Today’s Stuffed Poblano Peppers are a bit of a passion project for me. I’ve wanted to make my own mole for nearly five years now. Mole captured my imagination some time ago. I was completely enamored with the complexity of the flavor and the effort and time involved in making it. The sauce felt like a warm sweater to me, the kind of thing you make and share with the people you love. The fact that I got to make the mole found in these Stuffed Poblano Peppers one lazy Sunday with my best friend and life partner was all too fitting.
I’m sure you can tell by now that this post is going to get super mushy. Consider this a disclaimer.
In every chef profile, there is always the moment when they finish culinary school and f**k off to some corner of the world to learn. Some go to Japan to learn the ins and outs of ramen or sushi, others hit up Italy for an intensive course in pasta. Heck! Some fall right off the grid and go foraging in the Amazon. It’s their version of a culinary pilgrimage and, being the food nerd that I am, I always wonder what my culinary pilgrimage would be. I know now. After a considerable amount of soul searching, mine would be a mole crawl across Oaxaca, Mexico. Why? Simple.
To me, mole is romantic. It requires love and care, and it represents them too. The act of creating it is communal, the act of eating it is communal. It minimizes waste by using odds and ends, and it makes enough to feed a small community. Mole is infinitely adaptable and each version contains identifying features of the areas they hail from. Mole is like a common language. It holds people together, as food should. Mole is a unifier.
Today’s Stuffed Poblano Peppers feature the most common mole: Mole Poblano. I thought it was a good jumping off point. The dish is thought of as a symbol of the melding of Mexico’s indigenous and colonial pasts and is considered the country’s national dish. But I would feel negligent if I didn’t inform you that there are many types of mole out there.
The now defunct Lucky Peach Magazine wrote an excellent article (I wish I could link to it) profiling different moles from across Mexico. Some moles are pink, some are green (guacamole is technically a mole), and some are bright red. Each mole is made using ingredients readily available to people in that specific region. But mole recipes often vary from household to household and are passed down through the generations. Is this making you feel warm and fuzzy yet?
When it came to making my own Mole Poblano for these Stuffed Poblano Peppers, I was quite obviously at a disadvantage. I’m not Mexican and I have only visited the country twice. So, naturally, I turned to Google for guidance. I wound up cobbling a vague recipe together from the many I had read online. Still feeling shaky, I set out to Kensington Market for supplies. Psst! Toronto’s Kensington market is a mecca for Mexican and Southern American cooking staples. Pass it on!
On a previous visit to the market, I had purchased Achiote paste from a store called Perola Supermarket. So, my beau and I returned to the shop and started fishing through various bins of dried chilies at the front of the store. That’s where the lovely owner found us and asked us what we were planning to make. We told her we were going for a mole and after we assured her that we knew what we were getting ourselves into, she guided us around the store selecting the right brand of chocolate, and a particular type of cookie (Maria cookies) she adds as a thickener. She also made sure we left with Mexican oregano and cinnamon and told us that, in her opinion, peanuts were the best nuts to use.
I cannot thank this woman enough for her invaluable guidance. We would not have been able to pull off a mole this good without her.
Okay, so let’s get to the recipe. I must warn you that the mole recipe is long, involved and makes a ton of sauce. We froze nearly three-quarters of what we made, but honestly, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Traditionally Mole Poblano is served with turkey, so I think we may be repurposing it for Thanksgiving (more on that soon, promise). I don’t think there is a way to make a small batch of mole, so if you’re going to make these Stuffed Poblano Peppers, you’re going to have to embrace leftovers.
If you’re not feeling the farro for the stuffing, you can easily swap it for rice. And, if you’re feeling low on protein, add ground beef, chicken or pork to the party. This is a pretty adaptable recipe, but I need to tell you that if you make this recipe as directed, you won’t miss the meat. Never-been-a-scout’s honor! Also, if you’re having trouble tracking down queso fresco, you can swap it out for feta or goat cheese. One last thing, the pickled red onions are non-negotiable.
- 4 large poblano peppers
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1 cup farro
- 3 cups water
- 1 (454g) cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 1 (540 mL) can black beans, drained & rinsed
- 1/2 cup mole (see below)
- 1/2 cup queso fresco, crumbled
- 1 batch pickled red onions (see below)
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
- 1 small tomato, halved
- 2 medium tomatillos, husks removed and halved
- 1 small white onion
- 5 clove garlic, peeled
- 8-10 Maria cookies
- 2 tablespoons masa harina
- 1 cup canola oil, divided
- 6-8 mulato chiles
- 4 ancho chiles
- 4-6 pasilla chiles
- 2-3 chipotle meco chiles
- 1/2 cup blanched peanuts
- 3 tablespoons hulled raw pumpkin seeds
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1 ripe plantain, peeled & roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds, plus more for sprinkling
- 1 (1-inch) canela (Mexican cinnamon)
- 6 whole cloves
- 6 star anise pods
- 1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 6 whole allspice berries
- 8 black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cups veggie stock, divided
- 1 1/2 discs of Mexican chocolate (I used Ibarra)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/2 small red onion, halved & sliced
- 3/4 cup white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
- Remove the core from the tomato and place it cut side down on a baking sheet lined with tin foil. Place the tomatillo halves next to the tomato in the same manner.
- Put the sheet under the broiler and cook until the skin turns black, about 8-10 minutes.
- When cool enough to handle, slip the skins off of the tomato and tomatillo and set aside.
- In a large cast iron skillet, heat a quarter-sized amount of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic cloves and saute until they turn a deep amber, about 10 minutes. Transfer the onion and garlic to a plate and set aside.
- Place the cookies in a large food processor and blitz until finely ground.
- Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel and return it to the heat. Add the masa harina and cookie crumbles to the now dry pan and toast until the mixture is a deep brown. Transfer the crumbs to a bowl and set aside.
- Remove the stems and seeds from all of the dried chilis.
- Heat 1/2 cup of canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.
- Working in batches, fry the chilies until they puff up and turn a slightly darker color. This will range from 30 seconds to 2 minutes depending on the size of the chiles.
- Transfer the chiles to a large bowl and cover them with warm water. Set aside to steep, about 20 minutes.
- While the chiles are steeping, drain the chile oil from the pan (you can reserve the oil for flavoring other dishes, if you like) and replace it with the remaining canola oil. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.
- Add the peanuts to the pan and fry until golden, about 3-5 minutes. Transfer the peanuts to a plate lined with paper towel and set aside.
- Add pumpkin seeds to the oil and fry until slightly browned, then add them to the peanuts.
- Repeat this process with the raisins, and plantain.
- In the dry skillet you used to toast the masa harina and cookie crumbs, place the sesame seeds, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, coriander seeds, allspice berries and peppercorns. Toast the spices over medium heat until golden and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer the spices to the same plate as the peanut mixture and set aside.
- In a large food processor, place the soaked chilies and two ladles full of the steeping liquid. Blitz until a smooth, thick mixture forms. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and set aside.
- Next, place the peanut and spice mixture in the food processor along side the tomato, tomatillos, onion, garlic, masa/cookie crumb mixture and a cup of the veggie stock (you may have to work in batches depending on the size of your food processor). Blitz until the mixture resembles a loose nut butter. If it gets too thick, feel free to add a ladle full of the chile steeping liquid.
- Heat olive oil in a large heavy bottom pot until shimmering. Add the chile paste and saute until very fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining veggie stock to form a sauce.
- Add the nut and spice puree to the chile puree and stir to incorporate. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer.
- Add the chocolate, salt and sugar and stir until the chocolate melts.
- Turn the heat to low and let the mole simmer for 1 hour.
- Once the hour has passed, take the mole off the heat and give it one final blitz using an immersion blender.
- Leave the mole to cool before transferring it to the refrigerator. Let the mole sit overnight to let the flavors meld.
- Whisk vinegar, sugar, salt, oregano and coriander seeds together in a small bowl.
- Add the onions to the mixture and let sit for 2 hours at room temperature.
- Brush the poblano peppers on all sides with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.
- Place the peppers on a baking sheet and put them under the broiler. Broil until the skin blisters and blackens on all sides. About 7 minutes a side.
- Take the peppers out of the oven and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 375F.
- Place farro, water and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover the pot and let the farro cook for 25-35 minutes or until the farro is tender with a slight chew. If there is excess water in the pot, simply drain the farro.
- Heat the remaining olive oil in a large cast iron skillet. Add the mushrooms and saute until amber. About 6-8 minutes.
- Add the black beans to the skillet and saute until they soften slightly, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the remaining salt, the cooked farro and mole. Stir until everything is fully integrated and heated through.
- Make a long, shallow incision lengthwise on each poblano pepper without piercing through to the other side. Carefully scoop out the seeds - this will take some finessing.
- Pack as much of the farro mixture into each pepper as possible and place the peppers in a enamel casserole dish.
- Top each pepper with queso fresco and place them in the oven. Bake the peppers for 25 minutes. Then, turn on the broiler and broil the peppers until the cheese bubbles and browns slightly. About 5 minutes.
- Let the peppers stand for 10 minutes, then top with pickled onions and cilantro.
- Serve the peppers on a bed of warm mole, if desired.