Tag Archives: mole

Kie Gol Lanee’s Taste of Oaxaca

One of the best things in Chicago is getting to enjoy the regional Mexican cuisine around every corner! Our favorite regional Mexican food is Oaxacan, so we are always on the lookout for new places featuring this region’s cuisine. Fortunately, in 2016, a new Oaxacan place opened quietly in Uptown, Kie-Gol-Lanee (5004 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60640). Located near the Argyle red line stop, which is usually known for its Vietnamese pho options, Kie-Gol-Lanee has risen quickly to stand out as one of the premiere Oaxacan restaurants in Chicago. According to a Fooditor interview with the proprietors, the name of the restaurant is a phonetic spelling of Oaxacan village where they were born, Santa Maria Quiegolani, which is in turn a Spanish version of the Zapotec language words for “old stones” or “place by the river.”

We visited Oaxaca a few years ago, and our favorite thing there were the ubiquitous mole sauces, which come in 7 main varieties but have countless variations within each. Kie-Gol-Lanee heavily features its moles and other Oaxacan specialties on the menu. Though there are tacos and guacamole, more unique Oaxacan dishes make up much of the offerings. The appetizers start out strong: they even have the polarizing chapulines (fried grasshoppers – $8) as an appetizer. Personally, we love chapulines, and thought their rendition was great – they are a perfect salty, crunchy meal starter. Other unique appetizer included mushrooms in plantain leaves ($9). Salads with nopal (cactus) and beet sounded tempting ($9) as did the Oaxaca-style tamales (steamed in a plantain leaf instead of the more common corn husks – $5).

We were the most intrigued by the main courses, which included a variety of meats and seafood, many featuring moles. Highlights included gallinitas al horno ($20) Cornish game hen with black mole sauce and sesame seeds, and the camarones a la diabla ($20), shrimp with guajillo and chipotle pepper sauce.  We ordered the arrachera a la parilla ($21) – grilled skirt streak with grilled onions and jalapenos, topped with a huitlacoche mole, and the chicken enchiladas topped with red mole ($16).  The steak was cooked perfectly, and we were pleasantly surprised by the huitlacoche mole, which we had never tried before. Not a typical mole, this variety contained one of our favorite esoteric foods, huilacoche, a mushroom that grows on corn, which has a deep, earthy flavor and makes a delectable black sauce. The red mole on the enchiladas was incredibly rich and complex, elevating an otherwise simple dish. The moles here were the real deal, and you can tell that each was made from scratch from a huge variety of spices, vegetables and peppers.

We also sampled some of the agua fresca drinks- the jamaica (hibiscus) and horchata ($3), though in retrospect we should have tried the more unique offering, chilacayote (made with squash). However, we did get our squash fix with dessert – candied chilacayote squash with cinnamon ($8). For those scrunching up their nose at the thought of candied squash for dessert, this tasted like a cross between sweet potato and melon and was really pleasant! We highly enjoyed Kie-Gol-Lanee and it transported us right back to Oaxaca. Though priced slightly higher than a typical Mexican restaurant in Chicago, Kie-Gol-Lanee is worth every penny. The service is friendly, and the authentic Oaxacan food is something that you cannot find at many other places in the city.

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Moles for Days at Guelaguetza in LA

When we told our friends we were going to Los Angeles and asked around for recommendations, one restaurant that kept coming up was Guelaguetza (3014 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006). Located on the edge of Koreatown in central LA, Guelaguetza is a long-running restaurant, founded by the Lopez family in 1994. Guelaguetza was named after the Oaxacan festival of the same name, and the cuisine of Oaxaca is on display. The moles at Guelaguetza, in particular, have gained a following over the years (you may even notice that their website is ilovemole.com), and in 2015 they even won a James Beard award. The restaurant’s unmissable orange exterior is decorated with murals on the outside and though its boxy exterior masks it – the inside of the restaurant is gigantic, with several large rooms, and it even houses a stage (with live music on most nights).

The menu at Guelaguetza is extensive, though the Oaxacan specialties seemed the most intriguing: as a mark of a real Oaxacan restaurant, you can get evem an order of chapulines (fried grasshoppers – $14.50) one of M’s favorites. Guelaguetza is also known for their tlayudas ($14.50) – large tortillas covered in re-fried beans and a variety of other toppings like mole, mushrooms, cactus, cheese and/or chorizo. Other Oaxacan dishes included goat barbacoa tacos ($14.50), Oaxacan-style tamales wrapped in banana leaves ($12.50) and a variety of preparations of tasajo (thin grilled sliced beef) and pork cecina (smoked and dried). While perusing the menu we decided to sample some drinks we had never seen before: horchata with prickly pear and agua de chilacayote. We had certainly have had horchata before (Mexican rice water with cinnamon) but the bright pink prickly pear added another element. The other drink tasted almost like a pumpkin spice late – chilacayote is actually squash – but this surprising drink was both refreshing and very sweet, thanks to the addition of the piloncillo sugar.

One thing we absolutely had to order was the mole – however we were a little overwhelmed at the options. We counted no less than 6 moles! When we sat down to the table, the first thing we were offered was a plate of chips with coloradito mole, giving us an idea of what was in store. The rusty red coloradito mole was rich, complex, salty, savory and sweet all at once (the secret ingredient to coloradito is plantain). We saw the The “Festival of Moles” sampler which served two ($29), and we figured that was our best way to sample the mole universe. The sampler included portions of four moles: Mole Negro, Mole Rojo, Mole Coloradito, Mole Estofado. Each little pot of mole was topped off with shredded chicken, was served with rice and (extra-large) handmade tortilla was there to sop up the sauce. The mole negro (aka mole Oaxaqueño), is the most complex mole, the darkest in color, and spiced with a hint of chocolate. This one was L’s favorite. The mole rojo, a slightly spicier, peppery sauce was M’s favorite, and far surpassed any version he had ever had in the states. The mole coloradito that we had sampled as an appetizer was just as delicious in entree portion. The most unusual mole was the briny estofado, which is made from olives. The salty, puckery taste was one we had never tried before – not even in Mexico.

We used every last bit of rice and the giant homemade tortilla to sop up the mole sauce – this was definitely some of the best mole we have ever had – both inside of Oaxaca and out. For dessert there was of course flan, but we were happy to also see nicuatole ($8.50) – a flan-esque pudding made with corn. We last tried nicuatole at our cooking class in Oaxaca – and it is great!  There is also a little shop in the front of the restaurant that sells Mexican jewelry, bags, molinillos, and most importantly, jars of official Guelaguetza mole and chocolate to take home. Sadly, we couldn’t bring the jars of mole home in our carry-ons, but we certainly will be ordering some soon. We were really impressed by the food at Guelaguetza, especially the mole, which will be really hard to beat!

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Ixcateco Grill: Our Favorite Mole in Chicago

Mexico FlagWhen we went to Oaxaca in 2014, we were obsessed with all of the signature moles (7 distinct genres of mole are found in Oaxaca) available. Now, there are plenty of places to find dishes with Mexican moles in Chicago – and we have sampled quite a few – but none really wowed us. However, we heard a lot of buzz around the moles at Ixcateco Grill (3402 W. Montrose Ave., Chicago, IL 60625), helmed by Anselmo Ramirez, a chef that had previously worked in Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill kitchen and is called a “Rembrandt of Mole.” After hearing that, we knew we had to try this place! Ixcateco is located on an unassuming corner in Albany Park, and is BYOB. The restaurant is relatively small, brightly colored, and with a casual and welcoming vibe.Ixcateco

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A Photo Tour of Mercado 20 de Noviembre in Oaxaca

Mexico FlagOne of our favorite things to do when we are new to a city is to visit the local market. When we were in Oaxaca we were extremely excited to visit the Mercado 20 de Noviembre (20th of November Market), which came highly recommended. What is special about this market is that it specifically dedicated to food. When you enter you are greeted right away with full-service food stalls that will make you mole, caldos, quesadillas and other dishes right to order. Navigating the swirl of tantalizing smells, we settled on a booth that had a crowd, where we sampled a delicious chicken in mole rojo and turkey in mole negro (one of the signature dishes of Oaxaca). Some of the stalls have printed menus, and others have handwritten menus tacked above the stalls. You can be assured that pretty much any restaurant with a small crowd is good, since the competition is so fierce. As you wander around the stalls you can also buy freshly-baked bread and cookies and fried plantains to snack on. In addition to the freshly-prepared foods, you can pick up mole paste, chocolate, dried peppers and other ingredients to try your hand at the same recipes at home. Around the perimeter of the market were artisans selling crafts like tin ornaments, mirrors and woven baskets. We had a great time visiting the different stalls and eating our way around the market, and it was a perfect way to dip a toe into Oaxaca’s culinary waters.

Oaxaca

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Mole Poblano for Cinco de Mayo

Mexico FlagOften confused with Mexican Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo is actually a commemoration of the battle of Puebla, which was an unexpected victory over the larger French army in 1862, and preceded Mexican Independence by a few years. Though Cinco De Mayo is celebrated in the US as a drink-focused free-for-all, in Mexico, it is mostly only celebrated in Puebla as a regional holiday. So it only makes sense to celebrate with some authentic Poblano dishes, from a region with some of the best food in Mexico. Our personal favorite dish from Puebla is Mole Poblano – a rich, peppery and complex sauce (“mole” just refers to a type of sauce). Mole Poblano is one of the most beloved moles in Mexico and is also served throughout the US. However, it is a little complicated to make. Pati’s Mexican Table has a recipe that breaks down the laundry list of ingredients, including 4 varieties of pepper -Ancho, Mulato, Pasilla and Chipotle – tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, and much more! Mole Poblano is traditionally served over Chicken or Turkey, and is definitely worth the extra effort. Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Mole Poblano by Jay Galvin

Mole Poblano by Jay Galvin

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Day of the Dead / Dia De Los Muertos Recipes from Oaxaca

Mexico FlagDay of the Dead / Dia de Los Muertos always calls to mind the Mexican State of Oaxaca, where the traditions around the holiday are the strongest and most vibrant. The zocolo, or town square, in Oaxaca City is a festive celebration for weeks in advance, and the city’s main cemetery, Xoxocotlan, overflows with locals and visitors from October 31st to November 2nd. Oaxaca is known particularly for its cuisine, which we got of taste of first hand on our visit this summer. Epicurious has a nice menu of Oaxacan favorites including tamales and preserved pumpkin from Zarela Martínez that are perfect for Dia de Los Muertos. And if you really want to go all out, here is recipe for Mole Rojo made by Josefina Ruiz Vazquez in the Oaxacan town of Teotitlan del Valle. Complicated (and delicious) moles such as this are normally saved for special occasions like Dia de Los Muertos.

Food on a Dia de Los Muertos Altar in Oaxaca

Food on a Dia de Los Muertos Altar in Oaxaca by Jen Wilton

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Friday Foodie Link: Mole Mania

Chicago Life magazine has a nice feature on Mole, and locations around Chicago with their special takes on the iconic sauce. “Mole” simply means “sauce” but is commonly used to describe a particular subset of sauces known as ”mole poblano”, that contain chocolate, dried chili peppers, ground nuts and a myriad of other spices.

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Mexico Trip: Moles

L and I love moles. A Spanish corruption of a Nahua word meaning simply “sauce,” today moles span varieties as diverse as guacamole (avocado sauce), chocolate moles (great on enchiladas) and a number of other varieties less common in the United States, but still popular and widespread in Mexico. My trip gave me a chance to sample a couple of mole dishes, as well as learn a little about the sauces and their relation to Mexican culture in general.

Cafe El Popular Restaurante
Avenida Cinco de Mayo 52
México, D.F., México

While in the historic center of Mexico City, I wandered into Cafe El Popular looking for a relatively quick and cheap lunch that would still give me a chance to have some solid Mexican cooking. El Popular looked like just such a place, packed to the brim with local patrons inside a large diner that seemed more out of the 1950s than Mexico’s modern megalopolis. When I arrived around noon, the menu still leaned toward the breakfast end of things, but I managed to find mole de pollo (Chicken mole) and the menu and quickly place my order.Mole in Mexico

I had been to Mexico previously, and my trip then taught me that there is a reason the “mole” comes first in the dish’s name – the chicken is slathered in mole sauce. Not that I am complaining – smooth and chocolatey, mixing together with the rice and fall-off-the-bone chicken, a solid chocolate mole really can’t do anything wrong to a dish. Especially if it is the focal point. That being said, I did think El Popular’s addition of a copious amount of sesame seeds was a little strange, until I found the seeds being used in dishes across Mexico City. Maybe it is just a culinary fad, but I can’t say I am on board with this one. Overall, I left El Popular satisfied and eager for other moles – particularly ones that break the common chocolate-only stereotype we often find in the USA.

Restaurante Techinanco
Service Road, North of Pyramid of the Moon
Teotihuacán, Estado de México, México

The next day I went exploring in Teotihuacan, an ancient site outside of Mexico City so massive and pyramid-ridden that a few hours of walking completely wears you out. For sustenance, I made the mistake of trusting my Lonely Planet guide to direct me toward Restaurant Techinanco, which it recommended as having the best food for miles around. The writers were correct about the food, but an hour of looking for the restaurant made me realize they were wrong about the location (it is directly behind, not next to, the Pyramid of the Moon at the north end of the site).

When I finally got to Techinanco (pronounced tetch-ee-non-co), I was the only patron in the restaurant. A quick glance around gave away a few of the restaurant’s secrets – the two mushroom posters at the far end (visible in the photo) leak some of the key ingredients in a number of Techinanco’s dishes. The plethora of masks on the far wall give off a far less touristy vibe than the surrounding establishments – and the effort saved goes directly into the food.Mole in Mexico

Techinanco’s menu was small, but I made a quick decision: chicken with mole huitlacoche (also spelled cuitlacoche), a green sauce made with mushrooms and maize (wild corn). The friendly owners must have made a pot of the sauce earler in the day, as my food was served almost immediately. And it was heavenly. I can’t really say what I imagined a mushroom / corn mole sauce would taste like, but this was not it. It was almost acidic, with a sharp bite that activated my tastebuds in all the right places, then finished smooth like a good homemade pasta sauce. The finishing taste only made you eat more, and while I filled up quickly during the meal, had I had more than a few pesos in my pocket I probably would have ordered seconds. To top it off, the chicken was grilled to perfection, holding just the right amount of natural juices to let the huitlacoche work its magic. If I am ever back in Teotihuacan, I will definitely make the effort to find Techinanco again (no thanks to the Lonely Planet mapmakers!)

All in all, Mexican food once again fails to disappoint. L and I have plans to try to make our own moles (possibly an upcoming Recipe Friday?) – perhaps we can try to create my new huitlacoche favorite. I doubt it can even approach Techinanco’s creations, however. If in the meantime anyone has any Chicago-area suggestions for some authentic Mexican regional moles, we would love to hear them!

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