La celebración del Día de los Muertos: Mole Poblano, Avocado-Roasted Jalapeño Salsa, and Blood Orange Margaritas

I utterly detest Halloween, in almost every way possible. As a kid, I never took to it the way that other kids did, for the pressure to find the perfect costume seemed to overshadow the “holiday” virtually every year. Candy is not a vice of mine (the exception being Reeses) and to be perfectly honest, the orange and black colors parlayed with Halloween decorations repulse me. And while I realize the aforementioned sentences may paint me as some sort of Halloween version of Ebenezer Scrooge, I decided to take a different route approach this year: by celebrating Día de los Muertos instead.

Día de los Muertos or “Day of the Dead”, is a Mexican holiday, which is celebrated annually on November 1. Family and friends gather to pray and honor relatives and loved ones that have since passed.  The roots of Día de los Muertos are indigenous, as the Aztecs previously used this time to honor their goddess Mictecacihanduatl. Today, food and beverage plays a prominent role, as family members concoct favorite dishes of the departed, along with the presentation of sugar skulls and marigolds to lost loved ones’ graves.

My intentions to cook this meal were aided by the fact that my girlfriend does not particularly care for Halloween, either. So, we devoted our entire Friday night to cooking and partaking in our own Día de los Muertos (Eve), despite the faint rumblings of trick-or-treaters, which echoed into the night.

I looked no further for inspiration than from my trusty Elote Cafe Cookbook, which is chalk full of recipes from Elote Cafe in Sedona, Arizona. It was here that I, along with the rest of my family, discovered the magical concoction known as elote. This cookbook is rife with excellent Mexican recipes with hints from the American Southwest. I have only scratched the surface with this cookbook in the past, so Día de los Muertos provided the perfect opportunity to use this glorious book.

Mole Poblano, chef Jeff Smedstad notes, “is the most intimidating recipe in the Mexican kitchen”. Fear not, for he has streamlined the dish into a somewhat manageable (I still made this Thursday night in advance) recipe. Mole is a dark sauce which encompasses the following: seeds, nuts, four kinds of chiles (most of which you need to buy from a Spanish or Mexican market), corn tortillas, tomatillos, tomato, onion, garlic, raisins, apricots, chicken stock, along with various spices and seasonings. The kicker: Mexican chocolate. This seemed especially fitting to devour on Halloween night. This sauce can be thrown over various meats like seared turkey breast or chicken (or steak or pork, etc.) and after consuming this, I can tell  you it is one of the best sauces I have ever tasted. If you go the chicken route, remember to get chicken thighs, as they possess a richer flavor than chicken breasts and are quite a bit cheaper.

Mole Poblano clearly stole the show, but was assisted by a cast that included: avocado-roasted jalapeño salsa, Mexican pickled onions, and Tostidos’ version of cantina chips. Please find the pickled onion and avocado-roasted jalapeño salsa recipes below. The mole recipe yields about 12 cups of sauce, so streamline it as you wish. You can always freeze extra sauce and use at a later time and day of your choosing. It appears to be a laundry list of items, but once you get the ingredients, the recipe only requires patience and time.

Buen provecho, amigos!

Elote Cafe’s Mole Poblano
Yields 12 cups of sauce

Seeds and nuts

1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup unsalted peanuts
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds

Chiles & More

mulato chiles, cleaned and stemmed
4 pasilla negro chiles, cleaned and stemmed
3 guajillo chiles, cleaned and stemmed
2 cascabel chiles, cleaned and stemmed

1 corn tortilla
2 tomatillos, husks removed
1 vine-ripe tomato

lard as needed
2 cups chopped onion
6 garlic cloves

Spices & Seasonings

1 bay leaf
1 avocado leaf
3/4 tsp. ground canela (cinnamon)
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. oregano
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Fruit, Chocolate, & Stock

1/4 cup raisins
3 dried apricot halves
1/2 tablet Mexican chocolate
8 cups chicken stock

Meats

Seared chicken pieces or turkey breast (I used chicken thighs, for more flavor)

In a large dry stockpot toast the nuts and seeds over medium high heat until as dark as possible without burning them. Remove and reserve. Next, do the same with the chiles. Use your kitchen fan here.

Next toast the tortilla and char the tomato and tomatillos in a hot dry skillet. Remove and reserve. Add about a quarter cup of lard to the skillet. Add the onion and garlic and cook until they are a deep brown. Now dump everything (toasted nuts and seeds, chiles, tortilla, tomato, tomatillos, onion, garlic, spices, fruits, chocolate, stock) into a heavy pot and simmer slowly for about 30 minutes. Let the mole cool and purée it in your blender, in batches if needed, until you feel no graininess whatsoever. You want a perfectly smooth sauce. If your blender isn’t strong enough to do this, you can run it through a food mill.

Heat a large stockpot with a thin layer of lard in the bottom and pour the smooth mole back in. After the initial sear, cook it over low heat 30 minutes or so to allow the flavor to mellow and develop. There are many uses for mole. If you are serving it with poultry, at this point you may want to pour the mole over the seared turkey breast or chicken and bake at 325 F until the meat is fully cooked, about 1 hour for the chicken or  1/2 hours for the turkey. Serve with white rice and garnish with chopped cilantro, Pickled Onion (recipe below), and toasted sesame seeds. The mole also makes a tasty taco.

Elote Cafe Avocado-Roasted Jalapeño Salsa

6 cups diced avocado
4 cups diced tomato
2 cups diced onion
12 chopped jalapeños
1 cup chopped cilantro
2 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Combine everything and refrigerate. Adjust proportions accordingly.

Elote Cafe Pickled Onions (Cebollas Encurtadas)

1 red onion, thinly sliced into rings
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1 tbsp. cider vinegar
2 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. oregano
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Toss the ingredients together about 30 minutes before serving. The longer they sit, the better they will be. Refrigerate leftovers.

If you’re curious about Elote Cafe or more recipes, please see my ‘Cinco de Mayo…in March’ post, where I highlight other dishes along with a brief synopsis of my experiences in Sedona, Arizona.

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