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Mexico City: A Mole Within Us

Here I am, washing vegetables on Day 1 of culinary school in Mexico City.

This was before things got weird. When I tried to take a photograph of the place from the outside, I was scolded by a “security guard,” and told that photos were not allowed. I won’t even try to describe it, either, because I don’t want to get into trouble.

I’ve seen “Weeds.”

Our teacher is telling us all about chiles, but as you can see, we’re kind of getting lost already. I’m having fun, though.

I want to understand what our  Spanish-only speaking teacher is saying, so I ask lots of questions — in some awful combo platter of Italian mixed with French — so, to fill in the mucho grande communication gaps, I use my hands to try to make myself understood.

It really doesn’t work at all.

It’s not strange that a cooking school in Mexico would hold classes in Spanish, but I was told that all of the classes would be in English. Our Day 1 recipes are in Spanish, too, with no instructions on how to make stuff. Just lists of ingredients.

Lists and lists.


This morning, we’re going to make salsas. Wait, scratch that.  Chiles rellenos. Fried in corn oil, boiled in milk, and toasted on the comal. Mole? Adobo, too? Seriously?

I’m not the only one who’s lost. We all are.

So we smell chiles. I can do that.

We slice chiles.

We stuff chiles.

We taste stuff that goes into the chiles.

We all get into trouble for laughing too much.

Here I am washing my hands. What’s missing, though? Soap. Towels. None of the prep area sinks had soap or towels,  which I thought was odd. Especially since you can’t go anywhere in this town and not see a bottle of some sort of Purell-ish antibacterial goo on the counter, free for the taking.

Did they forget that we were coming, I wondered?

It’s a good thing that I brought my handy pocket-size CVS brand aloe-infused antibacterial spray — it didn’t save me from getting horribly sick about five days into the trip, though, which sent me home early. To be fair, there was a sink in the middle of the space where we ate our lunch – with soap, and paper towels on the second day — and gosh, I hate to sound like a germphobe, but shouldn’t soap and towels be at every sink?


I wiped my hands on my apron like everyone else.

Day 2 was lots better. We had a teacher named Margarita, and really, how can you go wrong with someone named after the best cocktail ever? I loved Margarita and she showed us how to make moles in the morning and tamales in the afternoon. It was a perfect day.

This is what the Hazelnut-Pistachio mole looked like at school. This, along with a mole made with ginger (!), among other secret ingredients (I’ll tell you later, don’t worry), was my favorite. It looks daunting – heck, just saying mole sounds scary, doesn’t it? – but it’s really not. This is what’s known as an “everyday”  mole, since it only takes a couple of hours to make, which is like a 30-minute meal in Mexico-time.

First, you roast all of your ingredients, which takes about an hour.

Then, you puree everything in a blender, and stir and stir and stir, until the mole gets super-concentrated, like this.

Here’s the recipe, which I think y’all are just gonna love. Last week, I served this over some roasted chicken and rolled it up in a tortilla, which was really fantastic. I’m so grateful to Chef Margarita for sharing her stories and recipes with us, and for her adept (and multi-lingual) instruction. The school have been a bit strange, but she was a complete pro. (Clink! A margarita toast to Chef Margarita. Muchas gracias.)

Hazelnut-Pistachio Mole

Based on a recipe by Margarita Carillo.


½ medium white onion, sliced

3 cloves garlic, unpeeled

¼ cup corn oil

4 ancho chiles (dried)

2 medium Roma tomatoes

1 cup pistachios (unsalted), shelled

1 cup hazelnuts , shelled

1 corn tortilla

½ teaspoon coriander seed

½ teaspoon cumin seed

½ teaspoon black peppercorns

3-4 cups chicken broth

sea salt


1. In a medium skillet, drizzle the corn oil and add the sliced onion and garlic, and cook over medium heat until toasted. Remove from heat, and put into a bowl.

2. Put 2 cups of water on to boil.

3. Split the ancho chiles and remove the seeds and veins. On an ungreased comal or cast iron skillet, over medium heat (not hotter, because the chiles will burn), press down the chiles with a wooden spoon or spatula and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until they begin to change color. (Note: You’ll also smell the chiles cooking, and when you do, they’re ready.) Put chiles in a bowl of hot water for 10-15 minutes.

4. In the same comal or cast iron skillet, over medium-high heat, roast the tomatoes until the skin begins to burn. Remove, and put into the bowl with the onion and garlic.

5. Roast the tortilla in the comal or cast iron skillet, too, over medium-high heat. Put into bowl with other roasted ingredients.

6. Put the pistachios in the comal or cast iron skillet and roast over medium-high heat until toasted. Put into bowl.

7. Put the hazlenuts in the comal or cast iron skillet and roast until skins begin to loosen from the nut. Remove from heat, and with a dry dish towel, rub the nuts until the skins come off. (Note: This is the most labor-intensive part of the whole process. Be patient.The skins will eventually come off.) Add to the bowl with the other toasted ingredients.

8. Put the coriander seed, the cumin seed, and black peppercorns in the comal or cast iron skillet, and toast over medium-high heat. (Note: This won’t take long. When they begin to pop, they’re ready.) Remove and put in bowl with other ingredients.

9. Put everything that’s been toasted, including the now-soft chiles, into a blender and puree for 5-10 minutes, or until the mixture is very smooth. Here, you’ll add chicken stock, little by little, to liquify the mixture enough to blend.

10. Now, the fun part. Add the blended, pureed mixture to a heavy, deep saucepan (because the mole will bubble and splatter), and turn the heat on low. You’ll need to stir constantly — usually 45 minutes to one hour — until the mixture reduces and the flavors intensify.

Note: Do NOT add salt until the very end, after all of the other flavors have intensified.

This mole works well with chicken or seafood, and will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months.