“What are we making?” a student asks in a highly critical untrusting tone.

“Oaxacan Mole Negro.” I respond, avoiding confrontational eye contact awaiting the inevitable  judgement that middle school students are so quick to give.

“Yessssssss….. I’m from Oaxaca!” My student responds totally elated.

My Edible After School class in Pescadero is finishing a unit on the regional cuisine of Mexico. And considering that all my students have Mexican heritage we’ve had tons of fun exploring the different regions. And I have had tons of fun exploring the world of dried chiles. As a French trained Chef, I can tell you that bold earthy flavor is a welcome reprise. And frankly these flavors just seem to make sense in the town of Pescadero.

Oacaxan Mole Negro with Pork Roast

Oaxacan Mole Negro (Black Mole) with Pork

I am fascinated with the food of Oaxaca because the Spaniards did not totally stamp out regional cuisine. There are seven traditional moles in Oaxaca ranging in flavors and colors. Mole negro (black mole) is a rich sauce with hints of chocolate (a Oaxaca export), peanut, black raisin, and fruity/mildly spicy dried chiles. The sauce is fried in lard to finish, which deepens the flavors even further.

I do have a tiny disclaimer here: Mole Negro is darker in color than my pictures. Unfortunately we could only toast our chilis and seeds a little bit because we do not have adequate ventilation in the classroom I use to teach this class. Inhaling chili smoke is an unpleasant experience – unless you enjoy hacking your guts out.  If you can toast them outside I highly encourage it!

Mole Negro

Mole Negro with Pork Roast

Cooking with chilis might be outside the comfort zone, but once you see how easy it is to use them you’ll want explore. And once you get the hang of toasting and rehydrating the rest is simple – just blend everything up and refry – easy! Most markets carry dried chilis although Mexican markets will carry them in bulk for a LOT LESS.

This my second year teaching Edible After School, a course I created with Puente for Middle School Students. Over the last two years we have begun our own food business selling grab-n-go food at the farmer’s market in the Summer and jams (hibiscus-strawberry and Tomatillo-ginger-lime) and various salsas too. During the school year we study: baking & cooking techniques, food safety, and regional world cuisine. We are ALWAYS looking for funding and have been running on a generous grant from the Packard Foundation which will be depleted soon. Will you consider making a donation to PUENTE so that we can continue? THANK YOU!

My current students want to continue this class next year and I want to as well, please pass on the word would you? We need some buzzzzz!

Oaxacan Black Mole


  • 3 large tomatillos, husked
  • 5 roma tomatoes
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced into thick rounds
  • 5 cloves garlic, unpeeled and roasted in the shell
  • 8 dried pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeds reserved
  • 8 dried mulato chiles, stemmed and seeds reserved
  • 8 dried gaujillo chiles, stemmed and seeds reserved
  • 1⁄2 ripe plantain
  • 1⁄4 cup peanuts, toasted
  • 1⁄4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1⁄4 cup raisins
  • 2 1⁄2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 oz. Mexican chocolate, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons Mexican oregano (pick out any sticks)
  • 1 tablesoon Mexican thyme
  • 1 teaspoon ground canela
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coves
  • 2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds, toasted
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Grated piloncillo or brown sugar, to taste (pilancillo looks like a brown sugar cone and is sold in Mexican markets)
  • Note: if you can find dried chihualces chiles add 5 to this recipe. Even Mexican markets don't carry these too often.

Dry roast all the seeded chiles. I prefer to use a well seasoned cast iron skillet for this. Some recipes call for the chiles to be fried in lard, but I think dry toasting works too. I prefer to save the frying in lard for the last step. The chiles will soften and turn bright in color before toasting. The idea is not to burn them – but just to toast them. Put the toasted chiles in a big mixing bowl and cover with warm water to rehydrate.

There are no other mole recipes I know of that call for blackened seeds except this one: dry roast the seeds of the chiles until they are blackened. Wash them quickly to remove some of the burnt flavor and put them in the blender  to be mixed with all the other ingredients.

On a baking sheet with a high lip add the tomatoes, husked tomatillos, and thick sliced onions in a single layer. Broil 2-inches away from heat turning veggies when they have charred and blistered so all sides  blacken.

In a blender, working in batches, blend all ingredients (tomatillos through cumin seeds)  together adding chicken stock as necessary to help get it going and some of the rehydrating liquid. Taste and season with salt.

In a large cast iron skillet heat 1/4 cup lard on medium high heat. Working in batches fry mole mixture adding more lard for each fry. The mole will deepen in color. Add brown sugar or pilancillo to taste. The mole might not need too much sugar depending on the sweetness of the raisins.

Serve with pork roast or stewed chicken! Yum!