Salsas and Moles Are Kings in Chef Deb Schneider’s New Book

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Deborah Schneider describes the sauces featured in her newest cookbook as having lots of personality and often, a spicy kick. The same words fit when describing Schneider, executive chef-partner at SOL Cocina in Newport Beach and Solita in Huntington Beach; other descriptors might include perfectionist, energetic and highly productive – a food visionary masked behind a mischievous grin.

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“Salsas and Moles” (Ten Speed, $16.99) is the sixth cookbook she has penned.

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The James Beard Award-nominated author explores an irresistible collection of authentic salsa and mole recipes in this latest book, teasing out fresh flavors and alluring scents from chilies, fruits, spices and herbs.

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She says that cooking is really about mastering a few simple skills and techniques, which fortunately are easy and fun to learn.

 

 

 

The new sauce-themed book is “designed to teach essential Mexican cooking techniques and one very important skill: how to introduce and balance big flavors to create sensational effects.”

I sat down with Schneider to get to the heart of her concoctions.

CT: Mole (MOH-lay), the smooth, richly-flavored sauce that is delicious atop poultry or pork, roasted vegetables or enchiladas, isn’t easy to describe. I use adjectives such as “beguiling” or “enchanting.” How do you describe it?

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DS: “Earthy” and “symphonic,” symphonic because the flavors just keeps coming and coming with new tastes popping up. Mole is the opposite of a one-note dish. It is a sauce and it is an event. Preparing it is a family thing. It is an excuse for a party.

CT: The recipe for Quick Mole caught my eye. It doesn’t require hours and hours of preparation time, right?

DS: I learned this recipe from Jesus Gonzalez, former chef at Rancho La Puerta’s cooking school (Tecate, Mexico). He learned the recipe from his mother, a native of Mexico City. It’s a fast, home-style rendition of the traditional dish, a sauce that can come together in about an hour. Think of it as haiku (short Japanese poem) instead of Wordsworth. If you like, eat it simply with corn tortillas and beans. Scoop up the mole with the tortilla, using it like a spoon, and think of the beans as a palate cleanser.

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CT: You suggest two ways to complete this quick-to-make mole. The add-a-step suggestion, the one you prefer, fries the blended concoction in a little lard, then simmers and sieves it. How does this make it look and taste different?

DS: Frying in a little lard amplifies the flavors; it makes it more refined and it glistens with a velvety sheen. It gets darker, which is desirable. And putting it through a food mill takes out the little fibers – if there is any bitterness, straining takes it out.

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CT: I am so happy to see the recipe for SOL’s Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa in the book. It’s one of the everyday table salsas served at SOL Cocina and it showcases such a beautiful balance of flavors. You don’t take any shortcuts to make this salsa, right?

DS: We take great care to make our salsa; there are a lot of moving parts and steps – roasting fresh tomatoes and tomatillos, roasting garlic and onion, seasoning, blending – and adding chipotles in adobo, an addition that gives the salsa a spicy, tangy smokiness. I think chipotles bring the flavors together, adding just a little sweetness.

CT: You wrote that salsa casera, a simmered home-style salsa, is made in every region of Mexico, in one version or another. In your recipe you use fresh (jalapeno) and dried (arbol) chilies. What does that bring to the taste?

DS: Fresh chilies add body, grassiness and acidity. Dry chilies tend to have a berry taste even if they are spicy; they are picked ripe, and the ripening gives them a little sweetness.

CT: What is something about you that most people don’t know?

DS: I’m Canadian. I am drawn to the exotic, but grew up on ham slabs and pineapple rings.

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Quick Mole
Yield: about 8 cups
1/3 cup skinned raw peanuts or pecans
1/3 cup raw whole almonds
1/4 cup raw sesame seeds
1 whole clove
1 Ceylon (Mexican) cinnamon stick, see cook’s notes
1 corn tortilla, quartered
4 (dried) guajillo chilies
3 large (dried) pasilla chilies
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or fresh lard
1/2 white onion, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 Roma tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup seedless raisins
8 cups chicken stock or broth, divided use, see cook’s notes
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
Optional: 2 tablespoons fresh lard
1 tablespoon semi-sweet chocolate chips or 1/4 Ibarra Mexican chocolate disk
Cook’s notes: You can use the variety of cinnamon stick sold in supermarkets (cassia bark) if you prefer, but use half of a stick instead of a whole stick. Homemade chicken stock is always best, but an organic or high-quality boxed chicken, turkey or vegetable broth is handy. Choose a low-sodium, no-MSG brand and dilute with water by half.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread out the nuts, sesame seeds, spices and tortilla on rimmed baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes, until sesame seeds are a pale gold. Be careful not to burn the ingredients – turn and shake pan once or twice if necessary.
2. Stem and seed the chilies; tear them into 1-inch pieces. Heat a heavy sauté pan over medium heat. Add oil; add chilies, onion and garlic. Cook and stir until onion begins to turn golden.
3. Add tomatoes and raisins; cook and stir until tomatoes are soft. Add the toasted ingredients, 6 cups of chicken broth, salt and pepper. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Finish one of two ways.
Option One: Add chocolate chips and stir until they melt. In 2 batches, puree the contents of the pan (best to hold lid down with a potholder). Run the blender for several minutes, processing until very smooth and adding the remaining 2 cups of broth as needed. Pass through a food mill or sieve.
Option Two: Instead, puree the sauce without the chocolate. Heat 2 tablespoons lard in a heavy 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven. Add the blended sauce and fry it (it will splatter, so use a splatter screen), stirring often, for 10 minutes. Rinse out the blender with the remaining 2 cups of chicken broth and add to the pot, along with the chocolate; simmer 10 minutes on medium-low heat, stirring often. Pass through a food mill or sieve.
Serving suggestions: Use over simmered or roasted chicken, turkey or pork. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
Source: “Salsas and Moles” by Deborah Schneider (Ten Speed Press, $16.99)

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SOL’s Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa
Yield: about 4 cups
About 12 tomatillos, husked, washed, dried
2 Roma tomatoes (8 ounces)
1/2 white onion, peeled but with root end intact
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/4 cup chipotles in adobo, see cook’s notes
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
Optional: water for thinning
Cook’s notes: Chipotle chilies in adobo are sold in cans. Choose a brand that doesn’t slosh around when you shake the can. Freeze leftovers.
1. Turn on the fan over the stove. Line a large cast-iron skillet or heavy griddle with aluminum foil; set over high heat. Roast tomatillos and tomatoes on all sides until well charred and soft, turning with tongs as few times as possible. Roast the onion, cut side down, until it begins to soften and has a few black spots, turning it several times. Roast garlic, in skins, turning a few times, until black spots appear.
2. Cut onion into several pieces. Peel garlic. Place both in blender along with chipotles, roasted tomatillos and tomatoes (and any juices) and salt. Cover and let steam for 5 minutes to bring out the juices. Pulse to make a fairly smooth salsa with a little bit of texture. Add cilantro and pulse a couple more times to combine.
3. Pour salsa into serving bowl. For a thinner salsa, stir in water, up to 1 cup, a little at a time. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
Serving suggestions: Use over eggs or cheese. Schneider loves it stirred into cooked rice, or used to make chilaquiles. At SOL she serves it with tostada-style white corn chips, whole corn tortillas fried crisp and sprinkled with ground toasted chilies (guajillo and ancho), sea salt and ground toasted pepitas (roasted shelled pumpkin seeds).
Source: “Salsas and Moles” by Deborah Schneider (Ten Speed Press, $16.99)

Salsa Casera
Yield: about 2 1/4 cups
2 cups water
3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided use
6 medium tomatillos, husked, washed
3 medium Roma tomatoes
1/2 white onion, diced
Optional: 1 whole clove
4 large garlic cloves
1 jalapeno, stemmed
1 chili de arbol, stemmed
Optional: 1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1. In a 2-quart saucepan, combine water, 2 teaspoons salt, tomatillos, tomatoes, onion, clove (if using), garlic and chilies. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook gently for about 10 minutes, until tomatillos are just softened. Be careful not to boil vigorously, or the ingredients may fall apart. With a slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to a food processor, draining well. Discard cooking liquid and clove. Add remaining 1 teaspoon salt and pulse the salsa until it is smooth with specks of chili de arbol. Cool completely. Stir in cilantro if using. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Serving suggestions: Use to make chilaquiles or a version of enchiladas called “entomatadas.” A dash adds flavor to homemade chicken soup, or fried or scrambled eggs. Stir into cooked beans, or sauté it with onions as a flavoring for rice. Pour it over a burrito, or simmer it with shredded beef and diced onion.
Source: “Salsas and Moles” by Deborah Schneider (Ten Speed Press, $16.99)

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