This post marks my second entry in Foodbuzz’s Project Food Blog contest. The contest is a 10 part challenge to determine the “Next Food Blog Star”, with some bloggers eliminated after each qualifying round. This post is meant to satisfy the second challenge of the competition which is for me to cook a “classic” dish of a cuisine that I don’t normally cook, this in order to get me outside of my comfort zone. You can learn more about me and Project Food Blog by clicking on the contest widget to the right of this post. Voting for the 2nd round entries starts on Monday, September 27th, and I’ll be writing a follow-up post in a few days describing how you can follow the competition, and vote me through to subsequent rounds if wish. Thanks!
For my second entry to Foodbuzz’s “Project Food Blog” competition, I have decided to cook a Mexican meal that I first had (and loved) over 30 years ago, but have never cooked myself. I feel a bit uncomfortable submitting this dish to the competition, because I am writing this post prior to even knowing if I have advanced to the second round of the challenges. You see, I will be out of town when the second entry is due, so I am forced to take a leap of faith and pre-date the post for publishing in my absence in the hope that I live to see round two. Please don’t think me too presumptuous.
Anyway, the second round challenge is called “The Classics”, and for it, each competitor is to tackle a “classic” dish from another culture, one that is outside their comfort zone. For this challenge I have decided to cook a dish based on a Mole Sauce, which is a Mexican Chile-Chocolate sauce that I first ate while an exchange student living in Mexico for a spell while in High School. I can remember as if it were yesterday, my Mexican Mom toiling away over a series of a few days to concoct her “family secret” mole recipe. If I close my eyes and think back, I can still smell the piquant aroma of the sauce as it simmered and reduced to a velvety, thick, dark brown pot of deliciousness.
Making the mole sauce was clearly not an everyday occurrence in the household, and I soon understood that the meal that would be built around the main course, a chicken mole, was in celebration of my visit, and would entail a gathering of family and friends to welcome me to Mexico. Needless to say, I was a bit anxious at the prospect of a fete in my honor, not only because my Spanish was less than mediocre, but as a “country” boy from Southern Vermont, I felt my palate’s ability to survive the onslaught of “strange” and spicy dishes to which it was totally unaccustomed, was in serious question.
As I slowly came to realize what the plan was, and watched the care and effort that was being put into this festive meal, I became paralyzed by the thought that I might embarrass myself, or worse, my host family, by being unable to stomach all the food they were making. Now, my mama raised me right, and I was committed to eating EVERYTHING that was given me, but can I tell ya, I’m getting light-headed right now just thinking about how scared I was about this meal
So how did it go? Well, we’re here cooking a mole dish for you today aren’t we?
To be honest, with the exception of the unbelievable mole, I can’t remember much about the meal, save the fact that I was so anxious about my language skills, that I spent the entire evening filling my pie-hole so as to always have my mouth full of food when someone tried to engage me in conversation.
“Geez….I’m sorry. I’d love to chat and impress you with my command of the Spanish language, but I’m just TOO busy eating all of this delicious food!” 😉
The following recipe is a streamlined version of a mole, and took me about an hour to make. It will make more than you need for this dish, so by all means, freeze the balance for another meal. A very traditional mole can take DAYS to make, and if you have it in you, HERE is a “Oaxacan Black Mole” recipe from star chef Rick Bayless that he recently prepared for a Presidential State Dinner.
Muppet and I had some fun forming and frying the bean cakes for this dish, and the shrimp, gently cooked in a little mounted butter, rounded out this deeply flavorful meal that transported me back about thirty years with my first bite. Ay Caramba!
Aclamaciones (that’s Cheers for you non-Spanish speaking types) – Steve
- Enough Jumbo shrimp to feed your crowd, peeled (except for the tail), and deveine
- Fresh cilantro, chopped for serving
for the Black Bean Cakes:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup finely chopped onions
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
- 1 small jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and chopped
- 1 pound dried black beans
- 6 cups water
- 1 bay leaf
- kernels cut from two ears of corn
- 1 cup flour
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
for the Mole Poblano Sauce:
- 2 dried ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded
- 1 dried guajillo chili, stemmed and seeded
- 1 dried cascabal chilies, stemmed and seeded
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- 1/4 cup whole almonds
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 cinnamon stick, preferably Mexican, broken in pieces
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves and small stems only
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 yellow onions, sliced
- 5 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 large jalapeno pepper, stemmed and seeded
- 6 canned plum tomatoes, chopped
- 2 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (we used Mexican style "Taza" Stone Ground), Organic 70% Dark, chopped
For the Mole Poblano Sauce:
- Tear the dried chiles into large pieces and toast them in a dry skillet over medium heat until they change color a bit, about 2 minutes. Put them into a bowl with the raisins and cover them with hot water. Soak until softened, about 30 minutes.
- In the same skillet over medium heat, add the almonds, sesame seeds, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, oregano, and thyme. Toast for 2 minutes, grind in a mini food processor, and add the resulting powder to a blender.
- In the same skillet over medium-high heat add the olive oil, onions, garlic, and jalapeno. Cook until lightly browned, then add the tomatoes. Cook until vegetables are softened, about 10 to 15 minutes, then add to the blender. Add the chocolate and the soaked chiles and raisins to the blender along with some of the chile soaking liquid. Puree, adding more soaking liquid as needed, to make a smooth sauce. (This makes about 4 cups sauce, any extra can be frozen).
For the Black Bean Cakes:
- In a saucepan, over medium heat, add a tablespoon of the oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for 2 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the garlic, jalapenos, and black beans. Continue to saute for 1 minute. Add the water and bay leaf. Bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the beans are just tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
- Remove the beans from the heat, toss the corn kernels into the pot, and let the mix cool completely and strain. In a food processor, fitted with a metal blade, puree 3/4 of the mixture until smooth. Add water if it becomes thick. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the processor and turn into a mixing bowl. Stir the remaining beans and corn into the pureed beans.
- Season the flour, egg wash and bread crumbs with salt and pepper to taste.
- Divide the mixture and form into individual rounds, about 1-inch thick. Dredge each cake in the seasoned flour. Dip each cake into the egg wash, letting the excess drip off. Dredge the cakes in the seasoned bread crumbs, coating completely. In a large saute pan, over medium heat, add the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, pan fry until crispy, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side.
For the Shrimp:
- In a medium sized skillet, place about 1/4 cup of water and reduce until you have just a few tablespoons left in the pan. Turn the heat to low and add 4 tablespoons of the butter in chunks, swirling the pan as you do to create a simple mounted butter sauce.
- Season the shrimp pieces with salt and pepper and place them in the sauce over a very low heat. Gently cook until the bottom of the shrimp is a pale orange, then flip them and continue to cook until just cooked through. Don't let them go too long here or they'll over-cook and get tough. Remove the pan from heat and let the shrimp rest there.
- Place a thin layer of the warm mole sauce in the bottom of a shallow bowl, pop a bean cake in the center of the sauce, and stack the shrimp around the cake. Sprinkle with fresh chopped cilantro and enjoy!