Holy Mole

Oaxaca’s multicolored moles ('moh-les'; nut-, chili- and spice-based sauces) are its culinary signature. To Mexicans, the meat these sauces are served over is secondary in importance to the mole itself. Oaxaca's most famous variety, mole negro (black mole), is a smoky, savory delight bearing a hint of chocolate. It's the most complex and labor-intensive to create, though its popularity ensures that it’s easy to find. While in Oaxaca, seek out the other colors of the mole family:

Mole amarillo A savory mole using a base of tomatillo (a small, husked tomato-like fruit), spiced with cumin, cloves, cilantro and hierba santa, and often served over beef. To the untutored eye, it's more red than amarillo (yellow).

Mole verde A lovely, delicate sauce thickened with corn dough and including tomatillos, pumpkin seeds, the herbs epazote and hierba santa, and different nuts such as walnuts and almonds. Often served with chicken.

Mole colorado A forceful mole based on ancho, pasilla and cascabel chilies, black pepper and cinnamon.

Mole coloradito (or mole rojo) This tangy, tomato-based blend might remind gringos of their neighborhood Mexican joint back home; it is exported in dumbed-down form as enchilada sauce.

Mancha manteles The brick-red ‘tablecloth stainer’ has a deep, woody flavor, often used to complement tropical fruit.

Chíchilo negro A rare mole whose defining ingredients include chilguacle negro, mulato and pasilla chilies, avocado leaves (which give a touch of anise flavor), tomatoes and corn dough.