The magical shortcut of Mole Paste

It was a foggy, languid San Diego afternoon, the sun setting behind the courtyard trees and glistening through the windows, when I met Doña María’s mole at my friend’s house. We were sitting at the kitchen table, talking about her with her mother, when she announced that the mole was at dinner. I loved the mole, but I had no idea how to do it.

I jumped to my feet to watch his hands work, my eyes dancing as he simmered, blended and manipulated this complex, rich and mysterious sauce, turning a pasta into a party. She laughed when I asked “peanut butter?” her while she poured some in the sauce. She affected the heat and gave the flavor a bit of a backbone. The sugar was folded, encouraging the mole to sweeten, balancing the nut and spice. The Doña María jars, with their characteristic octagonal base, have been rinsed and reused for water, juices, licuados, the iconic mark of a house that regularly delighted in this comforting paste.

A few years later, my grandmother, who I’ve always known as Tita, told me to add Nutella to the mole (on top of the peanut butter). I thought it was her penchant for American commercial sweets talking about her – my Tita is one who drank Coke every day and had boxes of sugar sachets stowed in her pantry – but I still obliged. I like my sweet black mole too. And even if I didn’t understand it then, both Nutella and peanut butter now make perfect sense: Nuts and cocoa are inherent in a black mole. These pantry items only improve them.

A Mexican salsa mother, mole is the mother of a lot of dishes and sauces, from enmoladas to chicken with mole, romeritos, guisados, and more. There are a myriad of regional varieties and expressions, such as coloradito, almendrado, poblano, mole amarillo, mole negro, mole chichilo and many more. The word mole itself comes from Nahuatl bubbleand it predates colonialism, a sauce whose name means “sauce”, although it is much larger than any word can describe.

Mole, a labor of love that often includes 30 ingredients or more, becomes easy to articulate into a stable dough. The shaken concoction was an umbilical cord to the land I come from, being in the aisles of grocery stores, regardless of my location. If I come across a special pasta, I won’t hesitate to cross the country with pints of mole in my hold luggage.

In the comfort of my kitchen, I open jars and coat the mole over the mushrooms (or cauliflower or squash) for tacos, or serve them with beans and rice, or use them as a filling for tlacoyos or tetelas. I make bean-filled enmoladas or season my tortillas with mole for quesadillas with oomph. Sometimes I’m wrong and do something new by mistake, like corn tortilla crepes stuffed with sautéed pumpkin and vegan cheese. But when I feel elegant, when I want to treat someone, I make chilaquiles de mole with beans.

Mrs. Maria

Doña María is the classic mole paste accessible in the Mexican pantry. So much so that even their empty mole jars have become iconic recycled glass items in Mexican homes. Andrea Nguyen wrote for the LA Times that the woman behind this historic mole jar started knocking on doors in 1945. In doing so, Doña María Pons and her husband, Don Pedro Degetau, not only opened the doors to themselves, but they opened the doors to many others.

Mulli Mole Negro by Coronado Spice & Tea

In this delicious black mole from Oaxaca, plums and chillies come to the fore. This San Diego-based Mexican spice and tea company also carries Oaxacan mole rojo, as well as a Veracruzano mole imported from Veracruz and handcrafted by an extended family.

Mole Poblano

Aromatic, flavorful and plant-based, Xilli’s mole poblano takes 30 ingredients and five days to prepare. Among their line of delicious Mexican sauces and accessories is pipian verde, a herbaceous green mole of Mayan origin made from pumpkin seeds.

dried chillies

Found in the Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, Chiles Secos sells an unimaginable variety – their moles are displayed as ice cream flavors, picked and sold by weight. The hazelnut almendrado is a particular favorite.

¡Ya Oaxaca!

This jar of mole sauce cuts the cooking time in half but with a full and incredible flavor, especially the colorado, which brings out the cocoa and chilli. Unlike pasta, this salsa is rock and roll ready from jumping and can be cooked on the fly, ready to coat tortillas or glaze guisados ​​straight from the jar.

This post features products chosen (and loved) independently by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on eligible purchases of the products we link to.


Do you have a mole paste? What’s your favorite dish to stuff it?

Leave a Comment