Gone but never forgotten. Every year at the beginning of November, Mexican families remember the loved ones who are no longer with them and go to tremendous lengths to celebrate their lives and spend time with them. 1st and 2nd November are known as Los Días de los Muertos or Days of the Dead, and the preparations start days if not weeks ahead and culminate in a real fiesta in the cemeteries. The deceased’s gastronomic predilections are an important part of the festivities, with all their favourite dishes being cooked and transported to the graveside to welcome them back. Some kind of mole is bound to be included and its aroma will waft and mingle with that of the cempasúchil or golden marigolds, the scented candles, the hot chocolate, the tamales and tortillas, the guisados, stews, and roasted chillies.
Mole Verde or green mole comes in different guises, depending on the area, with the elaborate and very delicious Oaxacan version perhaps taking pride of place. Many other much simpler kinds of mole verde however are to be found throughout the country, and their main characteristics, over and above the colour, are their freshness and sparkle. Tomatillos or green husked tomatoes provide their inimitable fruity tang while herbs like parsley and coriander/cilantro and leaves like lettuce, radish and spinach contribute a bright clean flavour. Grassy green chillies, roasted or raw, are essential, as are pumpkin seeds, toasty and rich.
The recipe below is typical of the state of Michoacán, luscious and opulent with pork belly and seeds which are perfectly balanced by the sharpness and fragrance of the other ingredients.
Pork in Green Mole – Cerdo en Mole Verde
Serves 4 generously
1.5 kg/3 lb boned pork belly, with skin
30 ml/2 tbsp lard, duck/goose fat or olive oil
450 g/1 lb fresh tomatillos, husked and rinsed (or substitute tinned tomatillos)
100 g/4 oz green chillies
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
100 g/4 oz onions, peeled and quartered
200 g/7 oz hulled pumpkin seeds
50 g/2 oz dark tahini (sesame paste)
100 g/4 oz fresh coriander/cilantro
6 Cos/Romaine lettuce leaves, washed and torn into large pieces
Warm corn tortillas, to serve (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the pork into 8 thick slices. Heat one tablespoon of fat in a frying pan over medium heat and brown the meat well on all sides – get a good colour on it, particularly the skin, as this adds very considerably to the flavour of the final dish. Transfer the pork to a saucepan and deglaze the frying pan with about one cup of water; boil it up, scraping the bottom with a wooden spatula to loosen any caramelised meat juices and bits. Pour into the saucepan and add enough cold water to cover the meat by 2.5 cm/1 in. Bring to a simmer, turn the heat right down, cover the pan and leave it to cook for three to four hours, until the pork is meltingly tender. Leave to cool in the stock. The meat can be cooked several days in advance and refrigerated; reheat in the stock as needed.
Heat the grill to high. Line the grill pan with kitchen foil, arrange the tomatillos, chillies, garlic and onions on it and cook about 5 cm/2 in from the heat, turning as necessary, until the vegetables are golden and soft. Cool slightly and peel the garlic. Remove the seeds and stem from the chillies and scrape the flesh from the skin. Place the flesh in the bowl of a food processor and add the tomatillos, garlic and onions.
While the vegetables are grilling, place the pumpkin seeds in a dry frying pan and cook over medium heat, stirring all the time, until they start to pop and smell nutty and aromatic. Do not let them scorch or they will be bitter. Set aside two tablespoons of seeds and add the rest to the other ingredients in the food processor, pour in about one cup of stock from the pork, sprinkle in some seasoning, and process until you have a smooth sauce.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of fat in a medium frying pan and add the sauce. Simmer gently, stirring often, for about 15 minutes, until it thickens.
Shortly before you are ready to eat, blend the coriander and lettuce with a cup of pork stock until smooth and stir it into the pumpkin seed sauce. If the sauce is rather solid, add some more hot pork stock – it should be saucy, a bit heavier than double cream, rather than a purée. Check the seasoning.
With a perforated spoon, scoop the pork into the mole and bring back to a simmer.
Serve in deep warm bowls, sprinkled with the reserved pumpkin seeds and accompanied by warm tortillas.
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