(Theguardian) – When you have the time, it’s time for a mole, the dish that is the cornerstone of Mexican cuisine
Ionce had a flatmate who loved good food and cooking, but had no patience or time, so everything she cooked was awful. Tinned tomatoes were left watery and raw, never to reach their full rich and sweet potential, while her pasta took al dente to a tooth-shattering extreme.
These days, we are too busy to cook, so 15-minute dinners, ready meals and recipe boxes have sprung up to fit in around our fast lives. Dinner has been made to squeeze in, shuffle up and be a good team player. But as often as I need cooking to be quick, I also need it to be a slow and selfish act, like a bath, a book or a long walk, and to enjoy the process as much as the end result.
When I have that time, it’s time for mole, the dish that is the cornerstone of Mexican cuisine and famously complex. Typically, it can take days to prepare: individually to toast and grind the nuts, seeds, fruits, spices and chillies, and then to create a deep and flavourful sauce using, among other things, one of the original treasures of the Aztec world: chocolate.
My recipe won’t take you days, but it is one to make at the weekend. Moles differ from village to village and person to person, so use this as a flexible template. Add more ingredients to vary it as you wish: nuts to make it creamy, fruit for sweetness and chilli for heat. Just don’t skimp on time.
Butternut squash and black bean mole with lime-pickled onions
In my mole, I use Mexican ancho chillies, which are big, dried and wonderfully smoky. You can buy them in large supermarkets and online at the likes of souschef.co.uk. If you have pickled onions left over, they’ll keep in an airtight tub in the fridge for a few days. You’ll need a blender to make the sauce. Serves four.
2 red onions
4 tbsp lime juice (from 2 limes)
1 medium butternut squash, deseeded, cut in half lengthways and cut into 1cm semi-circles
2 dried ancho chillies, roughly chopped
2 red chillies, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tbsp raisins
3 tbsp raw unsalted peanuts
½ stick cinnamon
1 tsp cumin seeds
400g tin plum tomatoes
400g tin black beans, drained
30g vegan dark chocolate
Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Peel one of the onions, cut it into very thin semi-circles and put in a bowl with the lime juice and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt. Scrunch the mix with your hands, until slightly wilted, then set aside.
Put the squash on an oven tray, scatter over a quarter-teaspoon of salt and drizzle with three tablespoons of oil. Toss with your hands, to coat the squash, then roast for 25 minutes, until tender.
For the sauce, peel and cut the second onion into eighths and put on an oven tray. Scatter over the chillies, garlic, raisins, peanuts, cinnamon and cumin, then roast for six to eight minutes: keep a close eye on it, to ensure it doesn’t burn.
Tip the roasted ingredients into a blender with the tomatoes and their juice and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt. Whizz to a paste.
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a wide frying pan on a medium flame, then add the paste, turn the heat to a whisper and cook for 15 minutes, feeding it with 150ml water, a little at a time, adding more only when the sauce starts to thicken. Add the beans, reserving a handful to garnish the dish, and heat through. Take the sauce off the heat, grate in the chocolate and stir through. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
Tip the sauce into a serving dish, put the squash on top, and scatter with the reserved beans and drained onions. Serve with soft corn tortillas.