Before I even think about sharing this recipe (see, I’m learning: some things are more important than food!), I want to send out a heartfelt “thank you” to everyone who left comments on my previous post and even to those who read it and chose not to comment. This is why I love the food blogging community: there is an incredible wealth of knowledge, wisdom, good will and compassion here that I, quite honestly, have never encountered in such abundance in any other realm in my life. If the knowledge that our struggles–whether food-oriented or otherwise–are shared by others can help even one person, then we can feel as if we are doing something worthwhile with out time (or our blog). And now that my New Year’s whinge is complete, you can all relax–I promise not to whine (well, not too vociferously, anyway) again until 2012. 😉
As lovers of spicy vittles, the HH and I are often drawn to foods from other cuisines than our own (after all, it’s not often you find high-octane poutine or fiery-hot Scottish bannock). In the part of town in which we live, there’s an abundance of Asian restaurants and we have, indeed, frequented most of them. But despite the multicultural norm in Toronto, there’s a paucity of Latin American food in my neighborhood.
As it turns out, my closest connection to Mexico currently is my crush on Cesar Millan (and really, who doesn’t have a crush on that whispering canine tamer?). Previously, I had to rely on Hernando’s Hideaway, a fairly cheesy haunt that served the HH and me canned refried beans, stale tacos and lots of beer when we went there at the outset of our relationship. Not the best reflections of authentic dishes, to be sure.
But I’ve been searching for great Mexican fare ever since I was invited to a colleague’s home for dinner almost 20 years ago. She was my office mate at the time and I was in awe of her. Brilliant, beautiful and gregarious, Ms. Mate had written her PhD in Italian literature, possessed a singing voice like Carrie Underwood’s, bore a striking resemblance to Tricia Helfer and–this one irked me the most–had lived all over the world before settling in Toronto, Canada in her early 30s. (Shortly after we met, Ms. Mate was bitten by the peripatetic bug again and along with her then-hubby and their infant, moved to Vancouver to be near the ocean. Last I heard, she was performing in the country music circuit in between her gigs as a celebrated life coach). Intimidated, much?
One of the places Ms. Mate had resided before relocating in Canada was Oaxaca, and she’d mastered the cuisine (or should that be cocina?) while over there. Our dinner that night involved a variety of authentic dishes, all of which, if I remember correctly, were hot enough to sear the epidermis on your lips (a cheap way to achieve that “plumped-up” look for which so many starlets dish out megabucks, come to think of it).
At that time, the early 90s, Madonna’s influence was still at its apex; in other words, “lingerie-as-clothing” was the hottest trend for women. Ms. Mate greeted us at the door wearing a strapless black lace corset with heart-shaped cups that laced up the back. No shirt. No jacket. (She did sport a pair of slinky silk slacks, however). I know the attire was supposed to be sexy, but for me it was eerily reminiscent of my mother’s old Mah-Jong pal, Ms. Gabor, who regularly removed her shirt at Maj games in our kitchen).
Ms. Mate’s most astonishing party trick, still just as sharp in my memory today as it was that evening, was when she lifted a fresh whole jalapeno from its bowl, held it aloft by the stem, and then all in one go eased it into her mouth (how Madonna-like of her!), chewing contemplatively as each of the guest’s eyes began to water merely from the thought of how spicy it must have been. But to Ms. Mate, who’d long before become innured to such heat in Oaxaca, it was no more unusual than munching on a pretzel.
Needless to say, we were served mole that evening (with chicken in it, if I recall correctly) and while we all loved the complex flavors and nuanced seasonings, it was probably far too spicy for my palate at the time.
I got the idea to try out my own mole after reading a post by Saveur who made an interesting squash and cranberry bean (also known as borlotti beans) version. But we had a brick of tofu in the house that was nearing its “best before” date, and I thought I’d use that instead (though this recipe would be equally delicious with beans, I am sure). Besides, after a flat-out rejection of the stuff, the HH has deigned to consume tofu on occasion once more, and I wanted to strike while the (cast) iron was hot.
This recipe is adapted from–of all places–one by Paula Deen, primarily because she included the word “quick” in the title. In the end, I went for a more conventional approach and did simmer the sauce for an hour, allowing it to thicken considerably (as true mole should) and for the tofu to absorb as much of the flavors as possible. I love the bitter undertones from the chocolate and the rich, smoky sauce spiked with cumin, chili and cinnamon, which is a perfect foil for the bland rice beneath.
This dish isn’t quite as white-hot as the one made by Ms. Mate, which likely renders it less authentic, yet more of a crowd-pleaser, than hers. Then again, if you’re willing to perform the pepper trick in front of your friends, you can probably get away with as much–or as little–spice as you please.
Tofu (or Bean) Mole (adapted from this recipe)-suitable for ACD Phase 2 and beyond*
An easy version of the Mexican classic. While it takes time to simmer, this dish doesn’t require babysitting while it bubbles–just stir every once in a while and you can go about doing other things while the flavors intensify.
1 block (12 oz or 350 g) extra firm tofu (not the silken style)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbsp (30 ml) chili powder
1 tsp (5 ml) ground cumin
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp (1 ml) ground allspice
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) chili flakes
1 large can (19 oz or 560 ml) diced tomatoes
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper, minced
1-1/4 cups (300 ml) vegetable broth or stock
2 ounces (60 g) unsweetened chocolate, chopped
10-15 drops plain stevia liquid, optional
cooked brown basmati rice, for serving
3 Tbsp (45 ml) natural smooth almond butter
Cut the tofu into small cubes 1/2-1 inch (1.5-2.5 cm) big. Heat 1 Tbsp (15 ml) of the olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat; add the tofu and cook until the cubes are browned on most sides. Remove tofu to a bowl.
Add the remaining 1 Tbsp oil to the pan along with the onion; sauté until the onion is translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and spices and continue to cook for a couple more minutes. Add the tomatoes, red pepper, jalapeno pepper, broth, chocolate and stevia. Stir to combine. When the sauce begins to bubble, lower heat, cover, and simmer for ten minutes.
Pour the mixture into a heatproof blender or food processor (in batches if necessary) and purée until smooth. Return to the pot along with the tofu cubes and bring to a simmer over medium heat; lower heat, cover and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick, up to an hour. Gently stir in the almond butter and continue to cook until heated through, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid scorching. Serve over rice. This is great accompanied by a green salad. Makes 4-6 servings. May be frozen.
* If you’re willing to forgo the chocolate–you can use carob instead–then this recipe is suitable for Phase 1.
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