Oaxaca is a Mexican state with a capital city of the same name; this Southwestern state enjoys an enviable location, with a vast shoreline along the Pacific Ocean:
These conditions are propitious for diverse marine wildlife to thrive, rich enough for fishing, and also offering perfect settings for conservation, for example, sea turtle reproduction on the beaches of the Magic Town of Mazunte, or observation of molluscs in the natural tide pools of the hidden gem of Agua Blanca. Oaxaca’s landscape also includes mountain ranges, from which numerous rivers flow down through gorges, feeding into lagoons in the valleys, and the ocean, as seen in the map below. Geographically, and also ethnically, it is divided into eight regions (Image from Wikipedia Commons):
Oaxaca is known for its cultural heritage from several pre-Hispanic cultures; two of the most important, which are still present in the state are: the Mixtec, in the northwest regions of the Mixtec and gorge (Mixteca, Cañada), and the Zapotec, in the southeast mountain ranges and isthmus (Sierra Norte, Sierra Sur, Istmo) and the central valleys (Valles Centrales, which includes the capital city of Oaxaca). There are many representative crafts in the state, such as barro negro (black clay) and barro verde (green clay) pottery, wood carvings (copal), linens and embroidery, to name a few, as well as an extensive collection of edible specialties – for example, some that I have talked about in previous posts are mezcal, an agave-based alcoholic beverage, tlayudas, a type of artisan corn discs, and pan de yema, a sweet bread eaten year-round, but especially for the Day of the Dead.
Also amongst the many culinary delights in Oaxaca, there is a set of sauces called “los siete moles” – the seven moles: first, they include the local versions of the internationally known Mole verde (Green Mole), and Mole rojo (Red Mole); then, popular in all of Mexico are Manchamanteles (“Tablecloth Stainer”), and Mole Negro (Black mole), the latter being one of the most emblematic dishes from Oaxaca, without doubt; next are the more regional Mole Chichilo negro (also dark in colour), Mole Coloradito (with a bright shade of red) and last but not least, Mole Amarillo (Yellow mole).
Mole Amarillo is most representative of the coastal (Costa), isthmus (Istmo), and central valleys (Valles Centrales) regions. This dish is often called simply “Amarillo” – “Yellow”, as it presents characteristic shades of yellow, that may range from mustardy ochre to dark orange, depending on the types and proportions of dried peppers (chiles) used, namely (counter-clockwise from top left), Chilhuacle Amarillo, Chilcosle, Costeño Amarillo (which I described in my previous post), and Guajillo, which is one of the most versatile chiles in Mexican cuisine:
This mole seems to have been prepared in Oaxaca since times before the arrival of the Spaniards, so in addition to these chiles, tomatoes and tomatillos are common additions, and it has been seasoned to this day with onion, salt and regional herbs: in the coastal region, pitiona (Lippia alba), in the verbena family, is used for its fruity and spicy flavour; epazote is added in the isthmus, and in the valleys, the herb of choice is Hoja Santa (Piper auritum), which translates as “sacred leaf.” In Oaxaca, many households would have a plant of Hoja Santa handy on their premises, and the leaves are sold fresh in some parts of Mexico, but they are hard to find in Canada; I was only able to buy packaged dried leaves, in a Hispanic store in Toronto (photo below, left). Other names for Hoja Santa are acuyo and Mexican pepper leaf, which indicates that this herb has a little bit of fire in it, but the flavour is hard to describe, maybe slightly like tarragon (shown below, right):
Another native herb from the verbena family that is often added is Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens). Later on, during Spanish colonial times, garlic and spices brought from Asia became part of the recipe; cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and cumin are now used in mole Amarillo. Also from the old world, it is now usual to add cooked pieces of chicken or chunks of beef, although in the coastal region, native iguana meat and seafood are still more common. Regular or vegetarian renditions would include veggies such as potatoes, green beans, and the very Mexican chayotes, as shown below, a whole one on the left, and another peeled and cut up into chunks, ready to be added to the mole, on the right:
For my recipe, I found inspiration mostly from the central valleys region, choosing to add all the veggies listed, as well as Hoja Santa, and pieces of chicken, bone-in, and skin-on (for vegetarian option, see Notes in the recipe). I cannot emphasize enough how hormone-free, antibiotic-free chicken is so much more flavourful than generic “factory” chicken; even the texture and colour of the broth are richer:
I wanted a true yellow tone for the mole, using some of my recently purchased chiles from Oaxaca, so I included (photo below, top from left to right): four Chilhuacle Amarillo, one Chilcosle (the spiciest of the bunch), and four Costeño Amarillo. Since many recipes call for guajillo peppers, I also included some, but just a couple of the lightest-coloured ones I could find (photo below, at the bottom, right):
However, please note that, in fact, many contemporary recipes for Mole Amarillo use guajillo peppers exclusively, so this is what I would recommend if the more regional chiles are not available.
I started with whole spices, and ground them in a spice-dedicated coffee grinder, but a mortar with pestle may also be used, as well as already ground spices. In the photo below, from left to right, ground and whole: Mexican cinnamon (Ceylon, or “true” cinnamon), cloves, black peppercorns, Mexican oregano, and cumin:
If Mexican cinnamon is not available, use half the amount of regular ground cinnamon (Cassia); if Mexican oregano is not available, do not use Mediterranean oregano, which is a different plant; try adding crushed dry bay leaf, or omit.
Finally, I watched a video of a lady cooking Amarillo in a traditional kitchen in Oaxaca, and she mentioned macerating sliced onions in lime juice with a pinch of salt, as a topping. I really liked that suggestion, so my recipe also includes that condiment.
Oaxaca Style Yellow Mole, with Chicken (or Vegetarian) –
Mole Amarillo de Oaxaca, con pollo (o vegetariano)
Ingredients (for six portions)
1 whole chicken, cut up into pieces; cooked in water, strained broth reserved (Note: skip for vegetarian)
45 g (1.6 oz) light coloured dry chiles (between 8-10 of any combination of Guajillo, Chilcosle, Chilhuacle Amarillo, and Costeño Amarillo)
350 g (¾ lb) tomatoes; washed, stem end removed, and cut into chunks
350 g (¾ lb) tomatillos; washed (papery peel removed)
1 white onion; peeled and cut into quarters
2 cloves garlic; peeled
¼ tsp ground Mexican cinnamon (or 1/8 tsp regular ground cinnamon)
1/8 tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp dry Mexican oregano (or 1 bay leaf, or omit); crushed finely
¼ tsp ground cumin
1 Hoja Santa, fresh, or dry (or 1 tsp tarragon, or omit); broken into very small pieces
1 chayote; washed, peeled and cut into chunks
454 g (1 lb) baby potatoes; washed (or regular potatoes, cut into chunks)
454 g (1 lb) green beans; washed, trimmed and sliced into 2.5 cm (1 inch) lengths
1 ½ cups masa (nixtamalized corn dough); or 1 cup corn flour such as Maseca™
1 tbsp lard (Note: or 1 tbsp vegetable oil, for vegetarian)
1 lime; washed and halved
Water, as needed
Salt, as needed, to taste
Prepare macerated onion topping: Slice three quarters of the white onion very finely. Place in a non-reactive jar with lid. Add half a teaspoon of salt (or to taste) and squeeze the juice from the lime over (photo, right). Close the jar, shake to incorporate all the ingredients, and let it repose until serving time.
Cook vegetables: Place potatoes in a large pot, and cover with water. Bring to boil over high heat, then reduce to medium and cook, covered, for ten minutes. Uncover and add chayote chunks (photo below, left). Cover and cook for five minutes, then uncover and add green beans; continue cooking for a couple more minutes, just until the green beans turn bright green, and the potatoes may be pierced with a fork (photo below, right):
Remove from heat, transfer veggies to a bowl and reserve (Note: also reserve cooking veggie water for vegetarian option.)
Prepare masa ingredients: If using corn flour, prepare dough (masa) as directed in the package, by hydrating and mixing with water (photo below, left). Divide masa in half (in the photo below, right, please note that I had prepared double the amount; the portion at the top is extra, reserved to use separately, see * at the end of the post):
Crumble one small portion of masa (about three quarters of a cup) into a blender jar, then add one cup of reserved chicken broth (photo below, left; Note: use reserved veggie water, for vegetarian option.) Process until very smooth (photo below, right):
Transfer this slurry to a container and reserve.
Mix the other small portion of masa with half a teaspoon of salt, the lard, and half a cup of reserved chicken broth (photo below, left; Note: use oil and veggie water for vegetarian option). Knead until smooth and soft, then divide into small balls, approximately one teaspoon of masa, each; press each ball in the centre with thumb, or the back of a small measuring spoon, to form concave discs, called chochoyotes (photo below, right):
Cover with a kitchen towel, and reserve.
Prepare sauce: Rinse all the dry chiles in cold water, then drain; remove and discard stems and seeds; place cleaned chiles in a pot, along with the tomatoes and tomatillos, and add one cup of clean water to the pot (photo below, left). Bring to boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium, and continue cooking until the tomatillos change colour. Press the chiles down to submerge in the water, placing the tomatillos on top; cook for a few more minutes, until the chiles are soft, and the tomato skins may be removed easily (photo below, right):
Discard tomato skins, remove pot from heat, and allow to cool down.
Once cooled down, transfer all the contents of the pot to the blender jar; add cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, Mexican oregano (or bay leaf), cumin, garlic and the last quarter of the white onion (photo below, left). Process long enough to obtain a smooth sauce (photo below, right):
Return sauce to the pot, then add one cup of chicken broth to the blender jar (Note: or veggie water); swirl gently to collect all the leftover sauce, then pour in the pot (photo below, left). Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for at least ten minutes; the sauce will become smoother. Continue stirring, adding the reserved masa slurry (photo below, right):
Stir slurry and sauce together (photo below, left), and continue cooking and stirring, until it becomes uniform and starts to thicken; in the photo below, right, also notice the deep yellow tone developing:
Finish dish with add-ins: Add the reserved cooked chicken pieces (Note: skip for vegetarian option), and the reserved cooked potatoes, chayote and green beans, stirring to coat with sauce (photo below, left). Cook for ten more minutes, until everything is warm, and the flavours are starting to meld, adding more broth (Note: or veggie water) if it gets too thick. Very gently, drop reserved chochoyotes in the pot, scooping sauce to coat them (photo below, right|):
Continue cooking and adding more liquid, as needed, until chochoyotes are fully cooked; they should look shinny, fluffy, and become porous (photo below, left). Finally, add pieces of Hoja Santa (or tarragon, if using), folding-in very gently, to avoid breaking the chochoyotes (photo below, right):
After a few more minutes, adjust seasoning with more salt, to taste, and then, the Mole Amarillo is ready to be served:
Serve Amarillo in bowls, or plates with a rim, including portions of all the veggies, chochoyotes, and one or two pieces of chicken (Note: if using), along with reserved macerated onions:
Everybody here enjoyed this Mole Amarillo. My husband is not particularly fond of red moles, but this yellow one was a hit, especially with extra helpings of macerated onions. My older daughter enjoys spicy food, but cannot tolerate it if it is too fiery; this mole had just the right level of hotness for her. I am sure this dish will please even finicky eaters.
Note: As seen below, when compared to the dish with chicken, the vegetarian option is low in fat and a low-calorie plate, but still a very well balanced meal, especially with the combination of grain and legume, from the corn in the masa, and the green beans.
* And what did I do with the extra batch of corn dough (masa) that was reserved, from above? I used it, along with some chopped cilantro (or fresh Hoja Santa, if available), to take advantage of leftover sauce and chicken from the mole amarillo, to make empanadas de amarillo (yellow mole patties): Remove chicken from the pot, shred, and reserve, along with some of the sauce. Divide masa into portions of approximately 60 g (2 oz); form an elongated ball with each portion (photo below, left). Press into an oval tortilla (second photo). Place oval on a hot dry skillet or grill (third photo), cooking for about thirty seconds, then flip. Place chopped cilantro (or fresh Hoja Santa) on one half of the dough, lengthwise, then top with sauce and shredded chicken. Close the patty by folding empty side over filling (photo below, right):
Gently press around the edge to seal patty (wetting inside the edge with a little water might help). Finish by flipping one or two more times, until crispy on both sides, and fully cooked all through. Repeat with the rest of the ovals, cilantro (or fresh Hoja Santa), sauce, and shredded chicken.
For your convenience, click on the images below for products available on Amazon™. DISCLAIMER: Any reviews included in this post are my own, for items I have purchased, not provided by any company; as an Amazon Associates Program affiliate, I might receive a commission for any purchases originated from the links below, at no extra cost to you (thank you to readers who have bought any other products starting with a click from my links!):
I ordered my regional Oaxacan chiles from Épices de Cru, a spice and tea shop located on 7070 Henri-Julien, C-6, Montréal, H2S 2W1, Canada. They also ship to Canada and the USA; their telephone number is 1(514)273-1118, and their online shop is user friendly. I am just a happy customer, not asked to review, nor compensated in any form, by the company.
I am sharing my post at Thursday Favourite Things #498, with Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn, Pam @ An Artful Mom, Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home, Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode.
I am bringing my recipe to Full Plate Thursday #545 with Miz Helen @ Miz Helen’s Country Cottage. Special thanks to Miz Helen for including my recipe for Huevos Rancheros amongst her features, at this party.