When Mike Goes to Mexico

My pal Mike likes to taunt me with photos and videos of his business trips to Mexico, which are frequent. See, if you haven’t been paying attention to previous posts, his business is Mexico — mezcal, that is: Del Maguey, the best in the world.

Mike in Mexico

Mike in Mexico

His provocations are most often in the form of eyewitness video accounts of parades in Oaxaca, where there seems to always be a parade in progress, or photos of voluptuous window mannequins with whom he is certain I am a perfect romantic match.

This time, Mike and his wife, Bridget, were in a small town a couple hours from Oaxaca for the baptism of the son of one of his primero Zapotec producers. The first thing to arrive in my text was a video of Indian women preparing food outside over open fires, while stylishly outfitted hombres entertained, and the object of the baptismal festivities snuck about the periphery in his white suit. (see video below)


Grilled lamb

Grilled lamb

That was followed by an onslaught of photos — ornate cathedrals, dancing locals, colossal jugs of mezcal, plates of fire-roasted lamb — and more videos, including one of a herd of goats being led down the town’s main street by a man on a burro.

Besides having extreme envy, and pulling out a bottle of Del Maguey to toast Mike from afar, the collection inspired in me a desire for Oaxacan food. I cook a lot of Mexican, and blog about it regularly on this very forum. But my usual repertoire tends more toward the rustic flavors of the north or the sophisticated fare of Mexico City.

*     *     *

The pinnacle of Oaxacan cooking is, of course, mole — that complex, fantastical sauce most often associated with chocolate. However, in Oaxacan cuisine, there are virtually as many styles of mole as there are people making them — including the classic dark mole with chocolate, but also yellow moles and red moles and green moles and beyond. Having a rack of baby back ribs I wanted to use up, I decided green was the color for me.

In my quest for a green mole that would satisfy both my need for flavor and authenticity, and my desire to have my children actually eat it, I zeroed in on an approach synthesizing a variety of influences ranging from Chicago’s stalwart Rick Bayless to Mexico City’s modernist star, Enrique Olvera.

Ribs with green mole

Ribs with green mole

My own mole verde turned out rich, layered and satisfying, without too many exotic tastes that might frighten young gringo palates. And it benefited mightily from sitting in the fridge for a couple days. (Enrique Olvera’s mole “mother” has been developing since 2013 — he serves it naked with tortillas.)

For our vegetarian friends, you could make it just as well substituting vegetable broth for the pork broth. And serve it over some rice with some grilled eggplant, I guess, or a block of tofu.

Sometimes the day just ends that way

Sometimes the day just ends that way

All photos and videos courtesy, of course, of Mike Gardner. Bastard.

*     *     *

Gringo green mole with baby back ribs
serves 4-6

1 rack baby back ribs
1 tbsp. salt
1 onion
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, shelled
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 large jalapeño chile, seeds and veins removed
3 allspice berries
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 tomatillos, husks removed
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped swiss chard or kale
salt & pepper to taste
steamed rice to serve

Cut the rib rack into 3 sections of about 4 ribs each, and sprinkle with salt. Set aside for 1 hour.

Place ribs plus the onion and bay leaf in a pot with enough water to cover, bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for 90 minutes.

Remove ribs from pot and set aside. When cooking stock has cooled some, strain and reserve.

Make your mole paste: Toast the pumpkin and sesame seeds in a pan over medium heat until they begin to brown. Remove from heat and set aside. Place a little oil in the pan, and cook the jalapeño over high heat, turning frequently, until it begins to blacken. Remove from heat. In the still-hot pan, toast the allspice and cumin seeds for 2 minutes, tossing frequently. Place all the above ingredients in a blender with 1 cup of the pork cooking stock. (Retain remaining stock to cook your rice in, if you choose, or freeze.) Puree for 1-2 minutes, until smooth.

All of the above steps may be done a day in advance, which actually gives your mole sauce the chance to develop more complex and integrated flavors.

Cut the rib rack into individual ribs and brush each with oil.

Heat a little oil in a pan over high heat. Sear your tomatillos for 2-3 minutes, until they begin to blacken. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add 1/2 of water and your swiss chard or kale, and stir until leafy greens have wilted and cooked. Remove from heat.

Place tomatillos and chard/kale in the blender with your green mole paste and cilantro. Add a little water if the mole is too thick and pasty. (You will want it to be a cross between a paste and a sauce in the end.) Puree until smooth. Remove from heat and place back in the pan over low heat, adding water as needed. Adjust to taste with salt.

While sauce is heating up, turn your grill on to high. (Or start a little earlier, if heating up coals. Ribs may also be broiled in a hot oven.) Grill ribs a minute or two on each side, depending on the heat of the grill, until golden.

Drizzle ribs with warm green mole sauce (or toss in the sauce as preferred), serve over rice if you prefer. And don’t forget a copita of Del Maguey mezcal!

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mom
    Nov 18, 2016 @ 00:55:27

    Charming. I loved it.


  2. Patty
    Nov 18, 2016 @ 01:53:18

    I have loved my time in Oaxaca and often thought I’d love to go down for several months and take immersive Spanish and cooking classes. Particularly loved this video.


  3. pal-O
    Nov 18, 2016 @ 14:13:49

    Mmmmm…Del Maguey!


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