Seriously Meatless: Mole Aproximado Recipe

Note: Today has turned into de facto Mole Day at Serious Eats. Earlier this morning we brought you another mole sauce recipe as part of our Serious Heat series, and as it turns out, our vegetarian columnist Michael was in a mole mindset too. Ain't no shame in that, right?

An absolutely authentic Oaxacan mole is quite an undertaking. They often include 30 or more ingredients, each of which needs advance preparation before going into the final sauce. It's best done over the course of several days.

Bottled moles from the grocery store are generally unpalatable, with little of the subtlety of the real thing. I set out to find a compromise: a delicious mole made in about an hour, part of which is simmering time while you prepare the rest of the meal.

The concept of mole is that the sauce is the main event--what it's served with is in a supporting role. The sauce therefore must be interesting enough to maintain your interest through the whole course of an entree. This one is bursting with a balanced mixture of chiles and spices, a hint of chocolate for a mildly bitter background, and orange juice for acidity. I kept the traditional final frying of the sauce in oil and slow simmer, a feature of many Mexican sauce recipes.

I served mine with simple cheese enchiladas, though it would be equally delicious with tamales or for a simpler dish, serve it with roasted sweet potatoes or fried plantains.

Recipe Facts



Total: 0 mins
Serves: 4 to 6 servings

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  • 8 dried ancho chiles or a mixture of ancho and pasilla
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 large tomato, cored and halved
  • 2 slices bread, toasted and cubed
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • 1 pinch of cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 heaping tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (bitter orange if you happen to have it)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil


  1. Remove the stems, seeds and ribs from the chile peppers. You might want to wear rubber gloves for this. Cover them with boiling water and weight them so they stay underwater. Leave to soak for 30 minutes while you prepare everything else.

  2. In a hot, dry skillet, cook the garlic cloves and tomato for about 5 minutes, turning a couple of times.

  3. Drain the chiles, reserving the soaking water. In a blender, combine the chiles with the garlic, tomato, bread, onion, oregano, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, sugar, salt and cocoa power, orange juice and 1/2 cup of the chile soaking water. Puree very thoroughly, adding more liquid as necessary until you have about 3 1/2 cups. Strain.

  4. Heat the vegetable oil in a saucepan over a medium flame. Pour in the mole, and simmer for about 30 minutes, lightly covered. The sauce should darken and become more concentrated.

  5. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Can you taste the various herbs and spices? The chocolate? The chiles? Is there a bit of acid and enough salt? Aim for a complex, balanced flavor. Also add a little more liquid or simmer a bit longer to get a pleasing saucy texture, like a thick tomato sauce.