The Best Mole in the Treasure Valley

Yesterday I had a little awakening about Mexican food, and this writing is a bit of a stretch for me, because it feels like I’m cheating on my favorite Mexican restaurants over the years, including Pueblo market, which is now maybe closed (used to be on Fairview behind Los Betos), and La Fiesta in Berkeley, and  and all those places in San Francisco, and in Portland La Serenita, but there is something I realized while reading this article from The Smithsonian Magazine: Savoring Puebla.

So I have had a revelation and now I am searching for culinary art.

The streets made me want to move to Puebla.

The streets made me want to move to Puebla.

I realized that I was missing out on some delicious food. I also learned what a chalupa really is (tortilla with pork).

And this is the part that is hard for me to say, but I think my favorite restaurant that serves Mexican cuisine is now Chapala’s and this feels fake to me – and it feels inauthentic – but it is not. In fact, mole and Chapala’s are way more authentic than what I have been eating.

But Chapala’s serves a number of different mole’s including my favorite chocolate mole, or mole poblano, which originated in Puebla. I then decided I would learn to make mole, which I now know is a truly daunting task (although it shouldn’t be since historically it came about at the last minute – the story/legend goes like this – “the place where the resourceful nuns coped with the stressful prospect of a surprise visit from the bishop by combining the ingredients on hand and in the process invented the richly spicy, chocolate-infused, sesame-inflected sauce—mole poblano” – Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/Savoring-Puebla.html?c=y&page=3#ixzz0YguFF7WZ). So if they made it just with random ingrendients on hand, maybe it is a “kitchen sink” variety of recipe and there is no right way to do it?

In Italian food, pasta Puttanesca really means made with easy to find ingredients (puttana means prostitute, so the puttanesca is easy to make – get it?). So is it a kitchen sink recipe?

So I started reading and here is what I learned about mole:

  • Mole Poblano is the original mole sauce and it originated in a church kitchen in Puebla, Mexico
  • Most mole sauce recipes call for over 10 ingredients, whci most hovering around 30 different ingredients, some which inlcude over 10 different kinds of peppers
  • That “guacamole” is just aguacate mole (avocado sauce).
  • That at Chapala’s – where they serve meat with various kinds of sauces – that the moles are all the authentic foods. Including the colorado style mole.
  • That chocolate mole is among the most succulent, gorgeous, tender sauces of all time.
  • That mole is going to be very difficult to make as no two recipes are the same.

That brings me to this post. I love Chapala’s, now, the most perhaps. And Chapala’s is a local restaurant with five locations in the Treasure Valley. The people  there are terrific, the service is phenomenal, and they usually make us speak Spanish with them. Nevertheless, this is my process. I get obsessed with some kind of food (usually something totally delicious and mysterious and difficult to make) and then I try to figure out how to perfect it at home. I’ve done this with countless other dishes from chicken tikka maasala to tom kha gai to that buffalo blue cheese wrap at Parilla grill to certain brownies to an elegant type of lasagna to kim chee. And now I am turning to a project that has quickly become much larger than myself.

So far, I can find no two recipes for mole that call for the same kinds and amounts of peppers (dried, fresh, ancho, new mexico, seeded, not seeded, chipotle, anaheim, etc.) Additionally, every recipe calls for different seasonings and other ingredients. Some seem too mild. Some include powdered chocolate and some inclde Ghiradelli chocolate. Some include 22 1/2 pounds of lard.

This is going to be a long, strange trip that my husband will enjoy, and it will include visits back to Chapala’s to sample aand resample the foods. Usually, when I’m doing this, I will taste for specific spices that I cannot identify from memory and mull them over trying to decide the best combination. Among the other great places to find moles include Casa Mexico, La Tapatia (possibly the best), and Cafe Ole.

This process helped me identify the best way to cook okra, and eggplant. Also, that to make pad thai you need tamarind paste.

I will keep you posted.

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8 thoughts on “The Best Mole in the Treasure Valley

  1. I am in the process of perfecting my red beans and rice. Took me two years to find the base recipe I am using, and now I am experimenting with variations and ideas from other people. It’s find finding something yummy and making it your own. Good luck!!

    • I am glad to know I’m not the only one who works on these kinds of recipes. I’d love to try your red beans and rice sometime. That is a tricky recipe.

      I once learned how to make black beans “the right way” from four generations of Cuban women in Miami Beach, Florida, and they all disagreed. That didn’t really help my recipe though. You just need to try, try again, and build on that. 🙂

    • Red Iguana looks awesome. Maybe we’ll drive to Salt Lake over XMas break.

      I will look for that Diners… episode. I need all the mole expertise I can get. Thanks! Maybe you should join us for some local mole tastings. I am thinking La Tapatia next (on ParkCenter).

  2. I made mole poblano from Diana Kennedy’s “The Cuisines of Mexico” one Thanksgiving years ago and was pretty happy with it. That book’s definitely my starting point for basic Mexican recipes.

    Last winter when we were in Oaxaca (land of 7 moles) I became enamored with empanadas de mole amarillo. Unfortunately replicating them would probably entail tracking down fresh hoja santa leaves.

  3. Hi! I do this too – in fact, the chile colorado that I brought is based on the fact that I LOVE eating it at Mexican restaurants. I love saucy meats!

    I like Chapalas alot, and generally eat there when I want Mexican. There’s one near my house. The staff are so sweet, and when I speak a little Spanish to them, they assume I speak Spanish. Which is not really the case, but I enjoy pretending.

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