Mole, Tamales and Dia de los Muertos

I absolutely love Mexico.  I’ve been there several times and it is a magical country.  There’s a unique energy and mystery to each region.  Then there is the food –the food! Authentic Mexican cuisine is rich, varied and oh so delicioso.  Food and tradition in Mexico are inextricably linked and date back thousands – yes thousands – of years.  Dia de los Muertos, which begins today, is an often misunderstood tradition as our friends at Lacosmopoloatina so entertainingly explain:   

If the idea of celebrating the dead seems a little, well, morbid; and you find yourself picturing a Michael Jackson’s Thriller video gone wrong; then allow me to shed some light on this mysterious, yet totally enchanting holiday. Every year on November 1st and 2nd our Mexican friends celebrate, Dia De Los Muertos aka Day Of The Dead, paying homage to their beloved friends and family that have passed on. Don’t worry; you don’t have to RSVP to a cemetery to partake in the day. So rub off those goose bumps, miedosa, because there is no need to freak out. If the spirit moves you (pun intended), parties do actually take place in graveyards. No they are not having séances or howling at the moon, but according to many, spirits will join them in the festivities.  To read the entire post click here.


Casa Latina will be celebrating the Dio de los Muertos festivities with a couple of recipes from Ofrenda restaurant in New York.  If you can’t join our friends at Ofrenda during their three day Dia de los Muertos celebration, try one of chef Luis Arce Mota’s tasty recipes in memory of a lost loved one.   


This is not a recipe for the traditional mole from Puebla, which is very complicated, takes an extremely long time, and involves many ingredients, many of which are hard to source.  A really simple and delicious version of mole hails from northern Mexico (where I’m from).  My personal preference is to serve this mole with enchiladas (rolled corn tortillas filled with a protein or vegetable of your choosing), topped with the mole sauce.

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

8 ancho chiles

8 guajillo chiles

¼ cup sesame seeds

¼ cup peanuts

2 3-inch cinnamon sticks broken into thin strips

2 ounces Mexican chocolate, preferably Ibarra brand

sea salt to taste

canola oil


Remove stems, if any, from chiles.  Slit them open and remove veins and seeds.

Toast the chiles on a hot griddle for a few seconds on each side, pressing them down until the inside flesh turns opaque.

Wash chiles in cold water, cover with hot water and set aside to soak.

Toast the sesame seeds in a hot pan until golden color.  Do the same with the peanuts.

Fry the cinnamon sticks in a little bit of canola oil for about a minute.

Blend the chiles by themselves in a blender at medium speed, adding a little water that was used to soak the chiles. till you achieve a smooth purée, adding water as necessary.

Remove the chile paste and pass through a chinois and put aside.

Blend the sesame seeds, peanuts, and cinnamon, along with the chile soaking water in a blender until smooth.  Add chocolate (broken into small pieces) to this mixture and blend together.

Mix this sesame seed-peanut-cinnamon-chocolate paste with the chiles and heat in a pan to which has been added a little bit of canola oil.  Cook over medium heat, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan for about 10 minutes. Taste for salt.

This is a base mole sauce to which can be added different types of stock depending on what you’re cooking.  For example, if you’re using beef, you can add 3 cups of beef stock to make the sauce, which can be used as a sauce for steaks or for beef enchiladas.  For shrimp, you would use shrimp stock; for chicken, chicken stock, etc.

Tamales de camarón envueltos en hojas de acelgas (Shrimp tamales wrapped in Swiss chard)

Shrimp tamales are very traditional in Mazatlán, Sinaloa in northwestern Mexico where I’m from, thanks to the abundance of shrimp.  This version uses Swiss chard leaves so that you can eat the tamal and wrapper all together. (Generally tamales are wrapped in corn husks, which are removed prior to eating.)

Ingredients (serves 12)

17 large green chard leaves

To make the masa (tamal dough):

4 ounces butter

½ pound Maseca brand flour for tamales

2/3 cup shrimp broth

1 ounce of dried powdered shrimp

sea salt to taste

To make the shrimp broth:

1 pound fresh shrimp (16/20 size), shelled

2 guajillo chiles

2 chiles de árbol

2 cups water

canola oil


To make the shrimp broth, use the shells from the shrimp and sautée with a little bit of canola oil until the shells become an orange-red color.  Add 2 cups of water and let simmer for 15 minutes.  Strain and add the chiles (from which you have removed the seeds and stems) into the broth and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.  Put the broth with the chiles into a blender and blend together.  Strain the liquid through a chinois.  Let the broth cool for a bit.  This will be the broth that will be mixed with the tamal flour to make the masa.

After the masa is made, add the butter (which should be room temperature) and knead until the butter is incorporated into the mixture, and continue to knead to incorporate air until fluffy.  You know when the masa is ready by grabbing a little piece of the dough and putting it in a glass of water.  If it floats, it is ready.  If not, continue kneading.  After the dough is ready, incorporate the dried powdered shrimp.  Be careful with the seasoning as the dried shrimp can be a little bit salty.

Blanch the Swiss chard leaves for 2 minutes until soft, and let cool.  Spread 2 tablespoons of masa over each leaf.  Place one of the clean, raw shrimp in the center and wrap as a tamal.

Once the 12 tamales have been prepared, place them standing up in a vegetable steamer, cover with a cloth, extra Swiss chard leaves, and the lid, and steam for 45 minutes.  The tamales are done when the dough is cooked through.

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  1. Spanish at Home: El Día de los Muertos - Lingua Garden

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