In addition to being a designer and weaver of Manos Zapotecas’ bags, Isabel also juggles running a restaurant in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. Once a week Isabel pours her love into making mole negro, a family recipe that has been passed down for decades. Mole is an ancient Aztec word for mixture; now the word refers to the traditional dish found in Oaxaca and other Mexican states. Oaxaca has a variety of seven different moles, defined by the mixture of chiles, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. Mole negro is the most celebrated Oaxacan mole with star players of chile peppers and chocolate, creating a sweet, yet savory flavor.
At Isabels restaurant Casa Jaguar, all of the food is locally grown and made in-house, from scratch. She does everything, from grinding the corn used to make her hand-pressed tortillas, to roasting and stuffing poblano peppers for chile rellenos, and whipping up her delicious salsas. One day I was lucky enough to see how Isabel makes the mole negro that she’s been making since she was 14 years old. Watching the process ignited my sense of smell and sent my stomach rumbling.
The lengthy process begins with boiling an organic chicken to make a stock. She then heats up the comal de barro, the clay traditional clay cooking surface pictured below, and roasts the ancho and guajillo chiles.
Now she grinds down the roasted peppers using her metate, a two-part meailng stone that has an integral part of every Zapotec kitchen since ancient times.
“My metate is the secret ingredient, it holds all of the flavors from every time I make mole. It’s what gives it that really special flavor”
Next, she uses her metate to break down a mix of raisins, garlic, sesame seeds, almonds, cinnamon, oregano, and onion. Then she separately grinds down tomatoes and tomatillo.
Now she is ready to heat the chile paste, nuts, grains, spices, and tomatoes in her clay pot with a little bit of vegetable oil. At this time she adds ladles of the simmering chicken stock, salt, and lets the mixture simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. The last, but certainly not least, ingredient is the ground up chocolate oaxaqueña.
The mole is now ready to be served. It is ladled generously over chicken, alongside a pile of steaming white rice, with fresh tortillas on the side. Though the simplicity of the meal belies the incredible amount of work that went into it, at very first bite the complexity of flavors reveal the cook’s patience and skill. If you are visiting Teotitlan del Valle make sure to stop by Casa Jaguar for some truly authentic Oaxacan cuisine.