Mole de Olla

Mole de Olla is a rich soup with a little bit of mole flavor. It has many variations across the country but is more popular in the central states of Mexico, where it is a common main dish in the mid-afternoon. Even though here in America soups are enjoyed during the wintertime, in Mexico this Mole de Olla soup is cooked year around. In most regions, it is usually made with a mix of bone-in beef cuts and pork meats, accompanied with vegetables native to the area.

Cooked slowly over the stove, this dish is a robust meal; the bone-in pieces of meat create a nutritious broth, and the vegetables like carrots, chayote, squash, corn, green beans, and xoconostles form a perfect combination of flavors. For a faster way to cook this meal, you can use your pressure cooker.

This soup brings me happy memories from my time as a school teacher in the State of Tabasco. I worked in two schools right in the middle of the cacao plantations: during the mornings I was teaching middle school, and in the
afternoons I would teach elementary school. Since my works were far away from where I lived, I usually packed my lunch to eat between classes. One day, one of my students asked me what my favorite meal was, and I told her “Mole.” One week later, she told me that she had a surprise for me and that she wanted me to go to her house for lunch because her mom had prepared my favorite meal.

I was obviously really excited about the great meal I was about to have, my mouth was watering just thinking about it on my way to her house. All this time, I was thinking about Mole Poblano, the famous dish from the state of Puebla, and I couldn’t hide my surprised face when I was served a huge bowl of steamy Mole de Olla. My student’s face had a smile from ear to ear, honored with having her teacher sitting at her table for lunch. She said, “you told me that your favorite meal is Mole.” I smiled and said that indeed it was. I didn’t have the heart to tell her! Either way, it was a delicious meal and bittersweet moment.

“Xoconostles” are a close relative of the cactus fruit “sweet prickly pear,” known also as “tunas.” Xoconostles are not as sweet and have a sour-tart taste. I’ve given some ideas for substitutions in the notes below, in case you can’t find them in your area.

There is another recipe for Mole de Olla in the region of Chapala, Jalisco, made with salted beef steaks and ancho peppers.

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  • Rinse the meat and pat dry thoroughly with a paper towel. In a large stockpot, place the meat, onion, garlic and bay leaves. Cover with 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to simmer gently. Use a slotted spoon to remove any foam that rises to the surface. The meat will take about 1 ½ to 2 hours to cook. (Please check the ingredients list below)
  • While the meat is cooking, prepare the sauce. Fill a small pot with 2 cups of hot water and set aside. I like roasting the ingredients of the salsa since it gives a rustic flavor to the soup.  Now, slightly roast the peppers in a hot griddle, turning once. Remember, this step takes only a few seconds if you leave the peppers longer on the hot griddle they will have a bitter taste. Place the roasted peppers in the pot with the hot water to soften them, at least 15 minutes.
  • Roast the tomato, garlic and onion on the hot griddle. The garlic will take less time to roast, so remove promptly. Remove its peel and place in your blender pitcher. Once the tomato and onion are roasted, place them into the blender pitcher as well. Once the peppers have softened, add them into the blender along with a cup of the soaking water.  Proceed to puree until you have a very smooth sauce. Set aside.
  • To cook the vegetables: In another medium size saucepan, add 3 cups of water and the pieces of corn to cook over medium-high heat. 8-10 minutes later, add the xoconostle, chayote, and carrots. About 3 minutes after that, add the potatoes (if using) and finally the squash and green beans to cook for 4 more minutes. Don’t worry if they still look uncooked after this time, they will finish cooking with the meat and sauce.
  • Check your meat. If it is already cooked and tender, remove the garlic, onion, and bay leaf. Now, add the sauce and the Epazote sprigs, stir, and keep simmering for about 8 more minutes.  Add the vegetables and stir well. Let it simmer for another 6 minutes to allow all the flavors to blend. You can pour it using a strainer if you want, personally, I don’t use a strainer with this soup since I like how the sauce gives the soup a thicker texture.
  • To serve, ladle the soup in large bowls with some portions of meat, corn, carrots, chayote, xoconostle, squash, potato and green beans. Garnish with chopped onion, cilantro, epazote and lime juice.Serve with some warm corn tortillas. There you have it, a whole meal in a bowl!