Oaxaca’s Traditional Mole Verde

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 4.58.05 PMBy Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.

The seven moles of Oaxaca is a fiction, but it is an effective means of marketing Oaxacan cuisine and gastronomic tradition. While mole verde is indeed one of the purported Group of Seven, the fact that there are so many different recipes for Oaxacan green mole, each with vastly divergent ingredients and tastes, lays testament to the myth as fallacy.

Mole Verde: Modern v. Traditional Ingredients, Prep & Presentation

The recipe of contemporary Oaxacan chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo contains a very different ingredient list than that of the late Esperanza Chavarría Blando, who was a traditional Mexican cook. Chef Pilar’s version of mole verde pleases the palate of the nouveau cuisine and health-conscious crowd, utilizing chicken as principal protein, and without lard. The mole is poured over sliced breast, neatly arranged on a plate with steamed veggies and a starch. The Chavarría verde de espinazo recipe includes manteca (rendered pork fat), pork spine (espinazo), white beans, and naturally the requisite greens, all served together in a bowl.

Even table setting exposes profound differences. Chef Pilar’s modern presentation and balance is a far cry from what one used to encounter when ordering verde in Esperanza Chavarría´s Restaurante “Quickly” on Oaxaca’s pedestrian walkway Macedonio Alcalá. Yet one verde is not superior to the other. However my favorite verde these days aside from the one my wife prepares using the Chavarría recipe reproduced below, is served Thursdays at Restaurante Los Huamuches on highway 175 near Santo Tomás Jalieza.

Cultural and Regional Variation in Green Mole Recipes

Consider Oaxaca’s historical development, its diverse climatic regions, and the isolation of many of its 16 indigenous cultures from one another for literally millennia. Even within the same ethnolinguisitc group, between one village and the next only 15 kilometers apart I’ve tasted vastly different moles bearing the same name.

Some mole ingredients are native to Oaxaca, while others were introduced by the conquistadors. But largely because of rugged mountainous terrains, the Spanish did not readily invade all areas of Oaxaca. So many mole verde ingredients remained constant for centuries – locally grown herbs, spices, vegetables and proteins.

Green mole using Pacific seafood tastes differs from a recipe with chicken. An ingredient list containing European introduced pork and its derivatives, cumin, and other foodstuffs not native to Oaxaca, inevitably leads to yet a different culinary experience. Verde made with ingredients produced in a stifling, humid coastal region is decidedly different from that made with ingredients from a cool high altitude area. And while we’re now well into the 21st century, and accordingly every ingredient used in each mole verde recipe is in theory available throughout the entire state, local populations often do not use those different ingredients, for two reasons.

Firstly, recipes are passed from generation to generation, without alteration, especially in more rural relatively isolated communities. Secondly, the cost of importing foreign ingredients is often prohibitive for those of modest means – even trucking from a different region of the state.

The Solution for Those Wanting to Experience Mole Verde

  1. Take a class from Chef Pilar’s Casa de los Sabores Cooking School, requesting her mole verde menu.
  2. If you insist, try mole verde in a restaurant. But verde is not a mole which does well prepared institutionally (Los Huamuches is one exception), as compared to mole negro, for example.
  3. Get out of whatever urban area you happen to be vacationing or living in. Consider visiting an outlying district in the state. Dine at tiny eateries, in search of your holy grail of mole verde; it will be homemade, not commercial.
  4. Ask an urban Oaxaca or a villager to prepare mole verde for your family. At whatever cost, the cultural experience alone will enrich.
  5. Wait until Jane Bauer has added mole verde to the repertoire of her cooking classes at Chiles&Chocolate Cooking School, new classes to begin this upcoming high tourism season.
  6. Try Esperanza Chavarría Blando´s mole verde recipe.

Mole Verde Recipe of Esperanza Chavarría Blando (reproduced with permission of her estate)

Ingredients

Beans:

  • ½ kilo frijoles blancos (small while beans)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ onion
  • 2 t salt

Meat:

  • 1 kilo pork spine OR a combination of pork leg or butt with pork ribs (if you can find pork spine, feel free to add a bit of pork leg for more meat)
  • 2 large garlic clove
  • ¼ large onion
  • 2 t salt

Spice Mixture:

  • 2 large garlic clove
  • ¼ large onion
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 whole allspice nuggets
  • 12 green tomatoes
  • 9 serrano chiles *
  • *Buy extra. Heat depends on the time of year harvested. Cooler weather means less potent!

Sauce:

1/2 kilo masa

Herbs:

  • 3 leaves hierba santa
  • 12 leaves epazote
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 1 small bunch parsley

Preparation

Beans: Clean beans, checking for any grit or tiny stones. Soak overnight and cook with the stipulated garlic, onion and salt the following day until beans are soft, or cook in a pressure cooker for ¾ to one hour without soaking.

Meat: Cook meat in water with the garlic, onion and salt, covered, for 20 minutes or until soft.

Spice Mixture: While meat and beans are cooking, roast garlic cloves and onion on griddle or outdoor grill and set aside. In blender, mix cloves, allspice, halved green tomatoes, serrano chilies and grilled garlic and onion, with ½ cup water. Blend thoroughly. Strain mixture into a large deep pan with oil already well heated. Add about a cup of water to blender and re-blend in order to completely empty the blender jar, and strain this final mixture into the pan as well. Allow green spice mixture to simmer 10 -15 minutes.

Sauce:

Add 2 cups of pork broth into the above green mixture; continue simmering.

Mix half of the masa with ¾ cup of water in blender. Add this masa mixture through a strainer to the simmering spice mixture. Stir so masa doesn’t form balls. For a thicker green mixture, mix more masa with water in blender and add through a strainer.

Herbs: Place herbs in blender with enough water to blend; blend well.

Completion:*

Add meat (without the onion and garlic) to the green sauce, then the strained beans, and finally the blended herbs.

Salt to taste.

*The sauce should be bright green; if not, blend small equal amounts of the herbs once again, and add to the mole.

Serve in individual bowls accompanied by tortillas and limes.

Alvin Starkman has been a permanent resident of Oaxaca for ten years. He has been an aficionado of mezcal and pulque for over two decades; Alvin is the author of Mezcal in the Global Spirits Market: Unrivalled Complexity, Innumerable Nuances, and operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca, a registered tripadvisor.com Oaxaca activity.

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