One of the things I truly appreciate about food is the way particular plates can be associated with entire moments, experiences, or relationships. Nothing can compare to sharing a piece of Pan Dulce and a cup of coffee with my Mom. The pastel colors and all their sugary softness melts away all other thoughts. It tops my list of feel-good moments.
Pan Dulce, sweet bread, is a whole genre of Mexican breads introduced to the country in the 1800s by the French. Growing up, it was a common scene to see my aunts all gathered around the kitchen table eating their Pan Dulce, sipping on their coffee, exchanging their latest discoveries in the kitchen or the juiciest family gossip. Now, when visiting the women in my family (which unfortunately isn’t very often) my favorite thing to do is recreate those scenes and share some bread. My mom and I have taken to eating the bread as a pre-breakfast, early in the morning before anyone else has gotten up. It provides that little jolt of energy before having to start cracking eggs, or whipping a batter for pancakes. I have a new found appreciation of the pre-meal snack.
On one such morning, my mom and I were talking about the various dishes my siblings and I loved as kids, trying to decide what to make for dinner. It is not often that she gets all three of us under the same roof, so our meals have to be something special. What came out of this conversation was a funny memory. As a kid I hated Molé night. Molé is a very thick Mexican chile sauce, that uses a variety of chiles and incorporates chocolate.
As a child I could not appreciate the complexity of the flavors; the mingling of the rich chile grounded by the density of chocolate. To me it felt like a cop-out. I’d see the brick of chocolate on the counter and smile expectantly, chocolate for dinner! My mom always used Ibarra, a standard for making Mexican hot chocolate, it was always on hand and more importantly super cheap. But once I was served the plateful of chicken cooked in the sauce my delight waned. This was not chocolate. It felt like a lie. I laugh now thinking about the amount of animosity I directed towards the dish. As an adult, having developed my palate, I wanted nothing more than to re-experience my mom’s beloved dish.
Recipe: Mom’s Molé
5 each (dried): pasilla chiles, California chiles, Ancho chiles
3 garlic cloves
¼ small yellow onion
3-4 Bay leaves
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 circle (9 triangle wedges) of Ibarra chocolate (broken into bits)
1 ½ tbs flour
Salt and pepper to taste
2 medium tomatoes
1. Crack open chiles and scrape out the seeds. Tip*: coat your fingers in a little bit of olive oil to prevent the burn.
2. Place all chiles in a pot and fill with just enough water to cover them. Add garlic cloves, onion, bay leaves and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil. Cover and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. You will notice that the water will start to turn a deep mahogany color and will become a reduction. Next add the tomatoes and allow to simmer for another 15 minutes.
3. In a food processor add remaining ingredients (chocolate, peanut butter, flour) and slowly blend in chile mixture. Salt and pepper to taste. You can add more peanut butter or chocolate depending on your preferences, I default to more of both!
4. The finished product can now be used as a sauce in which to cook chicken and diced potatoes, or served with chicken over a bed of rice.
What are some of your nostalgia-filled plates?