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A Chile Lover’s "Mexican Thanksgiving" PDF Print E-mail

by Nancy Gerlach, SuperSite Food Editor Emeritus

chihuahua as turkey


  • Mole Poblano de Guajolote
    (Turkey in Chocolate Chile Sauce)
  • Mole Poblano Enchiladas

  • Puebla Rice Pilaf
  • Ensalada de Espinaca con Nopalitos
    (Spinach Salad with Prickly Pear Cactus)
  • Sopa de Lima
    (Lime Soup with Tortilla Strips and Chile)

During the Thanksgiving holiday season, it’s the time of year that if turkeys were smart, they’d head for the hills or dress like dogs, and every food magazine has a picture of the perfect bird on their cover. Well, turkeys are definitely not smart, but cooking them is easy, and I’ll leave the conventional recipes to others. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a traditional stuffed turkey. I do, and I usually cook a big one so that we can enjoy all the leftovers. And one of my favorite "Mexican Thanksgiving" meals is Mole Poblano de Guajolote. Turkey smothered in chocolate chile sauce is quite possibly Mexico’s finest and most unusual entree. People have been known to travel to the city of Puebla, the birthplace of this historical dish, just to sample the city’s mole.


The word mole is derived from the word "molli" which, in the language of pre-Columbian Nahuatl Indians, loosely means sauce, and in Spanish mole means mixture. It’s logical then that in Mexico, the title mole is reserved for the more complicated sauces with a large variety of ingredients. Some of these are very complicated indeed and utilize every imaginable combination of meats, vegetables, spices, and chiles. Not only are there many ingredients, there are dozens of variations on mole--red moles, green moles, brown moles, fiery moles and mild moles to name a few. The color of a particular mole mostly depends upon the varieties of chiles utilized.


The most famous mole of all is mole poblano (mole of the people.) It’s the one that’s traditionally prepared during the holiday season and combines chocolate and chile. Chocolate was a popular and revered food of the Aztecs. Moctezuma’s court consumed 50 jugs of chocolate beverage a day, and warriors drank it to soothe their nerves before going into battle. However, the story of how chocolate became combined with chiles does not involve warriors, but rather nuns.


Legend holds that mole poblano was invented in the 1680's by Sister Andreas, a nun of the Convent of Santa Rosa in the city of Puebla. It was created in honor of Don Manuel Fernandez de Santa Cruz and his guest, Don Antonio de la Cerda y Aragon, Viceroy of New Spain. It seems that the archbishop was coming to visit, and the nuns were worried because they had no food elegant enough to serve someone of his eminence. So they prayed for guidance and Sister Andreas had a vision. She directed that everyone in the convent begin chopping and grinding everything edible they could find in the kitchen. Into a pot went chiles, tomatoes, nuts, sugar, tortillas, bananas, raisins, garlic, and dozens of herbs and spices such as cinnamon and cloves. The final ingredient was the magic one: chocolate. Then the nuns slaughtered their only turkey and served it with the mole sauce to the archbishop, who declared it the finest dish he had ever tasted.


This appealing story probably contains a considerable amount of truth. The convents of post-Conquest Mexico were famous as strongholds of good eating, and they may have improved the dish. But mole poblano is not likely to have originated as an invention of Spanish nuns. It contains only a few Spanish ingredients; and was more likely invented by the Aztecs long before the Spaniards arrived. Latin food expert Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz speculates that since chocolate was reserved for Aztec royalty, the military nobility, and religious officials, perhaps Aztec serving girls at the convent gave a royal Aztec recipe to the nuns so they could honor their own royalty, the archbishop. The Pueblans named their mole for themselves, hence mole poblano meaning the people of Puebla. At any rate, the recipe for mole poblano was rescued from oblivion and became a favorite.


Turkey, or "huexolotlin" in the ancient language of the Aztecs, is native to Mexico and was used in the original recipe, but this mole also goes well with chicken and pork. First the meat is roasted until it’s almost done and then is finished in the mole sauce. Another popular way this mole is served is in enchiladas. Cooked turkey is shredded, then rolled in a corn tortilla, and topped with the sauce. Either way is delicious.


Included here is my recipe for mole poblano, which isn’t as labor-intensive as the traditional method of making the sauce, as well as some side dishes that go well with this very rich entree.. So whether you want to try a new way of preparing your turkey or are looking for something different to do with the leftovers, enjoy your holiday meals like they do south of the border with turkey served with mole poblano.

Mole Poblano de Guajolote

(Turkey in Chocolate Chile Sauce)

mole poblano de guajolote


In an 1870s cookbook from Puebla there were recipes for 44 different moles but only one, Mole Poblano de Guajolote, or turkey in mole sauce, is called the National Dish of Mexico. This mole has descended from an Aztec chilemolli dish and although it’s called poblano, it doesn’t contain any poblano chiles. In this case poblano refers to the people of Puebla, birthplace of this dish. For an authentic taste, lard is used, but if that’s offensive to you, substitute vegetable oil.

Also, Mexican chocolate can be used, but if you do, be sure to eliminate the cinnamon from the recipe.

  • 4 to 6 serving-size slices of raw turkey or chicken

  • 4 dried pasilla chiles (or substitute ancho), stem and seeds removed

  • 4 dried red New Mexico chiles (Sandia, Chimayo or other hot varieties preferred), stems and seeds removed

  • 1 to 2 canned chipotle chiles en adobo

  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped

  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds

  • ½ cup toasted almonds, chopped

  • ½ corn tortilla, torn into pieces

  • 1/4 cup raisins

  • 1/4 teaspoon each: ground cloves, cinnamon, coriander

  • 3 tablespoons lard, or substitute vegetable oil

  • 2 to 3 cups turkey or chicken broth

  • 1 ounce bitter chocolate, or more to taste

  • Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Brown the turkey or chicken pieces in a heavy skillet for 10 minutes on each side, adding a little vegetable oil if necessary. Remove the pieces and place in a baking dish and roast in the oven for 50 minutes if using turkey and 30 minutes for chicken. Remove from the oven and keep the meat warm.

Preheat another heavy skillet over medium heat and toast the pasilla and New Mexico chiles until they slightly puff., turning them frequently to prevent them from burning. Cover the chiles with hot water and allow them to steep for 10 minutes to soften. Drain the chiles and discard the water.

Put the chiles, onion, garlic, tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of the sesame seeds, almonds, tortilla, raisins, cloves, cinnamon, and coriander in a blender or food processor. Puree this mixture, adding small amounts of the broth, until the mixture is smooth.

Melt the lard or heat the oil in a large saucepan, and saute the chile puree for 10 minutes over medium hot heat, stirring frequently. Add more broth to the sauce to keep it smooth, and to thin if it gets too thick. Reduce the heat, stir in the chocolate and cook over a very low heat for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.

Add the turkey to the mole sauce and heat through. Arrange the turkey in the sauce on a serving platter, garnish with the remaining sesame seeds and serve.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Mild to Medium

Mole Poblano Enchiladas

mole poblano enchiladas


Enchiladas prepared with mole sauce and Mexican asadero cheese, also called queso blanco, are as exotic as they are tasty. This is also a great way to utilize leftover turkey. Enchiladas are not difficult to prepare—in fact they are quite easy. The trick is to have everything organized and ready to go before assembling the enchiladas.


  • 1 recipe Mole Poblano (see above, without the turkey slices), heated

  • Vegetable oil for frying

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 8 to 12 corn tortillas

  • 2 to 3 cups shredded turkey

  • ½ pound asadero cheese or Monterey jack cheese, grated

In a heavy skillet, heat the oil and saute the onion until softened. Remove and drain.

Add additional oil to the skillet to a depth of 1/4 inch and reheat. Lightly fry a tortilla in the oil until softened. Remove and dip the tortilla into the hot mole sauce and place on a baking sheet or oven proof serving dish.

Place some of the turkey on the tortilla and top with some of the sauteed onions and cheese.

Roll up the tortilla ending with the seam remaining on the bottom. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Pour additional sauce over the enchiladas..

Either quickly reheat the enchiladas in a 350 degree oven, under a broiler, or in a microwave oven.

Garnish with additional cheese and serve.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Mild or Medium

Puebla Rice Pilaf

Puebla rice pilaf

This is a very basic recipe for Mexican rice that will complement any number of entrees. Just about any green chile works well in this dish, so try using jalapeños, serranos, or poblanos in place of the New Mexican green. You can also vary the vegetables and either add or substitute peas, carrots and even chopped green beans for a different appearing and tasting rice dish. Queso fresco is a soft, crumbly Mexican cheese. If you can’t find it locally, a mild feta is a good substitute.



  • 1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 cup long-grain rice

  • 1 small onion, diced

  • 3 green New Mexican chiles, roasted, peeled, stems and seeds removed, chopped

  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped

  • 2 cups chicken broth

  • 1 tomato, peeled and chopped

  • 1 cup whole kernel corn

  • Salt to taste

  • ½ cup Mexican queso fresco

  • Garnish: Chopped fresh cilantro

In a heavy skillet, heat the oil over a medium hot heat and saute the rice, onion, chile, and garlic until the onions are soft and the rice turns opaque.

Bring the broth to a boil, add the rice mixture and bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat and stir in the tomato, corn, and salt. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until the rice is done.

Remove the rice from the heat and stir in the cheese. Put the rice in a bowl, garnish with the cilantro, and serve.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Mild

Ensalada de Espinaca con Nopalitos

(Spinach Salad with Prickly Pear Cactus)



Nopales or nopalitos are the leaves or pads of the opuntia or prickly pear cactus and are very popular throughout Mexico. They have a tart taste with a texture rather like string beans and are used in stews, soups, salads, and with eggs. In New Mexico as well as in Mexico, they are sold fresh, spines removed, and peeled. They are then diced or cut in strips, simmered in salted water until tender, and then drained and rinsed. This is an important step as they can be "slippery" like okra. If you can’t find them fresh, they are readily available in jars or cans.








  • 1 pound fresh spinach, rinsed and dried

  • 1 12-ounce jar nopalitos, rinsed well

  • 1 small red onion, sliced in thin rings and separated

  • 10 radishes, thinly sliced

  • ½ cup grated asadero or mozzarella cheese

  • Garnish: diced avocado

  • Dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

  • 2 teaspoons crushed red chile

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, Mexican preferred

  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram

  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Combine all the ingredients for the dressing and whisk to mix. Allow the dressing to sit at room temperature for an hour to blend the flavors.

Tear the spinach into bite-sized pieces and put into a salad bowl. Add the nopalitos, onion, radishes, and cheese. Drizzle the dressing over the top and toss to mix.

Garnish with the avocado and serve.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Mild

Sopa de Lima

(Lime Soup with Tortilla Strips and Chile)

sopa de lima


There are many variations of soup with tortillas throughout Mexico, and this is a variation that is popular in the Yucatán Peninsula. Chicken is commonly used but you can substitute leftover turkey in this delicate soup. The Mexican limes that are used in the Yucatán Peninsula differ from the Persian limes that are common in the United States in that they are smaller, darker green, and more tart than sweet. Although they are preferred, any lime can be substituted. Be sure to add the tortillas right before serving or they will become soggy. Photo by Norman Johnson; food styling by Denice Screpcinski.




  • 3 corn tortillas, cut in strips

  • Vegetable oil for frying

  • 2 chicken breasts

  • 1 small onion, chopped

  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped

  • 6 whole peppercorns

  • 1 2-inch stick cinnamon

  • 8 whole allspice berries

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, Mexican preferred

  • 4 cups chicken broth

  • 1 tomato, peeled and chopped

  • 2 tablespoons lime juice

  • 1 poblano or fresh green New Mexican chile, roasted, peeled, stem removed, cut in strips

  • 4 lime slices for garnish

Deep fry the tortilla strips in 360 degree F. oil until crisp. Remove and drain.

Place the chicken, onion, garlic, peppercorns, cinnamon, allspice, oregano, and broth in a pot. Bring to a boil and remove and any foam that comes to the top. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Allow the chicken to cool in the stock.

Remove the chicken and remove the bones. Using two forks, shred the meat. Strain the broth and add enough water to make 1 quart of liquid.

Reheat the broth with the tomato, lime juice and chile. Add the chicken and simmer until the chicken is hot.

Place some of the tortilla strips in the bottom of a soup bowl, add the soup, garnish with a lime slice and cilantro and serve.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Turkey Talk

What could be better on the most food intensive day of the year that having your own personal coach answering questions, helping you speed things along, and offering encouragement and advice when your fill in the blank (turkey burns, gravy clumps, unexpected vegan friends show up)? Now in its seventh year, Lynne will host the Turkey Confidential two-hour show with a distinguished guest list including: Jacques Pépin, legendary chef, author and former personal cook to Charles de Gaulle; A Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor; road food warriors Jane and Michael Stern and Gilt Taste editorial advisor and former Gourmet Magazine editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl. Combined, the guests offer an impressive culinary and literary background to help any cook through Thanksgiving trials and tribulations.

Turkey Confidential: LIVE Thanksgiving Kitchen Triage on The Splendid Table

11am – 1pm ET Thanksgiving Day, Call 1-800-537-5252 or visit www.splendidtable.org

If you need information on the specifics of preparing your holiday turkey or have any questions be sure to contact the professionals at the Butterball Turkey Talkline at 800-288-8372. They are available around the clock to folks in the United States and Canada. Bilingual assistance is available (English & Spanish) until Christmas Day.

For additional recipes visit the following websites: Eat Turkey and Butterball


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