There are the seven moles of Oaxaca—and then there is mole blanco. Absent even from Diana Kennedy's exhaustive culinary ethnography Oaxaca Al Gusto, this mole, also known as mole de novia, is a virtual unknown compared to its sister dishes. I never heard of it before Natalia Mendez, one of the mom and pop owners of Mott Haven's La Morada, casually mentioned it in a conversation about the Oaxacan specialties she has cooked here. La Morada makes the dish, and trying it is worth a special visit.
Natalia and her family, including her husband Antonio Saavedra and three children, hail from the tiny town of San Miguel Ahuehuetitlán (pop. 226) in the Silacayoapam District of Oaxaca's Mixteca Region. With her son Marco acting as interpreter, she explained that mole blanco is a Mixteca dish usually eaten during Easter or Christmas. The most traditional way to serve it, he told me, is with an edible flower known as pípí or chitapí in Mixtec that comes from a tree and tastes like green beans. Unsurprisingly, they have been unable to find it here. Other acceptable avenues for the sauce include rabbit (seen here), various fowl, and chiles rellenos.
La Morada's mole blanco is similarly rare, though not quite so diffcult to locate. You will not find it on the menu, nor does it turn up once or twice a week as a special like some of the other Oaxacan moles the restaurant offers. You must request it from Mrs. Mendez or her son and agree on a specific date. Only then will you have the opportunity to eat this rarest of moles, quite an opportunity in a city so bereft of Oaxacan cooking.
Natalia makes her mole blanco with four kinds of nuts: almonds, Spanish almonds, peanuts, and pine nuts. This cabal of kernels is reinforced by garlic, onion, chicken broth, and, what she calls "my secret," habaneros. The chilies are a deftly deployed weapon here, lending a constant but never aggressive hum of tropical heat. That heat plays against a dose of garlic so pungent you'd guess it was added raw to the sauce at the last minute. (It isn't.)
The beauty of the sauce is its implausible creaminess, so intense that it could pass for an almond and garlic chowder in its consistency and flavor. It is strikingly thick and supremely nutty, with the pine nuts lending a subtle floral flavor. A fellow diner compared it to ajo blanco, the classic Spanish sauce of almonds and garlic. But this mole, so deliciously versatile, should be appreciated on its own terms. It needs no justification.
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