Mole sets great Mexican cuisine apart

May 17, 2013 (CLARENDON HILLS, Ill.)

The complex sauce is only made from scratch at a handful of local restaurants including one in the western suburbs.

Enrique Gomez knows his mole. Having worked for Rick Bayless the past 19 years, he now runs the kitchen at Aguamiel in downtown Clarendon Hills, where he's cooking the regional cuisine from his homeland.

"Besides my mother and my grandmother, who I thought they knew everything about mole, to be honest I have been educated by him, to know that there's about 320 moles from Mexico," said Agualmiel's owner, Sylvia Jimenez.

The most popular is the Mole Negro.

"That is the typical mole from Puebla. It's got about 28 different ingredients," said Jimenez. "That's a simple mole sauce. And then we have one that is the mole chico, that comes from the Veracruz Indian region and that is actually 45 different ingredients."

The negro isn't that simple: there are roasted ancho chiles that are soaked in water for 45 minutes, along with dried apricots and plantains that are fried until blackened. Along with nuts and bread and garlic, they are pureed with water then combined in a large pot, heated slowly, until at the end, an unrefined sugar, called piloncillo is added along with Mexican chocolate, to sweeten the mole. It can either be served with a whole chicken, or with shredded chicken, wrapped in homemade tortillas, showered with onions, cilantro and radishes.

Gomez also makes his own mole manchamanteles.

"The manchamanteles is different, it comes from the Oaxacan region. So it's a different culture and it's gonna have a different texture to it," she said.

In addition to the chiles, nuts, garlic and bread - all pureed with water and poured through a strainer - the sweetness comes from grilled pineapple that is pureed and added at the end. The mole is typically served with pork, and in this case, pineapple tamales, an arugula salad, crispy chorizo and bits of roasted pineapple. As for that name - manchamanteles - it means "table stainer."

"We have a saying that if you don't stain your shirt or your tablecloth, you didn't enjoy," Jimenez.

The kitchen is capable of making up to 20 different moles, however, they only have about six on the menu at any one time. And while lots of the flavors will rotate, the negro and manchamanteles aren't going anywhere.

The restaurant is open for dinner only and is closed on Mondays.

30 S. Prospect Ave., Clarendon Hills

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