Submitted by MariCarmen Ortíz Conway
I find one-pot meals like this mole de olla—and also like Dominican sancocho or Puerto Rican arroz con pollo—to be the epitome of how practical and creative human beings can be. Mole de olla offers all you need for a complete meal in a bowl. It is economical, filling and so tasty.
All cultures have their ways of making stews. In Mexico, mole de olla is dearly loved but it is a stew that, unfortunately, hasn’t become popular abroad … yet.
Its name translates as mole in a pot, though it has little to do with the mole sauce so many people outside of Mexico equate with mole poblano—a delicious, super thick sauce made of dried chiles, seeds, nuts, spices, tomatoes, onion, garlic, chocolate, and numerous other ingredients ground together.
As with many Mexican stews, the first step for a mole de olla is making a broth with the beef, along with onion, garlic and herbs. I particularly like to add fresh mint to mine. The meat is cooked until it is practically falling apart, and the broth is as flavorful as can be. The simmered herbs and veggies are then removed, as by then they will be extremely mushy and most of their flavor has already transferred to the broth.
The second step is to take that rich-tasting broth to a higher dimension of flavor. A seasoning sauce is made with ancho and pasilla chiles, toasted sesame seeds, and tomatoes. Usually, xoconostles (a very tart and sour fruit of the cactus plant) are used, but since they are quite hard to find in the U.S., I substitute tomatillos, which are tart and not as sour as xoconostles—but hey, they do the trick. The meat broth then simmers a second time as it marries with the seasoning sauce, adding so much depth of flavor: a gentle but addicting heat, a lovely acidity and a whisper of nuttiness.
As the third step, fresh veggies are added: corn, zucchini, chayote squash, green beans. The veggies are cooked just until tender and crisp and, of course, full of flavor.
This one-dish meal is typical of Puebla’s preparation and is inspired by the Spanish Andalusian region puchero or stew. Lo recomiendo—I recommend you make it, maybe this weekend? I also heartily recommend you serve your mole de olla acompañado by a good tequila reposado, which will complement the nutty flavors of the beef broth. Enjoy!