Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Holy Mole!

By: Ashley Eames
Capital Cooking Contributor

As cooler fall temperatures begin to set in, my need for comfort food rises dramatically. La Sandia meets that need with some of the most quintessential comfort food dishes from Mexico during their second annual Mole Festival.

There are several stories about the origins of mole, but there is no mistaking the time and attention that goes into creating the incredibly flavorful sauces. La Sandia features four different types of mole on their menu: Mole Pipian, Mole Poblano, Mole Rojo and Mole Negro. Each sauce requires a multitude of ingredients, up to 35, to get just the right balance of flavor.

To try all of the amazing variations, we started with the tasting plate of cheese quesadillas that include all of the different sauces. It was a great way to sample the sauces and get an idea of which one you prefer. They all have their own unique flavors and spice blends.

The Mole Pipian is a green sauce comprised of spinach, cilantro, pumpkin seeds, tomatillos and chili poblano. It is the lightest of all the moles. It was a bit peppery and reminded me of a salsa verde.

The Mole Negro is Chef Charles Cihlar’s favorite. To make the sauce he burns the chilies to get the bitter taste out of them. The addition of peanuts and almonds give it a nutty flavor and hints of dark chocolate and star anise are present in every bite.

The entrees on the Mole Festival menu offer suggestions on which protein should be paired with each sauce, but diners can mix and match to create their own perfect dish. We tried the Mole Rojo with the suggested Pork Carnitas and the Mole Poblano with Chicken Breast.

Mole Poblano embodies everything I imagine when I think of a mole. The sauce is bursting with rich spices, chilies, nuts and chocolate flavors. The dish is served with sweet plantains, rice and re-fried black beans. As this is a lighter mole, the chicken complimented the dish well. The plantains added a sweet and starchy component to the plate but married nicely with the other flavors.  

The Mole Rojo is one of the most classic moles and also my favorite of the moles featured. The dish had a wonderful earthiness and a bit of a smoky flavor. With three types of chilies, this is the spiciest mole on the menu but far from overpowering. The Pork Carnitas are slow cooked overnight with oranges for a bit of citrus and condensed milk to add a richness to the meat. It is served with Cilantro Pesto Rice and Charro Beans that are elevated by the addition of chorizo, bacon and jalapeƱos. The Cilantro Pesto Rice was creamy, cheesy and herbaceous. It was an excellent side dish to accompany the Mole Rojo.

La Sandia also has seasonal cocktails that pair perfectly with the dishes. The Habanero Blood Orange Margarita is both sweet and savory. One of the key ingredients, the blood orange puree, is first cooked with an uncut habanero to give it a quick kick without being too spicy. To finish off the drink, the rim of the glass is coated with the Mole Negro sauce to give it a savory and slightly bitter note that is an amazing contrast to the citrus notes of the homemade sour mix.

From now until the end of the year you can visit La Sandia to celebrate mole, a food rich in tradition and high in flavor. Germany can have their Octoberfest – be transported to Mexico at La Sandia’s Mole Festival!

La Sandia - 7852L Tysons Corner Center, 703.893.2222, 

La Sandia on Urbanspoon

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