming to the city and would be visiting the monastery. The brothers were cleaning and polishing, airing rooms and practicing their music. In the kitchen, all hands were busy, peeling, chopping, grinding, tasting, stuffing, frying. Pascual was appointed the task of seeing to the wide cazuela, as wide as his arm was long, where a couple of whole turkeys simmered in a delicately-flavoured broth. His job was to fan the charcoal flames under the pot and occasionally to give the broth a stir. He felt deeply honoured by this; elated, too. He sang as he worked, and danced with the rhythm of his fanning.

Alas! He was too excited; in one of his triumphant waves of the long wooden spoon over the pot, he hit a rickety shelf on the wall above the stove. It tipped and shook.

And all the spices, the ground chiles, the chocolate for the archbishop's evening drink, the chopped nuts and seeds, the stale bread cubes and the sugar pilones that were kept on that shelf, slipped, slid, and tumbled into the pot. Disaster!

He did his best to fish the biggest pieces out, but the pot was so big, so wide, the broth so hot, the turkeys so much in the way, that all he could find were bits of chile stem and a few nuts. When the head cook looked his way, he was lost. He was banned from the kitchen, sent to scrub tiles in the back patio while the cooks tried to rescue the meat.

Impossible. The archbishop was at the gates. They did the next best thing, strained the new sauce and presented it with a flourish and desperate hopes.

And the archbishop was enchanted; he pronounced this "mole" the best dish he had ever tasted!

So Pascual, all these years hence, is now called upon by every Mexican cook, as she starts her grinding and toasting for the Christmas meal; "San Pascual Bailón, guide my hands!"


Note; recipes for Mexican rice, beans, and Café de Olla on request.

And now, I've made myself hungry; I'm off to get a spicy snack.


  1. Thanks ... I've copied the recipe. Sounds very yummy. Maybe I'll try that super fast version one day ... before I tackle the REAL recipe! What dressing do you use for the shredded lettuce salad? You can put up any of those recipes ... if and when you feel so inclined!

    Enjoyed the story attached to the recipe!


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