Most Americans are unfamiliar with authentic Mexican mole sauce. While some may recognize it as "that sauce with chocolate in it," only aficionados of true Mexican cooking know the subtleties of a great mole.

In general, we think of mole as a sauce or family of sauces. But this assumption has been hotly debated. As Ricky Bayless, a well-known Mexican chef explains, a sauce is rarely used as just a coating or an accessory in Mexican cooking. This is particularly true for stew-like dishes such as mole poblano, the version of mole that includes chocolate and is frequently combined with poultry. Dishes like this rely on the so-called sauce as the base of the meal, providing its essence as well as its glory.

The intense mole sauces come in a rainbow of colors ranging from tomatillo-green to earthy, chile red and almost black.

The most famous versions are the seven moles of Oaxaca, including my favorite, mole negro. The flavor of these moles is imparted by a long list of ingredients that can include: chile peppers and spices, raisins or other fruit, tomatoes and tomatillos, toasted bread or a torn-up tortilla. A variety of nuts and seeds like pumpkin and sesame add thickness and richness to moles.

With a long list of fresh ingredients and techniques that include roasting, soaking and pureeing, it's clear why mole is primarily reserved for holiday celebrations. To speed the prep time in Mexico, outdoor markets sell pastes to use as the base for various versions.

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Yet the flavors of mole are so seductive that I constantly look to enjoy them in easier ways. This warm bean dip, which blends several mole ingredients with creamy, pureed pinto beans, gives a hint of mole's pleasures. Pair with torn whole-wheat tortillas or low fat, baked corn chips.

Warm mole Bean Dip

Yield: Makes 8 servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 small tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup mild, medium or hot chunky salsa
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 3/4 cup (3 ounces), shredded, reduced-fat Jack cheese
  • One (15-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tsp. canola oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a food processor, whirl beans until pureed but still slightly lumpy. Scoop beans into a mixing bowl and set aside.
  3. In medium skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Saute onion and jalapeno until onion is soft, 5 minutes. Add chili powder, cocoa, cumin, and oregano, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 minute. Mix in tomato paste and cook for 30 seconds. Add contents of the pan to the pureed beans.
  4. Add tomato, salsa, cilantro and salt, to beans and mix to combine all ingredients. Spread bean mixture in an even layer in the prepared pan. Sprinkle cheese over the top.
  5. Bake until cheese is melted and bubbly and beans are heated through, 12 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately, accompanied by a bowl of baked tortilla chips.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
100 calories
3.5 g total fat
1.5 g saturated fat
11 g carbohydrates
5 g protein
3 g dietary fiber
370 mg sodium