April 2011

Mole sauce is probably my favorite Mexican food. Does sauce really count as a food? If not, then anything covered in mole sauce is my favorite Mexican food. If I go to a new Mexican restaurant and mole enchiladas are on the menu then that’s the first thing I try. Part of what makes it so enjoyable to eat at a restaurant is that I know it’s supposed to be complicated to make.

That’s why I was excited to see that my new cookbook by Rick Bayless had what he described as an easy mole recipe. Well, let me just tell you that after assisting Vicken in making this “easy” mole sauce, I now appreciate the mole I get out even more.

I’m not quite sure how it happened, but Vicken ended up taking charge of this dish. I made the poached chicken early in the afternoon and then Vicken started in on the sauce. About 3 hours later, dinner was served. Even though I wasn’t doing a lot of the prep work, I think it was at least an interesting process. It had a step involving grinding spices so Vicken got to use the mortar and pestle, which is pretty much his favorite kitchen tool ever. You also “get to” soak pan-toasted ancho chiles, blend stuff in a food processor, chop up Mexican chocolate, and then simmer even more stuff on the stove for a while! Yipee!

Finally, you add some of the sauce to shredded chicken and fill warmed corn tortillas and then pour more sauce on top. These enchiladas were good, but we agreed that we probably added a little too much sugar to the sauce at the end, so be careful with that. We had a lot of sauce left over, so when we used the rest I added most of a small can of spicy Mexican tomato sauce to the mole to balance out the sweetness. I think that did the trick for the most part. The next round of enchiladas we made with the mole sauce were even better, I think. That story’s coming soon, so stay tuned.

My final verdict on this recipe is that it’s worth making if you have most of an afternoon free and are looking for something adventurous to make. Given that it took 4+ hours to make though, I’m tempted to see how much better it is than something you can buy in a jar in the store. If it’s not much better and you’re going to be putting in a whole afternoon anyway, I might be tempted to try a harder, more authentic recipe, like the Teloloapan red mole recipe in the same Rick Bayless cookbook. Supposedly it takes at least a day to make. Suffice it to say that if I spend an entire day cooking you’ll hear about it here. It just may take a while for me to motivate for that…

Simple Red Mole Enchiladas with Shredded Chicken
from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen

Poached Chicken
1 medium white onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
4 bone in, skin on chicken breasts
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram

Sweet-and-Spicy Ancho Seasoning Paste
8 garlic cloves, unpeeled
8 medium (about 4 ounces total) dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferable Mexican
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
a big pinch cumin, preferably freshly ground
a scant 1/4 teaspoon cloves, preferably freshly ground
6 cups chicken broth (reserved from cooking chicken breasts)

3 tablespoons vegetable oil (or pork lard, if you’ve got it)
2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) whole almonds (with or without skins)
1 medium white onion, sliced 1/8 inch thick
1/4 cup raisins
5 ounces (1 small round or 2-3 plum) ripe tomatoes
a scant 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela
1/4 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces roughly chopped Mexican chocolate
2 slices firm white bread (or half a Mexican bolillo), toasted
salt, about 2 1/2 teaspoons, depending on saltiness of broth
1 tablespoon sugar
18 corn tortillas (plus a few extra in case some break)
a spoonful or two of sesame seeds for garnish (*We omitted this)
3 cups cooked, coarsely shredded chicken (from poached chicken recipe)

1. Poach chicken breasts and save broth.
In a large (6-quart) pot, bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, salt, bay, marjoram, and chicken. Skim off any foam that rises after a minute or two. Simmer, uncovered, for 13 minutes. remove the pot from the heat and let the chicken cool for a few minutes (I left it for 10 minutes) in the broth.
Remove the breasts from the broth and set aside to cool. Strin the broth, discarding the solids and spon off any fat that rises to the top. (Refrigerate the broth, covered, for up to 5 days or freeze it for up to 3 months.) When the chicken breasts are cool, pull the meat off the bones in coarse shreds. Discard the skin and bones. The meat will keep covered and refrigerated for several days or frozen for a few weeks.

2. Make sweet-and-spicy ancho seasoning paste.
Roast the unpeeled garlic directly on an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat until soft (thry’ll blacken in spots), about 15 minutes; cool and peel. While the garlic is roasting, toast the chiles on another side of the griddle or skillet: 1 or 2 at a time, open them flat and press down firly on the hot surface with a spatula; in a few seconds, when they crackle, even send up a wisp of smoke, flip them and press down tot toast the other side. In a small bowl, cover the chiles with hot water and let rehydrate 30 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure even soaking. Drain and discard the water.
Combine the oregano, black pepper, cumin and cloves in a food processor or blender, along with the chiles, garlic and 2/3 cup of the broth. Process to a smooth puree, scraping and sitrring every few seconds. If the mixture won’t go through the blender blades, add a little more liquid. Press through a medium-mesh strainer into a bowl.

3. From ancho seasoning to mole.
In a medium-size (4-qt) pot (preferably a Dutch oven or Mexican cazuela), heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil or lard over medium. Add the almonds and cook, stirring regularly, until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the almonds to a blender or food processor. Add half of the onion to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until richly browned, about 10 minutes. Use the slotted spoon to scoop the onions in with the almonds, leaving behind as much oil as possible. (If needed, add a little more oil or lard to the pan, let meat, then continue.) Add the raisins, stir for a minute as they puff, then use the slotted spoon to scoop them in with the almonds.
Roast the tomatoes on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until blackened on one side, about 6 minutes, then flip them over and roast the other side. Cool, peel and add to the almond mixture in the food processor, along with the cinnamon, chocolate and bread. Add 1 cup of the broth and blend to a smooth puree, scraping and stirring every few seconds.
Return the pot to medium-high heat and, if necessary, add a little more oil or lard to coat the bottom lightly. When very hot, add the ancho mixture and cook, stirring almost constantly, until darker and very thick, about 5 minutes. Add the pureed almond mixture and cook, stirring constantly for another few minutes, until very thick once again. Stir in the remaining 4 1/3 cups of the broth, partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, over medium-low for 45 minutes. (**Note, you may need to leave the pot uncovered so that the mole reduces enough.) Taste and season with salt and sugar. (If you have never made mole before, season it until it’s slightly sweet–the sugar balances the strong flavors.)

4. Warming the tortillas.
Set up a steamer (with this many tortiallas, you’ll need 2 vegetable steamers set up in saucepans or a big Chinese steamer–either choice with 1/2 inch of water under the steamer basket); heat to a boil. Wrap the tortillas in 2 stacks in havy kitchen towels, lay in the steamer, and cover tightly. Boil 1 minute, turn off the heat and let stand without opening the steamer for 15 minutes.

5. Finishing the enchiladas.
Turn on the oven to the lowest setting and warm 6 to 9 plates in it. Toast the sesame seeds in a small skillet, stirring frequently, over medium heat until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. In a medium-size saucepan, combine the chicken with 1 1/2 cups of the mole and warm over medium heat. Bring the remaining mole to a simmer.
When you’re ready to serve, quickly make the enchiladas by scooping 2 generous tablespoons of chicken onto a tortilla, rolling it up and placing it on a warm dinner plate. Continue making enchiladas, arranging 2 or 3 per plate, then douse them liberally with the hot mole. Strew with the remaining sliced onion and sesame seeds.

*Advanced preparation* The finished mole will keep several days, covered and refrigerated; it also freezes well. Reheat, taste and adjust the seasonings before finishing steps 4 and 5.


I’m always disappointed when I try to stir fry tofu. I can never get it to absorb the flavors of a marinade and it’s never as crisp as I would like. Frustrated by this, I started asking my vegetarian friends for advice and got two useful tips: 1) buy a dense tofu (if you live in Davis, the Sacramento Tofu Company tofu that comes in a vacuum-sealed package works well) and 2) bake–rather than saute–it! This fall/winter Vicken and I took both pieces of advice to heart and found our new favorite way to prepare tofu.

You start by slicing the block of tofu in half and pressing it between paper towels to remove excess water. Then you slice it into bite sized pieces and place those in a baking dish. Next you make a marinade on the stove top and pour it over the tofu.

You can let the tofu hang out in the marinade for a few minutes, but i wouldn’t leave it too long. You want the tofu to take up the flavors of the marinade, but if it sits too long before baking the tofu will take up all the soy sauce and be too salty. Halfway through the baking time, I turn each piece of tofu over, rather than haphazardly stirring it. This is a little bit of a pain, but if you’re anal like me and want the tofu to be evenly browned, it’s worth it.

With this newfound cooking method, I began baking tofu for all kinds of things, including salads. I managed to not get totally sick of the quinoa salads I was making this summer and made a winter version to take on a climbing trip recently. I made it with tofu, broccoli and toasted almonds, but you could get creative and add whatever veggies you have on hand.

As the weather has gotten warmer recently, I have been dreaming about tomatoes and cucumbers and all the summer quinoa salads that are just around the corner! Before I can plant the summer garden I’ve still got quite a lot of beets, beet greens, chard, and carrots to eat. I just don’t know if I can take another week of cooked greens! On the off chance that you aren’t sick of them yet, you’ll be hearing about a good recipe involving greens, sweet potatoes, and black beans in an upcoming post! I’ll do my best not to put it off too long…

Baked tofu
recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home by The Moosewood Collective

1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup dry sherry
1/6 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 pound tofu
2 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil

1. In a small saucepan, bring the marinade ingredients to a boil. Simmer for 1 minute and remove from the heat.

2. Cut the blocks of tofu into 1/2 inch slices, then cut the slices into 1 inch squares. Place the squares in a single layer in a nonreactive heatproof pan. Pour the marinade over the tofu squares, sprinkle on 2 tablespoons of oil, and set aside for about 5 minutes.

3. Preheat the broiler. Broil the tofu for 7 to 8 minutes, until lightly browned; then turn it over with a spatula and brown the other side (another 4-5 minutes). Remove from pan and set aside until ready to add to salad.

Quinoa salad

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch sugar
pinch salt

2-3 cups chopped broccoli
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
1 pound tofu, cubed and baked (see recipe above)

1. Combine water and quinoa in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Drain any excess liquid from quinoa and set aside to cool to room temperature. (You can make the quinoa ahead of time and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the rest of the salad.)

2. Meanwhile, steam or blanch broccoli for 3-4 minutes, until it is tender, but retains its bright green color. Remove from heat immediately and put into a strainer. Run cold water over the broccoli for a few seconds to stop the cooking and then shake off excess water.

2. Combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper in a jar and shake to combine. Pour the dressing over the quinoa and mix well. Add the broccoli and tofu and stir to combine. Top with the toasted almonds and serve immediately.