If it weren’t for my fiance, Roberto, I’m not sure I would have ever ventured into a fonda in Mexico City. A fonda is a small, family-run restaurant that usually serves a home-style lunch to the many working individuals that don’t have enough time to go home for la comida, which is the largest meal of the day in Mexico. The menu at each fonda changes daily and usually includes rice, soup, or a salad, a main dish (fish, chicken, beef, etc.), an agua de sabor (fruit water), and sometimes a small dessert like a Jell-O or rice pudding.
Roberto used to work at the Secretaría de Salud (Secretary of Health) located in la Colonia Roma. Every day, he had two free hours for lunch from 3-5pm; I usually finished work around 1pm. Roberto would often invite me to have lunch with him and his colleagues, and more often than not we frequented a nearby fonda. There was usually a daily menu out front for passerby to decide if they liked the lunch selection.
I loved frequenting these restaurants because they served such hearty, delicious-tasting food. Believe it or not, I didn’t want street food (tacos, tortas, tlacoyos, etc.) all the time. Sometimes, I longed for food that warmed me up inside, and the fondas had that food.
The meals served at these fondas are the closest thing you will get to Mexican home cooking. You don’t really feel like you are eating comida corrida (fast food) because such great care is put into making many of these dishes. This mole de olla is a typical dish that you would find on a fonda menu. The flavors are rich and complex; The chiles and spices are so aromatic, I think you can cure yourself of any cold by just smelling this soup. It reminds me a lot of my Mom’s beef stew–something that I love on a cold winter day.
Although the word mole is often associated with the chile-chocolate sauce that is poured over chicken/turkey, the original word “molli” comes from Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) and means sauce. So, this is nothing more than a sauce or stew that is cooked in a pot. It does not resemble mole poblano at all. Rather, mole de olla has a totally different flavor and consistency.
As we move into the fall season and the days become cooler, you should give this recipe a try. It is a pull-out-your-sweater-and-snuggle-under-a-blanket kind of recipe!
Mole de olla
Click here for printable recipe.
Meat (Makes about 10 servings)
1.5 lbs. beef short ribs, cut into cubes
2 lbs. chuck roast or pot roast, cut into cubes
1/8 of a medium white onion
3 stalks celery
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2” pieces
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
1 ½ tsp. thyme
→Place all of the ingredients in a large pot, and cover completely with cold water. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam that floats to the top. Once the meat is boiling, lower the heat so that the soup is simmering gently. Partially cover the pot, and cook for about 1 hour 45 minutes, or until the meat is tender. Then remove the peppercorns, garlic, and onion. Discard.
1-2 TBSP avocado oil, grapeseed, or other healthy oil
½ tsp Mexican oregano
1 tsp fresh ginger
3 medium plum tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic
1/8 of a medium white onion
¼ tsp salt
→Gently wipe the puya, guajillo, and pasilla chiles clean. Remove the stems, seeds, and veins.
→Heat oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat. Gently fry each type of chile being careful not to burn them. (They will turn bitter if you burn them.) You will know that are ready when they change color and emit a flavorful smell. This only takes about 10-15 seconds. Place fried chiles in a blender.
→Add peppercorns, cloves, oregano, ginger, tomatoes, garlic, onion, and salt to the blender. Add about ¾ cup of broth from cooked beef. Blend on high speed for about 1-2 minutes or until completely smooth.
→Heat the remaining oil that was left over from frying the chiles in the same saucepan. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the chile mixture. Be careful when adding the chiles because the mixture tends to splatter, and it will stain your clothes. Cook the chile mixture over medium heat until it darkens in color, about 8 minutes.
→Heat the beef in its broth to a simmer. Stir in the fried chile sauce.
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen sweet corn (or you can use 2 ears of fresh corn)
A fistful of fresh or frozen green beans
½ head of cabbage, chopped into large pieces
5 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
5 stems of fresh epazote (without stems)
1 TBSP salt
1 chayote, cut into 6 pieces (You do not need to remove the seed from the chayote. It is edible and delicious)
2 zucchini, cut into quarters
→Once you add the chile mixture to the beef broth, add the corn, green beans, cabbage, potatoes, epazote, and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. The green beans and potatoes should be tender.
→Add the chayote and zucchini. Cook for an additional 10 minutes until the zucchini is tender, but not falling apart.
- It is important to use a large pot. There are many vegetables that are added at the end, and it makes it easier to stir everything when it is in a large pot.
- You may need to add more water (2-4 cups) after you boil the beef. The water tends to evaporate after cooking the beef for 1 hour 45 minutes.
- Don’t cook the zucchini for more than 10 minutes. It will turn to mush if you do.
- You may want to remove any stems or strings from the green beans.
- You can find dried chiles, fresh epazote, and chayote at a Mexican or Latino grocery store.
- Serve the soup with warm corn tortillas on the side. Heat the tortillas on a comal/griddle and wrap them in a towel to keep warm. The tortillas can be used to dip in the soup or make “taco-like” wraps with the stew meat and vegetables.
Recipe Source: Adapted from Lesley Téllez’s Eat Mexico