In Mexican Spanish, the term molé is derived from a Nahuatl word (an Uto-Aztecan language), molli, meaning “a sauce or mixture.”
The word was used by the pre-Columbian indigenous peoples of Mexico to describe the sauces they made by pounding spices, dried chiles, seeds and nuts in oversized mortar bowls. Subsequently, the Spaniards brought to the New World many types of food, especially spices, which were incorporated into the local sauces.
The most well-known molés originate in the Mexican states of Puebla and Oaxaca. One of the most popular molés in Puebla is the molé poblano, which includes poblano peppers among other peppers and a long shopping list of ingredients.
Indulge yourself in a Puebla version by venturing to Tarahumara’s Mexican Cafe, 702 N. Porter Ave. in Norman, and order the molé poblano. Served with refried beans, rice and pico de gallo, this dish is accompanied with feather-light tortilla chips, queso and salsa. The mahoganycolored molé is a mild, warm slow burn served over chicken.
“This is a Puebla molé poblano, served most often for a party or a fiesta, Christmas, weddings and celebrations,” said restaurant staffer Flor Pando.
Southeast of Puebla, in the state of Oaxaca, are the Seven Molés of Oaxaca: molé chichilo, molé negro, molé manchamanteles, molé verde, molé rojo (also called molé poblano), molé coloradito and molé amarillo. With seven classic molés in the region, the debate over which family’s mix of spices and peppers is best could get heated.
The contemporary restaurant 1492 New World Latin Cuisine, 1207 N. Walker Ave., offers pollo molé, a molé with chicken that has its origins in Oaxaca. I ordered the pollo molé served in a sauce with ancho chilies in a starring role and is accompanied by rice and beans and a dash of sesame seeds on top of the molé.
“The molé here is made fresh daily, without any preservatives, which imparts a far better flavor. We can also serve this molé on beef or grilled tilapia,” said restaurant staff member Richie Kelly.
I tasted a familiar ingredient in the sauce that I couldn’t readily identify and then discovered it was chocolate. The smooth sauce was wonderful, and the chocolate addition was not sweet; it added an authentic depth to the molé.
It is commonly thought that all molés have chocolate as a key ingredient, but this is not true. Molés can have 20-30 ingredients, including oregano, whole cloves, sesame seeds, tomatoes, raisins and peppers. One of the best-kept secrets for making a good molé is that each of the spices and seeds are toasted separately.
Another type of molé, one almost ubiquitous to the U.S., is guacamole. If you want to impress party guests, prepare guacamole using a molcajete, a stone (basalt) Mexican version of the mortar and pestle. Top it with pico de gallo for a most authentic presentation.