Thanksgiving usually conjures up the aroma of turkey-in-the-oven; giblet gravy on the stove; and pumpkin pie cooling on the counter. But for some Texans, it’s the savory scent of mole.
Music ushers you into the Luna Tortilla Factory in northwest Dallas where Fernando Luna Sr and Fernando Jr are behind the counter. They’re selling fresh made tortillas and tamales. But it’s mole they’re thinking about as Thanksgiving approaches. For as long as Luna Sr. can remember, his family’s big dinner has been on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving: before they cook the traditional turkey and trimmings like everyone else.
“Wednesday about noontime, the family, all the employees, friends, customers would all gather and have a mole lunch prepared by my grandmother: mole chicken, rice and beans and all the fixings,” said Fernando Luna Sr.
Mole is a dark, velvety sauce that is poured generously over the chicken or scooped up with a tortilla. Mole is to a Mexican holiday dinner what turkey and dressing are to the traditional Thanksgiving table. And it’s loaded with chili peppers and chocolate.
“I think it’s the spiciness at first, and then it’s the cool, chocolaty-sweet after that. It’s a unique flavor,” offered Luna Sr. “A lot of people don’t like that different contrast, sweet and spicy, but it is amazing.”
Luna Sr. says the women of the family started making Grandmother Maria Luna’s mole last week. It’s a recipe from the Puebla region of Mexico and takes days of preparation and devotion to chop, soak, saute, grill, mix and blend more than a dozen individual ingredients.
“We blend it in an old grinder that’s still made with granite stones and that supposedly gives it the flavor,” said Luna Sr.
Different regions of Mexico have their own versions of mole.
In the kitchen at Veracruz restaurant in the Bishop Arts District of Oak Cliff, Pedro Capistran reels off some of the 20 ingredients that go into the Veracruz recipe for mole.
“ … and then we add the spices like raisins, pecans, almonds, plantains, chocolate … “
Capistran says instead of stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey for his table at home, he’ll douse it with mole.
“You know the turkey sometimes it doesn’t have that flavor, good flavor like the way the chicken has,” Capistran said. “But we still make the mole and we make it with the turkey.”
Capistran says he’s the first generation of his family from Veracruz to live in Texas, and mole is still a strong holiday tradition. Joey Torres works at Veracruz. He says there’s a magic to mole. It’s the tie that binds.
“The sauce itself, it’s what you know, it’s what brings everyone together – families,” said Torres.
The Luna mole lunch is “on” for today, by the way.