Tuesday, February 06, 2007

February 4, 2007: Unholy Mole!

At Los Amates last month, I tried mole for the first time. This is the curious Mexican savoury chocolate sauce, and I was completely won over by mole's creamy texture, warm spiciness and that subtle flavour that didn't seem quite right at dinner time. Our friends Krusty and Jfiles are currently in Mexico, and they've been sampling the sauce from the source! Keen to give it a go at home, I did a bit of a recipe hunt on the internet and picked out this one. It's clearly been created by a bald white guy and posted to a British website, so I can't vouch for its authenticity, but it has an appetising list of spices and is vegetarian without any substitutions required. It takes at least a couple of hours and a kitchen-load of pots and pans to get together so it's a task for a weekend afternoon at home, ideally with a trip to some markets for fresh produce in the morning! Alas, I didn't have the chance.

The aroma of the spices dry-frying had my stomach grumbling at least an hour too early, and they're reason enough to try this again. But I'll be making some alterations to the rest of the recipe:
  • I wasn't sure how much "2 butternut squash" are, 'cause two butternut pumpkins is a lot. We bought one and a half (about 2.7 kg, including the skin, seeds, etc) and this was far more than we needed for 12 tortillas. I'll buy just one next time, and the two of us will still have leftovers for days.
  • Since I didn't want the mole to be too sweet, I used a block of 85% cocoa chocolate. This was too overbearing, meaning that the spices and tomatoes were nowhere to be tasted. I might use 85% again (or try 70%) and work up from 50 g (rather than using 100 g).
  • I was too timid to make a sauce with 10 red chillies, so I used about 5 and removed their seeds. I could have afforded a few more, or just included the seeds of the ones I did use.
Even though the sauce was weak in the chilli stakes, their preparation had my hands tingling. I did the usual antiseptic soap wash and made a mental note not to touch my eyes. Surprisingly, by the time this meal was ready, my fingertips were still burning and it was uncomfortable to operate my cutlery. Twenty minutes later they were on fire, I'd given up on the saucepan of water I was bathing them in and moved on to milk. It felt like someone was holding the tips of my fingers against a stove-top: it was really, really painful! Unable to type, I insisted that Michael trawl the wealth of (mis)information that is the internet. (It seems there are plenty of people out there more deserving of the nickname 'firecrotch' than Lindsay Lohan.) From there I slathered my hands in lime juice, then accidentally curdled my milk bath (duh), had a go at white vinegar, but refused to stretch to the undiluted bleach suggestion. Someone posting to a message board said that this had taken 8 hours to wear off their hands, and at the 1.5 hour mark, I'd booted Michael out the door to get whatever burn creams he could from Safeway. Ten seconds out of contact with an icepack caused excruciating pain, and the burn cream did nothing. I alternately whimpered and swore under my breath for the next few hours. It was indeed 8 hours later, at 3am, that the pain finally faded. Lying in bed, I stopped mashing my icepack with my hands and fell asleep.

So that's the story of my unholy mole. I've chopped chillis before without any ill effects, but I'll never do it again without a big thick pair of gloves. And for now it's probably Michael's job.

Pumpkin enchiladas with mole sauce
(an annotated version of this recipe by Simon Rimmer)

vegetable oil
1.5 butternut pumpkins, peeled and cut into 3cm cubes (I'll just use one next time)
400g can of refried beans (Michael made his own using a 600-700 g can of red kidney beans)
fresh coriander leaves, chopped
1 red chilli, chopped (I skipped this 'cause I'm a wuss)
12 soft flour tortillas
salt and pepper

10 red chillies (I used 5, without the seeds, but will use more next time)
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
25 g flaked almonds
5 black peppercorns
3 cloves
1 onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon cocoa
vegetable oil
400g can of crushed tomatoes
pinch of cinnamon
sugar, to taste (I used about a tablespoon of brown sugar)
150ml vege stock
100g dark 70% cocoa-solids chocolate, grated (next time I'll use only 50 g, and grating is more mess than it's worth - just chop it into smallish chunks)

sour cream
lime wedges
more fresh coriander leaves

Preheat the oven to 200 deg C, and get chopping those ingredients as directed above. Put the chopped pumpkin into a large baking dish, stir in a small amount of oil and bake for about 40 minutes, until they're all soft.

While the pumpkin is baking, start working on the spice mix. Crush the chillies, coriander seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, peppercorns and cloves in a mortar and pestle. I found it easier (though ultimately much more painful) to finely dice the chillies before putting them into the mix. Transfer the spice paste to a frying pan and dry fry. Rimmer reckons they only need to be fried for a couple of minutes, but it took me about 10 for the fragrance to really burst out, and to see the almonds browning and the chillies going a bit black around the edges. This colouring is going to bring the smoky flavour! Mmmm mmm.

In a separate medium to large saucepan, fry the onion, garlic and cocoa in a bit of oil, for a couple of minutes. At this time Michael was also re-frying some beans, like he did for this recipe.

Add the tomatoes to the onions and bring them to the boil. Next add the dry-fried spices, the cinnamon, sugar and stock. Simmer the lot for 25 minutes.

By now your pumpkin's ready, right? Put it in a big bowl and stir in the refried beans, coriander and chilli, if you added it. Spoon the mixture into the tortillas, roll them up, and line 'em up on a lightly oiled baking tray. Put them in the oven to warm up and get a little crispy, just 10 minutes.

Hopefully the sauce will be about done. Give it a couple minutes rest and then blend it to smoothness. Fold in the chocolate - the sauce should be warm enough that it'll melt right in.

Now you're all set! Plate up the tortillas, spoon on a bit of the sauce, and serve with sour cream, lime wedges, and some more coriander on the side. Michael and I had a salad of fresh greens and red capsicum too.

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