Mother Earth Living

Mole Sauce: The National Dish of Mexico

These sumptuous sauces will have you shouting ole.
By Susan Belsinger and Arthur O. Tucker
April/May 2008

Mole rojo makes a tasty topping for black bean and cheese enchiladas.
Illustration by Anni Betts


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Here are four of our favorite mole recipes to whet your appetite.

Mole Rojo: This mildly spicy mole requires a little more work than some recipes, but it’s worth the effort: You can’t eat food like this in many places other than Mexico. 
Cacahuatl Chili: Art’s cacahuatl-inspired chili is a Tex-Mex chili in a rich mole sauce. 
Mole Verde: This mole is thick and mild. Try it on cheese enchiladas, sweet potato enchiladas, breakfast eggs or burritos. 
Holy Mole Ice Cream: This ice cream requires a bit of prep time, but its incredible flavor is worth the effort. 

Mole? Perhaps we should explain. Mole (mōh-lāy) is the national dish of Mexico: a tantalizing sauce made from sautéed onions and garlic combined with exotic spices and herbs, ground nuts (such as almonds, pumpkin seeds or sesame seeds) and chiles, simmered with dark bittersweet chocolate.

Although there are countless variations of this hot sauce—from red to green to black—chiles and chocolate are at the heart of many of them. The combination of endorphin-producing chiles with chocolate creates a veritable Aztec ambrosia.

Mole traditionally is served with turkey or pork, but also pairs well with tortillas, chips, enchiladas, burritos, grilled vegetables, tamales, eggs, chilaquiles and more.

Moles of Mexico

The recipes for mole are as varied and individual as their makers, with each region and cook boasting their own versions. Chocolate is fundamental to the darker-hued moles, but is absent from mole verde and most mole amarillo, which are flavored subtly with traditional herbs and spices.

The best-known and most popular mole dishes are from Puebla and Oaxaca. Mole poblano, which originated in Puebla, is a rather elaborate preparation with chocolate, dried chiles, nuts, various spices and sometimes raisins or plantains. Oaxaca, famed for its Seven Moles, is home to mole negro (made with guajillo chiles) and mole amarillo (prepared with chile amarillo).

Veracruz and Guerrero are known for mole verde. Veracruz cooks make this fresh green mole sauce without any nuts or seeds, while the cooks of Guerrero insist that pumpkin seeds are essential.

Of course, we must not forget guacamole, the delicious avocado mole.

Today, no Mexican feast day—whether Cinco de Mayo, el Dia de losMuertos (Day of the Dead), a birthday or a wedding—is complete without at least one mole dish. You can buy prepared mole pastes and powders in Mexican markets, but they don’t compare to the sumptuous moles you can make from scratch using quality ingredients. The fragrances in the kitchen when roasting the chiles, nuts and seeds; the sautéing of the sauce redolent with alliums and chiles; and the final simmering of the spices, chocolate and other ingredients are all part of the art and pleasure of creating mole.


This recipe first appeared in The Chile Pepper Book by Carolyn Dille and Susan Belsinger (Interweave Press, 1994). 


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