Out of the Aztec empire to modern-day Las Vegas
The pages of my favorite reference for Mexican foods, The Mexican Cook Book for American Homes, are yellowed with age and stained with use. Josefina Velazquez de Leon, former director of the Culinary Arts Institute in Mexico City, wrote it more than 40 years ago.
In it she says, "Among our oldest and most famous dishes of genuine Mexican origin is mole de guajolote, known in the days of the Aztec empire before the Conquest. The word mole is derived from molli or mulli, which meant sauce."
Guajolote ― turkey ― is only one partner for the sauce. It also associates with many meats and takes innumerable forms ― classic and otherwise ― with ingredient lists long or short.
Some moles begin as thick pastes (in different colors) of blended chilies, masa, and spices. And some moles are even canned. The "secret" recipe for the highly reputed mole in one household I visited in Mexico City long ago actually started with a jar of Doña María mole poblano ― in which chocolate is a constituent.
In Las Vegas recently, I came across another mole, almost as simple as the Mexico City one, as I sought refuge from the swarming Strip. It was my second visit to this famous city. I'd come to celebrate the midcentury birthday of a dear friend, Wolfgang Puck. (He was an infant the last time I'd been to Vegas. But since he has become a regular in town, getting a good meal isn't the gamble it once was.)
This richly flavored pork stew, which I enjoyed for lunch before the party, was created by Chef Saul Garcia at Z' Tejas Grill; it was in itself a reason to celebrate.