Mole is one of the most delicious dishes in Mexican cuisine, and there is a great diversity of ways to prepare it, depending on the region. Its name derives from the Nahuatl voice molli or mulli, a word that refers to sauces prepared with spices.
The origin of mole dates back to pre-Hispanic times, when it was eaten on special occasions and was offered to the gods as a token of gratitude for long journeys. Fray Bernardino de Sahagún was the first person to write about mole in Spanish, referring to a dish of broth sauce consumed by Moctezuma under the name of chimulli. However, in his writings the word is used to refer to different types of sauces such as chiltecpin mulli (chiltepin with chiles), huauhquilmolli (with amaranth) or chilcuzmulli xitomayo (made with tomatoes).
Another of the first records of chili sauce is the one made by Fray Alonso de Molina in 1571, who arrived in New Spain during his childhood, learned Nahuatl and served as an evangelizer and interpreter under the orders of Hernán Cortés. According to what the Franciscan recorded in his book Vocabulario en Lengua Castellana y Mexicana, the ancient Mexicans called chimulli a chilli sauce or stew.
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Francisco de Burgoa, provincial of the Dominicans between 1649 and 1662, documents the “totolmole“, a dish prepared by the indigenous people of Oaxaca to be offered to the dead. The dish included the use of turkey in a sauce of dried chiles with pumpkin seeds and hierba santa.
Who created the recipe?
However, mole as we know it today was created during the colonial period. According to different records, it was created by the Dominican nun Andrea de la Asunción, who lived in the Santa Rosa Convent in Puebla. Legend has it that she created the recipe in 1685 to satisfy Viceroy Don Antonio de la Cerda y Aragón, who was visiting the city.
“After taking communion in the conventual cratícula, she resolutely went to the kitchen and, arranging things conveniently, she began by taking ancho, mulato, pasilla and chipotle chiles, which she deveined and browned in lard; on the other hand, she put a comal on the fire, where she toasted some sesame seeds, took some cloves, black peppers, almonds, peanuts, cinnamon and anise, and ground everything together. To these ingredients he added two chocolate tablets, some tomatoes, onions, roasted garlic and some tortillas, which also went through the grinding and, as the day before he had killed a turkey, fattened with chestnuts and hazelnuts, he completed the stew with such a tasty broth and appetizing meat”, according to the book La típica cocina poblana y los guisos de sus religiosas (Typical Puebla cuisine and its religious stews), by Salazar Monroy.
The guajolote, indispensable in the mole
The original mole recipe calls for turkey meat, which could also be a direct influence of the pre-Hispanic mulli. According to the story of Sor Andrea de la Asunción, the viceroy was amazed with the guajolote in mole, which he accompanied with tortillas.
A second version, which includes the viceroy and bishop of Puebla, Juan de Palafox, relates that it was Fray Pascual who accidentally created the mole. According to this legend, he dropped the ingredients into a casserole in which the turkey was lying.
Currently there are more than fifty types of mole, among them green mole and pipian or mole de olla. The most popular are mole negro and mole oaxaqueño, which have been enriched with a great number of spices and ways of preparation.