An uncomfortable confession: I don’t much care for Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey day is a proud American tradition, and I’m fine with any celebration of food, family, and friends. I’m just not that enthusiastic about the traditional dinner. The blandness of the turkey, sharpness of the cranberries, soggy bread stuffing, and pablum-like pumpkin pie, it’s just not for me.
One way I’ve tried to make a turkey dinner more interesting is to use a Native American sauce to liven things up. I’m talking about mole (moe-lay), which many believe to have been on this continent for centuries, prepared by the Aztec and other indigenous groups in Mexico.
“Mole” means sauce in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec, still spoken by over 1.5 million people. Several food-related words in our vocabulary come from Nahuatl, including chocolate, avocado, tomato, and chili, all very popular foods, indigenous to Mexico.
Many types of mole are served in restaurants both here and in Mexico. Mole amarillo is a sauce tinted yellow with yellow chilies; mole coloradito is reddish because it uses tomatoes and red-tinted chiles; and mole verde is green because it’s made, in part, with green chiles and pumpkin seeds. But there are many more kinds of moles.
If you’ve had mole in a restaurant, the odds are you had the dark mole negro, which contains an Olympian number of ingredients. We’ve made mole negro once and, as I recall, it required something like 27 ingredients. Ancient south-of-the-border peoples used spiced rather than sweetened chocolate, and mole negro mixes chocolate with several kinds of chiles and other spices for multiple dimensions of flavor.
At NRebozo (7403 Madison St., Forest Park), you can get a Fiesta Mole, six enchiladas with six different moles. Senor Paco told us, “We have forty moles, and all the recipes are mine,” adding that if you want a quart or so, he will sell you some to take home for Thanksgiving dinner.
If you want to make mole from a recipe, you can’t go wrong with RickBayless.com, though be aware, even his “Mole for Beginners” contains almost 20 ingredients.
Lazy like me? Go to just about any Mexican grocery for a plastic container of mole paste that can be the foundation for the sauce. It’s usually pretty good, and there’s no shame in this hack: I’ve seen huge mounds of dried mole amarillo, negro, and others for sale at Mexico City’s massive Mercado de Sonora.
In Montezuma’s Aztec empire, mole was traditionally served with turkey, an indigenous sauce for an indigenous bird, and if you don’t put mole on the table for Thanksgiving, consider using some with leftover turkey. Instead of the traditional day-after-thanksgiving turkey-mayo sandwich, mix it up a bit: get some fresh tortillas (available almost everywhere, including Pete’s Market, 259 Lake St.), and make turkey tacos or enchiladas with mole.
November is Native American Heritage Month, and mole for Thanksgiving is a delicious way to recognize the enduring culinary contributions of indigenous peoples … and spice up the Thanksgiving table.