This Post combines two of my favourite things when it comes to Mesoamerican food science. Quelites and mole. Now by and large quelites are plants we would (in some parts anyway) consider to be weeds, both agricultural and urban, but these plants are some of the most nutritious and medicinal that nature has to offer us. We underestimate these plants at every turn.
Mole is an example of the high art of Mesoamerican culinary practices and not only rivals any of the worlds haute cuisines (1) (I’m looking at you here France) but exceeds it in complexity and subtlety (2).
- Haute cuisine (French: lit. ‘high cooking’) or grande cuisine is the cuisine of “high-level” establishments, gourmet restaurants and luxury hotels.
- a subtlety that may not be accessible to any but those born into the culture.
One of my favourite quelites is that of amarantos. The amaranth plant is versatile. Like many quelites it is both culinary and medicinal. As a food it can be a green leafy vegetable and a grain (1) which I prefer over quinoa even though it is less easy to work with than quinoa.
- Don’t worry quinoa. I still love you.
Huauquilmolli is a mole made from amaranth (huau – huautli (amaranth) quil – quilitl (quelite) and molli – mole). It has been translated and defined in a few slightly different ways.
- Sauce of purslain (sic) (1) with dry land chili; green amaranth seeds with dry land chili. (Sah8.38.)(2). Other translatory definitions of huauhquilmolli include…..
- amaranth leaf sauce; salsa de hoja amaranto (3)….
- There was also huauhquilmolli, which was made with cooked pigweed (amaranth quelites) and with “yellow chilli and tomatoes and pumpkin seeds with only chiltepecpitl”(4)
- “Guiso de hierba de bledos”(5)….
- and the huauhquilmolli that was made with cooked pigweed (amaranth quelites) and with “yellow chilli and tomatoes and pumpkin seeds with only chiltepecpitl”; of the izmiquilmolli with green chili, they say it is “good to eat.”(6)….
- Other stews that are mentioned are: the tlacamichi patzcallo or large fish broth with chili pepper, tomatoes and pumpkin seeds, the mazaxocomulli iztac michyo or stew of white fish with yellow chili and tomato; the huauhquilmolli or Mole of amaranth leaves, yellow chili and tomato, or another variety made with amaranth and piquín chili; too there are references to the itzmiquilmulli or Mole de verdolagas, the huauhtzontli tonalchillo or huazontles with green chili in dry weather, the chilhuacmulli or yellow chili sauce. In other sources there are references to the chilpatzolli or Mole de jaiba, the ahuacamulli or guacamole, the pochehuac chilmulli or Mole de chiles chipotles, smoked or blackened; the texyoh chilmulli, sauce made with chili powder and huaxmulli or Mole de huaje. (7)
- Purslane (verdolagas en Español) is the plant Portulaca olereacea which was known prehispanically as itzmiquilitl (obsidian arrow quelite) and the mole made with this plant was called itzmiquilmulli so I think there has been a typo in this case.
- Máynez, Pilar. (2003) El calepino de Sahagún. Un acercamiento (VIDA Y PENSAMIENTO DE MeXICO nº 12) Fondo de Cultura Económica; 1st edition (1 January 2003) ISBN-10: 9681667891
Chef and owner of the restaurant Rosetta (1), Elena Reygadas, has based Rosettas cuisine on a deep respect for ingredients of Mexican origin. She was awarded the Veuve Clicquot Latin America’s Best Female Chef of 2014. I have no recipe for this one. I just wanted to show how a dish made from basic ingredients (plants we might consider to be weeds) can be presented as a very sophisticated dish.
- Rosetta is a restaurant (of the haute cuisine variety) that is situated is in an old house in the trendy Roma neighbourhood of the CDMX. It exists in a similar vein to other restaurants such as Quintonil and Pujol (also in the CDMX).
This is certainly “high” cuisine. It is art expressed through food and although it might be constructed from the crops of the campesino it certainly does not represent food of those same people.
Chef Emiliano Marquina Cruz, a proponent of comida prehispanic artesanal, runs a stall inside the Mercado de Tepoztlán in Morelos and his tlaltequeada con flor de jamaica and mole de amaranto is an example of a prehispanic vegan dish (although the flor de jamaica originated in Africa and was introduced via the Spanish). This too is an example of high cuisine but it is certainly more accessible to us, the peasants. For interests sake (and because I love the flor de Jamaica) I will Post the recipe for this dish shortly. Kudos to Chef Emiliano for keeping this food alive.
Recipe: Mole de Quelites
This following recipe is of Totonac origin (Sierra Norte de Puebla) and was taught by Chef Jorge Álvarez as part of classes run by Magefesa (1). It is a mole composed of fresh herbs. This is an excellent recipe and is exactly how I would expect such a mole be. Apart from the garlic and onion (and the chicken too I guess – although they may have used turkey or any number of waterfowl that they had ample access to) this is a purely prehispanic dish. (yes, yes, I know I didn’t mention the butter)
- Magefesa is a large Spanish kitchenware manufacturer offering cookware products including pressure cookers, frying and paella pans and cookware sets.
- 2 litres of water
- 1 kg of chicken thigh
- 1 small onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- Salt to taste
- 1.5 liters of water
- 125 grams of quintonil with stem, cleaned
- 125 grams of purslane with stem, cleaned
- 125 grams of pápalo quelites with stem, cleaned
- 125 grams of quelite cenizo with stem, cleaned
- 3 serrano chiles
- ¼ onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 branch of epazote, only the leaves
- 250 gr. of tender corn kernels
- 1 tablespoon of butter (you could also use lard or a neutral flavoured oil such as sunflower)
Guarnición (side dish)
- 250 grams of tender bean (haba tierna) see image below.
- 2 medium Italian squash (zucchini), sliced (for this recipe they were sliced into rounds – see image below)
- In an Olla Express (literally an “express pot” = pressure cooker) , place the chicken, water, onion, garlic and a little salt. Once the pot takes pressure, cook for 20 minutes and remove from heat. Alternatively place all ingredients in a pot, bring to the boil over high heat then turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Take pot off the heat and allow the chicken to cool in the water (this will complete the cooking of the chicken and leave you with moist and tender pollo)
- Drain and reserve the broth.
- In a pot, cook the four varieties of quelites together with the water, the chilies, the onion, garlic, epazote and the corn until all the ingredients are soft; remove and blend.
- Run the sauce through a strainer to give you a nice smooth mole
- In another pot, heat the butter (or oil/lard), pour in the strained sauce and fry it until it is a couple of shades darker.
- Add enough stock to achieve the desired texture, reduce the heat and bring to a boil.
- Rectify the seasoning. That means add salt and pepper to your liking (in case you were wondering – if you weren’t then I’ll shut up)
- In another pot place the vegetables (for the side dish) with the leftover chicken broth, cook gently until done, remove, drain and reserve. The beans will probably take longer than the zucchini to cook (except if they are very young and fresh – this type of bean may need to be peeled if it is slightly older. Just cook until it is soft (but al dente) then make a small slit in the skin at the side of the bean and gently squeeze the bean out of its skin. This is purely a cosmetic step and can be avoided altogether. But if you are trying to impress…….
- In un plato extendido (literally an extended plate = dinner plate), place a chicken thigh, bathe with the mole and accompany with the vegetables. Garnish with crispy fried quintonil leaves.
The herbs in the recipe
Amaranth – Quintonil – Bledos – Pigweed – sooooo many names…….
These are all leaves of amaranth. Amarantos comes in many varieties. I have posted several times previously regarding amaranth. Check them out.
This plant has undergone somewhat of an identity crisis in the last decade or so. I grew up knowing this plant as Chenopodium ambrosioides (Latinically speaking) and as wormseed (for its medicinal usage), it was not known to us as a culinary herb (but that is another story). Chenopodium translates as “goose foot” and refers to the shape of the leaf resembling the footprint (?) profile of a gooses foot.
Ambrosioides is a little more interesting as its root is ambrosia whose literal meaning is “immortality” but which generally refers to……
- a specific foodstuff of the Greek and Roman Gods
- an ointment or perfume of the very same gods
- something which is “extremely pleasing” to taste or smell. Anyone who knows this plant might question the “pleasing” part of that description. There is no doubt the herb can be familiar and even comforting or a scent trigger for happy memories but pleasant or pleasing? Please.
It is also the root for the word ambrosial (or ambrosian) “exceptionally pleasing to taste or smell; especially delicious or fragrant. worthy of the gods; divine.”
Anyhow. I digress.
The plant has recently been named….
- Teloxys ambrosioides – this nineteenth-century genus (Teloxys) was resurrected in the 1980’s which would be used to differentiate species that shared features not found in the other taxa. Under this generic concept, the Mexican “epazotes” would be Teloxys ambrosioides (Guadalupe etal 1990)
- Dysphania ambrosioides – from the Greek dysphanis (dark or obscure), in reference to the inconspicuous flowers (although this is questioned). Dysphania is a plant genus in the family Amaranthaceae, distributed worldwide from the tropics and subtropics to warm-temperate regions. This appears to have removed it from the Chenopodioideae family which is a subfamily of Amaranthaceae but still. It appears we have a “genus fluid” plant.
You want the fresh leaves. It is apparently very easy to grow but I have never had any luck. I have a chilango amigo who received some seeds from a compatriot who harvested them from a plant growing in a crack in concrete and Cesar has grown successfully from the seed obtained. So successfully in fact that he is now unable to remove the plant from his garden. It just keeps coming back very year. Three times over three different years in three different gardens I have tried to grow this seed and NOTHING. Anyhoo
You want the fresh herb for this recipe. You could in a pinch use the dried leaf as it will eventually be blended into a liquid but be judicious in the variety you use..
The recipe calls for haba tierna which translates as tender bean. The bean used is Vinca faba, what I know as a Broad bean (also called the faba, fava or haba bean).
and for references sake
The next best version of a quelite mole would be that of a green mole or mole verde (also pipian). The primary ingredients in mole verde are pumpkin seeds and chile poblano but a large amount of green leafy material and herbs are added. Local ingredients may include tomate verde (tomatillos), epazote and hoja santa. Imports to the recipe might include spinach, parsley, chard, celery, radish leaves, scallions (what I know as a “spring onion”) cilantro and/or any of a number of varieties of lettuce. One thing that is noticeable though is that the mole verde begins to deviate from a quelite mole through the addition of these ingredients. At its core it is a green mole filled with green leafies but the deviation is indicative as to how the indigenous herbs fell out of favour in preference for the Spanish imports. This has been linked to malinchismo (1) and in some cases racism as these foods were considered to be the foods of the “lower class Indians”. All of this is changing however as Mexico looks to its past so as to define its future.
- the favouring of another culture over ones own. This is a very basic interpretation of a cultural phenomena that can be considered quite the insulting slur in Mexico. See Post La Malinche for a little more on this.
The following recipe is part of En busca del quelite perdido. “In search of the lost quelites”. This project has created a “living” cookbook for Cholula and is a project financed by el Programa de Fomento a Proyectos y Coinversiones Culturales del Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (the Program for the Promotion of Cultural Projects and Co-investments of the National Fund for Culture and the Arts). Its objective is to put in contemporary perspective the culinary heritage of the city of Cholula, Puebla (particularly as it relates to the native herbs or quelites- that are in danger of becoming lost from their cultural heritage by being forgotten).
Verdolagas en molito verde with cumin
• 1 bunch of purslane
• 2 cloves of garlic
• 1/2 onion
• 1 chilito serrano
• 1/2 k green tomato (tomate verde – tomatillo)
• 1/2 tablespoon of cumin
• 2 tablespoons oil
- Clean the purslane in fresh water. remove the root and the stem up to the first leaves on the stem. Purslane is a low growing plant that can gather dirt in its creases an crevasses. Clean it carefully. Crunchy dirt purslane is not nice.
- Cook the purslane briefly in boiling water with a little salt and bicarbonate of soda (or tequesquite) , cook for no more than 10 minutes.
- Drain and set aside.
- Grind together (on a molcajete or blend in a blender) the tomatillo, the serrano, the garlic and 1/2 of the onion
- finely dice the other 1/2 of the onion and cook (without colour) in the 2 tablespoons of oil
- Once the onion is cooked add the ground/blended ingredients and season with the cumin.
- Cook over medium/low heat until it thickens then add the cooked purslane and season to taste with salt. https://enbuscadelqueliteperdido.net/recetario/
Sabor Vegano México
Ingredients : (4 portions)
- 6 tomatoes
- 1 piece of onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 3 morita chilies (or to taste)
- 3 cups of amaranth leaves (chopped)
- 1 tbsp. vegetable bouillon powder
- 5 medium zucchini sliced
- Olive oil
- Roast the chiles, the tomato and the onion, as soon as they are ready, blend
- add the amaranth leaves to the blender and blend until smooth(ish) , if necessary add a little water so that it is not too thick.
- In a saucepan, heat 3 tbsp. of olive oil and fry the mixture until it darkens a couple of shades and thickens a little (until the desired consistency is obtained)
- add salt to taste. In a large pan, heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil and fry the zucchini
- add the vegetable broth and pepper to taste.
- The zucchini slices should be crispy, as soon as they change colour remove from heat.
- Serve the zucchini on a plate and bathe in amaranth mole.
- Sprinkle with (popped/puffed) amaranth as a garnish
Here is a very similar dish (by Karen Hursh Graber) that contains chicken. It contains both popped amaranth blended into the mole (rather than just as a garnish) and amaranth leaves. She doe iterate that it MUST contain chipotle chile.
Chicken in amaranth sauce: Pollo en amaranto
- 4 boneless chicken breast halves, salted to taste
- 2 tablespoons corn oil
- 2 large white onions, peeled and cut into thin half-moons
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 cup amaranth leaves, or small, young spinach leaves, cut into thin strips
- 1/2 lb. tomatoes, seeded and peeled
- 2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo
- 1 cup popped amaranth (amaranth cereal) lightly toasted on a comal or griddle
- 1 1/2 cups well-seasoned chicken broth
- Wash the chicken pieces and pat them dry.
- In a large skillet, heat the oil and saute the chicken until just golden brown on both sides.
- Remove to a platter, add the onions, garlic and amaranth leaves to the skillet, and saute until the onion slices are transparent.
- Place the tomatoes, chipotles, popped amaranth, and chicken broth in the blender, and puree.
- Add the puree to the ingredients in the skillet and cook 10 minutes.
- Return the chicken to the skillet and cook until the chicken is just done.
- Serve some sauce over each piece of chicken and adorn with a sprinkle of additional popped amaranth, untoasted, if desired.
- Guadalupe Palomino H., Myrna Segura D., Robert Bye and Pedro Mercado R. (1990). Cytogenetic Distinction between Teloxys and Chenopodium (Chenopodiaceae). The Southwestern Naturalist, 35(3), 351–353. doi:10.2307/3671957