What is Cinco de Mayo?
Growing up in Minnesota, it always seemed my American friends were more into cinco de mayo than anyone in my family. When I asked my mom about it, she told me “it’s really not a big deal. I don’t know who made it into such a big deal over here but we never celebrated it in Mexico.” When I asked what it actually is meant to celebrate, she said “oh it’s when we kicked the French out.”
“Oh so it’s when you won a war against France?” I asked.
“No, not the whole war. Just the one battle.”
And that was my whole education on cinco de mayo.
Now when we think about cinco de mayo we talk about margaritas, tacos, and various festivities. But in reality it’s a small holiday commemorating the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It’s not a bank holiday or anything …. just a random date on the calendar that somehow became wildly popular in the US.
What is mole poblano?
So this year instead of ignoring it completely or being weirdly festive about it, I’m taking the opportunity to get to the roots and highlight one of the most famous dishes from Puebla: mole poblano. Mole poblano is a deep, complex, rich sauce usually served over some sort of protein like turkey or chicken. It has pre-Colombian roots, but mole poblano as we know it today is very much a fusion of indigenous, European, and African cuisines all in one sauce. The various influences come through in the ingredients: chiles, almonds, sesame, corn tortillas or bread crumbs, cocoa powder, etc. They all fuse together to create a flavor that is deep and smoky.
How does mole poblano fit into your nutrition plan?
Have you ever tried to make mole poblano? I have, and I was sweating and crying tears of exhaustion in the kitchen 8 hours later. It’s a day-long process!
Because it’s so complex and has so many ingredients and spices, most people don’t make it from scratch at home. It’s common for people to buy pre-made mole pastes that they reconstitute with water. There are a lot of varieties of mole paste out there. To get the healthiest option available I recommend looking at the ingredient list and making sure the first ingredient is “chile.”
Typically I recommend to think of sauces as your veggie servings for a meal, but mole is more complicated than that. It has wheat and/or tortillas, nuts, seeds, chocolate, chillies, and the list goes on. So if you’re following the Balanced Plate method when eating, I recommend thinking of mole as being part of your starch serving and also your healthy fats for the meal. Serve it over protein and with a big side of veggies to get a fully balanced meal!