In what's commonly revered as the national dish of Mexico, mole poblano combines ingredients like chiles, nuts, spices, and a touch of chocolate to create an intricate sauce.
With a deep red-brown hue and flavor profile that can only be described as "mole," understanding this sauce is key to mastering Mexican cuisine.
Full of earthy, rich flavors, mole poblano is the most well-known variation of the over 300 recipes in existence. The technique of cooking ingredients in succession creates an aroma, texture, and flavor that must be tried at least once!
Let's start from the beginning...
Mole (pronounced mol-ay) has been around since the Aztecs. It is derived from the Nahuatl word mōlli, which means sauce. It is believed that various types of moles were served to gods in Aztec rituals and on other festive occasions.
However, the moles of today are much different than what they used to be due to the influence of Europeans on Indigenous culture and cuisine. What started as a pre-colonial chile sauce has morphed into a melting pot of ingredients from around the globe (seriously, some moles contain 30+ ingredients).
The specific origin of mole poblano has its roots in Puebla. Some sources claim it was created by nuns at the Convent of Santa Clara in the early colonial time period.
To serve the visiting archbishop, they pooled together all the little bits of ingredients they could find (like nuts, chocolate, chiles, spices, and stale bread).
Another version claims it was a monk, Fray Pascual, who invented the dish. Apparently, while he was prepping, a breeze knocked some spices into the pot of cooking turkey — and voila! Mole was born.
In any case, we will likely never know the true origin of mole poblano because the first written recipes didn't start popping up until after the Mexican War of Independence in the early 1800s.
Fun fact: the two regions best known for their moles are Oaxaca and Puebla. Oaxaca is the land of seven moles, while Puebla is famous for mole poblano (the one we're making today).
What is mole poblano?
Mole is more of a concept than an actual recipe. Put simply, moles generally have an element of chiles, nuts, fruits, herbs, and spices. Buuuut, the overall ingredients can vary so much that no two moles will ever taste the same!
That's what makes this dish so special! Different regions of Mexico are known for certain moles, each family has recipes that are passed down from generation to generation, and every mole has a unique preparation and serving technique.
A mole poblano recipe starts off by toasting or frying the ingredients individually, which creates layers upon layers of complexity. All of the fragrant components are then blended together and cooked down into a thick, smooth, and decadent sauce.
When made correctly, not one single flavor or ingredient will stand out. It should morph into a unique taste that can literally only be described as "mole."
Although many people think of mole as "chocolate sauce," the flavor should not dominate the recipe (remember, we're going for "mole" flavor).
Is mole poblano vegan?
Often containing over 30+ ingredients, mole poblano is not usually vegan because of its tendency to contain chicken stock (and sometimes lard).
Fortunately, by using vegetable broth instead, this mole poblano recipe is 100% vegan.
You'll commonly see mole poblano served over chicken, but it's actually useful for many different recipes like:
This just scratches the surface of the many different ways mole poblano can be served. If you have a unique way to use mole, please let us know in the comments!
🍲 Key ingredients
For a complete ingredient list and step-by-step guide, scroll down to our recipe card.
Mulatos are what separate mole poblano from different kinds of moles. Although you may find them in other versions, they play a big role in this recipe. Mulato chiles lend a smoky, chocolatey, and coffee-like flavor with subtle dark cherry undertones.
Pasilla chiles, also known as chile negro or chile pasilla Mexicano, provide complexity to this dish. They give off a flavor that is often compared to dried fruit with smoky and earthy notes.
Health: not only do these chiles contain vitamin A and C, but they also carry many health benefits from the compound capsaicin. This nutrient has been found to have anti-inflammatory qualities, which makes it beneficial for your heart.
Taste: if you've ever been lucky enough to try a homemade mole, you already know how thick and rich this sauce is. However, you may not be aware of the diversity of thickeners that are utilized to create the final consistency.
The most common thickening agents are nuts and seeds (almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, etc.), bread (bolillo, french bread, etc.), and corn tortillas.
By shallow-frying or toasting these ingredients, you end up with a deeper, more complex sauce thanks to the oils and aromatics released in this process.
Health: nuts and seeds provide a good source of protein and fiber, but we're also huge fans of the healthy fats they contain! There have been studies showing nuts and seeds may lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Taste: since mole contains undertones of spice and bitterness, it's important to balance everything out. Plantains, raisins, Mexican chocolate, and cane sugar are what we're using today to provide earthy, spiced, and delicately sweet flavors.
Health: one of the benefits of cacao is the immense number of flavonoids it contains, which have been shown to lower blood pressure. Raisins also help remove free radicals from your blood due to their phenol and polyphenol content (aka antioxidants). Verdict: mole is the fountain of youth.
Taste: you wouldn't have a mole sauce without a healthy dose of traditional Mexican spices. Common herbs and spices you'll see in recipes include bay leaves, avocado leaves, coriander, cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves, and anise. Although it seems like a mish-mash of seasonings, there is a unique ability of the sauce to melt every flavor together into something special.
Health: often overlooked, herbs and spices pack a serious health punch! In fact, herbs and spices contain the greatest concentration of antioxidants (pound-for-pound) compared to almost any other food!
If you have questions about this mole poblano recipe, don't forget to check out our FAQ section at the bottom of this post.
Step 1: first, de-stem and de-seed the chiles (reserve some of the seeds in a small bowl). Tear the chiles into large chunks, then set them aside.
Step 2: heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-low, then add in a teaspoon of the chile seeds, the sesame seeds, a broken up cinnamon stick, the star anise pod, coriander seeds, and whole cloves. Toast them for a few minutes until lightly browned and fragrant.
Step 3: transfer the mixture to a spice grinder or high-speed blender if you have one. Add in the peppercorns, grind it into a fine powder, then set your blender aside (transfer the powder into your blender if you've used a spice grinder).
Step 4: heat some oil in a stockpot over medium-low until a deep-fry thermometer reaches 350 degrees F. Cooking one type of chile at a time, fry each batch until slightly darkened and fragrant. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chiles to a paper towel-lined dish.
Step 5: in the same pot, fry the almonds for a couple of minutes until golden brown. Transfer them to the dish of chiles, then continue this process of frying each ingredient individually in the same pot of oil. Fry the peanuts next, then the pumpkin seeds, raisins, bay leaves, corn tortilla, and bread.
Step 6: after the bread, fry the garlic cloves for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Transfer them to a separate bowl, then keep going with the onions, plantain slices, and tomatoes until they are all cooked through.
Step 7: back to the blender! Working in small batches, add a handful of ingredients from the dish of chiles and nuts to your blender along with the ground spices and a bit of vegetable broth. Mix everything until smooth, adding in small amounts of liquid as needed.
Step 8: discard the extra oil, then strain the mixture back into the pot, pushing through as much sauce as you can and getting rid of the leftover chunks. Repeat this blending and straining process with the rest of the fried ingredients, using vegetable broth to help the blender along.
Step 9: heat the pot of mole over low-medium until the mixture is starting to thicken. Mix in the Mexican chocolate, then simmer it (low and slow) for about 1 hour, giving it the occasional stir.
Step 10: when it is just about done, season your mole recipe with salt and sugar to taste. Serve it immediately over tortillas, with rice, vegetables, etc. Happy eating!
Don't let all your hard work go to waste! A mole recipe is generally made in big batches because of how labor-intensive it is. Good news though — it stores really well! Here are the best ways to keep it fresh:
Mole poblano will last in the fridge for up to 3-5 days. Make sure to keep it in glass jars so it doesn't take on the flavors of anything else in your refrigerator (honestly, there is already enough going on in the sauce).
Freezing mole is incredibly easy! Let it cool completely, then transfer it to a freezer-safe container or bag (leaving enough room at the top for expansion). Stored properly, it will last for a minimum of 6 months.
When reheating mole from frozen, let it thaw in the fridge overnight, then heat it in a pot on the stove over low heat (adding liquid as needed).
💭 Tips & variations
We'd like to share some tips and variations we learned while experimenting with this mole poblano recipe:
- Don't add too much liquid. Use just enough broth in the blender to keep the ingredients moving.
- Strain your mixture. Straining it is crucial for the smoothest possible mole.
- Taste and adjust. Although this recipe is tried and true, it's important to taste and adjust the sweetness and saltiness at the end of the cooking process.
- Don't burn the peppers. If you overcook the peppers, they become incredibly bitter and will make the mole hard to save.
- Simmer low and slow. The longer you're able to cook the mole, the more complex and developed the flavors become.
- Don't sub regular chocolate. Mexican chocolate is NOT the same as baking chocolate and should not be used in its place.
🍴 Tasting notes
Making mole with loved ones is always such a fun and enjoyable experience. We hope you love it as much as we do! It's:
If you try this mole poblano recipe, please rate it and leave us a comment below! Want to stay up-to-date with new recipes? Subscribe to our newsletter or connect with Broke Bank Vegan on social media. Happy eating!
- Fine mesh strainer
- 7 Ancho ($0.35)
- 7 Mulato ($0.32)
- 7 Pasilla ($0.28)
- 3 tablespoon sesame seeds ($0.14)
- ½ cup almonds ($0.64)
- ⅓ cup Spanish peanuts ($0.20)
- ⅓ cup pumpkin seeds ($0.19)
- ½ bolillo roll, ripped ($0.08)
- 1 corn tortilla, ripped ($0.02)
- ½ stick cinnamon, broken apart ($0.02)
- 1 pod star anise ($0.01)
- ¼ teaspoon whole coriander seeds ($0.01)
- 4 whole cloves ($0.01)
- 3 Mexican bay leaves ($0.03)
- ½ teaspoon whole peppercorns ($0.01)
- ½ cup raisins ($0.33)
- ½ very ripe plantain, peeled ($0.18)
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled ($0.12)
- ½ medium white onion, roughly sliced ($0.12)
- 2 medium Roma tomatoes, quartered ($0.36)
- ½ - ¾ cup neutral oil for frying ($0.36)
- 8 cups vegetable broth ($0.37)
- 1 tablet (3.1 oz) Mexican chocolate, chopped ($0.68)
- 2-3 tablespoon cane sugar ($0.01)
- 2-3 teaspoon salt ($0.01)
- First, de-stem and de-seed the chiles. Reserve 1 teaspoon of seeds in a small bowl. Tear the chiles into large chunks, then set aside.
- Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-low, then add in the teaspoon of chile seeds, sesame seeds, broken up cinnamon stick, star anise pod, coriander seeds, and cloves. Toast, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.
- Transfer the mixture to a spice grinder or high-speed blender if you have one. Add in the peppercorns, grind into a fine powder, then set aside (transfer into your blender if you've used a spice grinder).
- Heat approximately ½ - ¾ cup of neutral oil in a large stockpot over medium-low until a deep-fry thermometer reaches 350°F. Cooking one type of chile at a time, fry each batch until slightly darkened and fragrant, approximately 60 seconds per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chiles to a paper towel-lined dish.
- Next, fry the almonds until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes. Transfer to the same paper towel-lined dish as the chiles. Continue this process of frying each individual ingredient until golden brown. Fry the peanuts next, then the pumpkin seeds, raisins, bay leaves, corn tortilla, and bolillo bread.
- Next, fry the garlic for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant, then transfer to another paper towel-lined bowl. Fry the onions until lightly golden, about 2-3 minutes, and transfer to the same bowl. Slice the plantain and fry until golden yellow and soft, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to the bowl. Lastly, fry the tomatoes until tender, about 2 minutes, then transfer to the same bowl.
- Working in small batches, add some ingredients from the dish of chiles and nuts to the blender along with the spices and a little vegetable broth. Blend until smooth, adding in small amounts of broth as needed. Discard the extra oil, then strain the mixture back into the pot, pushing through as much sauce as you can. Discard the solids.
- Repeat this blending and straining process with the remaining chile mixture, garlic, onions, plantains, and tomatoes, using more vegetable broth as needed to help the blender along.
- Heat the pot of mole over low-medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is starting to thicken, about 8-10 minutes. Mix in the Mexican chocolate, turn the heat down to low, and simmer (partially covered) for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Lastly, season with salt and sugar. Serve over tortillas, rice, vegetables, etc. Happy eating!
- The longer you simmer your mole, the more developed and balanced the flavors become. For this reason, it's important to add the sugar at the end.
- Careful not to burn the spices and chiles as they can quickly become bitter.
- If there is any residual oil on the top of your mole, remove as much as possible with a spoon.
- You can make this recipe oil-free by pan or oven-toasting the ingredients that are fried.
- Optional ingredients are not reflected in the price or calories of our recipes.
- We calculate nutritional information for our recipes with Cronometer.
- Recipe cost calculations are based on ingredients local to us and may vary from recipe-to-recipe.
- All prices are in USD.
♻️ Similar recipes
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- Mexican crema for a vegan Mexican crema recipe that's rich, creamy, and tangy.
- Salsa verde for a tomatillo-based salsa with zesty, tangy, and spicy flavors.
- Guacamole for creamy Haas avocados, fresh limes, spicy jalapeños, and crunchy vegetables coming together in this avocado "mole."
A bitter mole can be caused by many factors, but the most common reason is overcooking your peppers or spices. The best way to correct this is by adding more sugar.
No, it is not necessary to fry everything in oil. However, we think it tastes the best this way. If you want to use less oil, it's completely up to you. You can toast the ingredients in a dry pan or oven.
Mole should never be runny, but most people have a personal preference for its thickness. We prefer ours slightly thicker than tomato sauce, but not quite as thick as tomato paste.
There is a slight heat to mole poblano, but it is very mellow. If you are really sensitive to spice, don't include any chile seeds.