Moles, pipians and tingas

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Chiles are an essential ingredient in the moles that are among the most distinctive dishes in the pre-Columbian cuisine. The Nahuatl word molli means a sauce made with chile. Most gringos think there is only one mole, Mole Poblano, with bitter chocolate, but there are endless variations on the mole theme. There are the green moles using tomatillos with cilantro, green chiles, pumpkin seeds or nuts. There are red moles that use red tomato, red chiles, herbs and spices. The pipians are similar dishes using ground seeds or nuts for thickening and that also find a wide range of expression. The cooking technique of moles is similar to the method used for curries in India. The ingredients are ground together into a thick, coarse paste and then cooked in hot lard for five minutes with constant stirring. The meat is cooked separately in a small amount of stock or water, which is used to thin the chile sauce. Meat and sauce are then heated gently together just long enough to blend the flavors.

It is essential to cook the mole paste in fat or the finished dish has a raw taste and the flavor of the chile never blends successfully with the other ingredients. Lard is the traditional fat, but safflower or sesame oil can be used. The splash and hiss of the chile mixture when it hits the hot fat is alarming, but if you lower the heat as soon as the mixture hits the skillet and begin stirring with a wooden spoon immediately, everything stays under control. Tingas are related to moles and pipians, but are a true blend of Spanish cooking techniques and Mexican ingredients. Onions and garlic are sauteed, tomatoes added, then stock, herbs and spices and the mixture is simmered to make a sauce. The precooked meat and, usually, chorizo sausage are then added, with canned chipotle chile. A tinga is really a stew. The chiles, onion, and tomatoes are never ground and cooked in fat like they are in moles. I am deeply indebted to both Diana Kennedy and Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz for both the descriptive material and the recipes.

Submitted By EARL SHELSBY On 05-06-95

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