The Magic of Mole vs. the Chaos of Kids

Mexican food brings me life and comfort. I love eating it, savoring it, smelling it, and cooking it. It is one of the most complex cuisines as far as flavors and variety go. One of my favorite dishes is mole (pronounced MOH-LEH). Mole is a sauce served over chicken, turkey, or even enchiladas. It is an unbelievably rich blend of spices, chiles, chocolate, nuts, and I’m sure it even contains a bit of magic. This beautiful sauce stands the test of time, originating several hundred years ago. The original recipes can contain more than 100 ingredients—some that you could find only in a market in Mexico. My brother happens to be a chef in Fort Worth, and I consult him often about ideas. I mentioned wanting to make something Mexican for dinner and that the thought of mole had come to me. He told me to buy it pre-made and just tweak it a bit. We grew up eating mole that comes in a jar and it is pretty good, but I also took that as a challenge. Buy mole? Oh no, I was going to make it! He may be a chef, but he is my brother first, and I am fiercely competitive. I must have read through at least 20 recipes before blending several into one that is a tad more mom-living-in-San-Antonio-friendly.

My day began by sending my oldest off to school and then getting my other three kids ready for a morning of gathering all ingredients necessary. This process of stopping in store after store looking for all the right chiles took about three hours. Tip #1: La Michoacana will have most of what you need. We made it back home around 11:00 A.M. to begin the process of cooking. Tip #2: Have snacks out and ready to hurl at children constantly to keep them out of the kitchen.

I began by combining all the ingredients for a good chicken stock into a huge stock pot and letting that simmer. Next I started on seeding and deveining A LOT of chiles. I set the seeds aside to roast later and tossed the chiles on a comal, which is a flat metal pan. You often see them used to heat tortillas. Be prepared for kids to begin asking what that smell is about 30 times. I let the chiles brown on all sides before I threw them in a bowl, poured hot water over them, and let them sit for nearly an hour before draining them. Here is where I went wrong: I did not wash off the chile remnants before handing one of the kids an apple slice. Thus, a child was chanting, “Pica, pica, pica, pica!” with her tongue out for about 30 seconds before I realized my error. Tip #3: WASH YOUR HANDS, and do not EVER rub your eyes. 

I put the baby down for a nap at this point and made lunch for the other two before continuing with the cooking adventure. I bribed them with Skittles to play outside in the mud for a while. Did I mention it was raining? Insert muddy dog and kids coming in and out. No matter, I was working on a magical, life-giving sauce. So I made myself a coffee and continued with the roasting. I roasted so many different things: almonds, peanuts, fresh thyme, Mexican oregano, sesame seeds, cinnamon sticks, cloves, peppercorns, garlic, onions, raisins, plantains, and even stale bread. Tip #4: Open a window during this process.

I set all my ingredients aside and surveyed the work I had done, and it even looked beautiful. I’d lined my kitchen table in banana leaves so that I could cook without worrying about damaging the table or having to clean up spills. I took a picture of the colorful scene because it made me so happy. And just as I was about to lose myself in my senses in a blissful state, my son came running inside with his muddy little feet, looked at me, and suddenly puked on the floor right next to the kitchen table. Oh, motherhood, you balance out life so well! I took a little “break” from cooking to clean up and make sure my son was all right. He was totally fine and himself within 10 minutes, so I put on a movie for the kids, set the baby in his high chair with some snacks and a toy, and got myself back into the kitchen. 

I was about three hours in, and the majority of my time had been spent preparing and roasting ingredients. So many good smells! Next up: roasting the chile seeds that I had set aside in the beginning. From experience I knew that, at minimum, I would need to open both the front and back door and possibly most of the windows near the kitchen to properly ventilate the area. Children’s lungs are at risk here, so I opted for heating up a small cast iron skillet on the stove and taking it outside instead. I set the hot skillet on a stone and put the seeds on to roast. Have you ever experienced pepper spray? This is something like that. Tip #5: Get some air. 

Blend, blend, blend. I blended my roasted ingredients together into a variety of mixtures that would eventually come together as one. The colors of the pureed ingredients were lovely. I tasted each one and savor it. I was definitely getting lost in the process of making this wonder food—so lost, in fact, that I didn’t see the baby pour out the dog’s water bowl until my daughter came to point it out. That jolted me back into reality and—OH, NO, I ALMOST FORGOT I HAVE A FOURTH KID I NEED TO PICK UP FROM SCHOOL! I turned off all the burners, got everything out of reach of the dog, and loaded up the kids. Tip #6: Glance at a clock on occasion. 

We returned from picking up Child #4, and once everyone was settled with yet another snack and coloring happily/playing with blocks/throwing sticks around outside, I returned to the colorful scene in my royal blue kitchen. Tomatoes, tomatillos, and onions all joined the table. I fried them for what felt like an eternity, as the juices need to pretty much disappear. At this point (five hours in), I called for reinforcements. My kids deserved more attention than they were getting, and one cannot live on mole alone. I needed to make other things to go with it and could not do so without another set of hands. Tip #7: For everyone’s sake, call a friend. My sister-in-law was perfect for the job. She loves my kids, and she loves to cook. We could each split our attention between the food and the kids and take turns stirring the bubbling tomato concoction when the other was helping with homework or tying off the end of a newly-made necklace for one of the kids. We were nearing the end of the cooking adventure, and the best was yet to come. 

Every burner was doing its job, the oven was going, and we had four different dishes that we were preparing at this point. Homework was completed, and the kids were happy that their dad was home. Stars and planets aligned. Six hours in, and all that was left was to pour the variety of blended ingredients together, add the Mexican chocolate, and let it simmer. I added chocolate, tasted it, and add more chocolate. I know how I like my mole, and I was not calling it a day until it was just right. I finally reached the point at which the tart from tomatillos and “pica, pica, pica” of the chiles combined perfectly with the sweetness of tomatoes, the richness of the chocolate, and the complexity of the spices. My ancestors smiled down on me. This moment truly felt like a major accomplishment. I let it simmer and impatiently tasted on occasion, still in disbelief that I had made this magical sauce with my own two hands and with only minimal casualties along the way. If you choose to prepare this dish with kids in the mix, let me advise you that it is not for the faint of heart, but it is truly worth every moment of chaos and beauty. 

Ingredients to Maria’s homemade mole:

  • whole chicken for stock (cut into pieces)
  • 1 onion for stock
  • 6 carrots for stock
  • 6 celery sticks for stock
  • 7 chiles guajillos
  • 5 chiles pasilla
  • 4 chiles ancho
  • 3 chipotle
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • about 8 whole almonds
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon
  • 5 black peppercorn
  • oil for frying
  • 1/3 c. of raisins
  • 1 large slice of egg-dough bread (such as challah or brioche)
  • 4 cloves
  • about 12 raw peanuts
  • 1 plantain
  • 1/3 c. of sesame seeds
  • 5 pecans
  • 10 chopped tomatoes
  • 8 tomatillos
  • 1/3 c. of sugar
  • 5 onions
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 1 tsp. of Mexican oregano
  • 1 Tbsp. dry cilantro
  • 2 dry/stale tortillas
  • 4 Tbsp. lard
  • 3 pieces of Mexican chocolate (such as Ibarra)
  • salt


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