We <3 Substitutions: A World of Poblano Mole

That secret mole recipe…every Mexican family has one.

Whether it has an extra cinnamon stick, multiple types of peppercorns, a carrot, or extra peanuts, the one common thing among all these mole recipes is the large quantity of spices, nuts, seeds, and chilies that comprise that special sauce, which sometimes totals 20 different ingredients! No matter where in Mexico you travel, you will find some variation of Mole, but one state holds the crown for the tastiest and rumored home of mole, Puebla.

This month, we are debuting Paloma’s incredible family recipe for mole taught to her by, of course, her grandmother. This Mole Poblano is rich and sweet and full of layered flavor. Now, the box contains all the dry ingredients that make famous mole, but there are still a few ingredients that may be a little harder to find if you don’t have access to a Mexican or Latino market. Fear not: our team of recipe developers and testers have tested a plethora of substitutions to make for a tasty mole even if you can’t make it to the Mexican Market.

Bolillos are Mexican rolls. These rolls are dry, crunchy and are often used for Mexican sandwiches because they are known for not being too sweet.  Bolillos aren’t commonly found in regular bakeries, but they are a staple at any Mexican market or bakery. Can’t find a bolillo? Here is a common substitution to make sure you have a tasty, thick sauce.

French Bread/Roll

French bread worked well as a substitution, as it is the most similar to Bolillo bread, only with a rougher crust. Using french bread produced a richer and sweeter mole compared to Paloma’s recipe. The sweet flavor highlights the cinnamon, though, so beware!

Bimbo White Bread 

Do not be fooled: all white breads are not equal. We know it might be tempting to just swap out your bolillo for sliced white bread, but from our experience, we advise you to resist the urge.  We used the commonly found Bimbo sliced white bread and it was much too sweet for the mole! Instead of helping to bring out the mole flavors, it overpowered it. Most importantly, the mole lost its spicy kick!  Take our advice and avoid the sweet, soft sliced white breads.

Plantains are in the banana family but aren’t quite the peelable lunch variety. In mole recipes, plantains act as a thickening agent to help create a deeper flavor of the nuts and chocolate.  Plantains come in a few varieties and stages of ripeness. They are common in Mexican and Latino markets, but if you can’t find them at your local grocer, feel free to use these one of these two substitutions.

Unripe bananas

Using unripe bananas produced a flavor closest to Paloma’s mole. The consistency of this mole was slightly sweeter, creamier, and had a bit more kick at the end of every bite making for a nice finish.

Sweet Potato 

Using sweet potato definitely thickened up the mole sauce compared to Paloma’s mole, which produced a slightly grittier and less pureed mole that left us tasters with the occasional spicier bite. While the flavor wasn’t too far off from Paloma’s mole, make sure to add more chicken broth and blend for longer if substituting sweet potato for plantains, as they proved to be tough to blend!

Peanuts–to shell or not to shell? 

There are so many steps to making mole that we attempted to shortcut one, the shelling of roasted peanuts. Instead, we used pre-shelled peanuts. While the flavor wasn’t too far off from Paloma’s mole recipe, it did produce a slightly sweeter, thicker and creamier mole lacking the more full-roasted flavor when shelling peanuts yourself. If you want the real deal, set aside to the time to crack all the shells from those peanuts!

We hope this informs your grocery shopping efforts and saves you some time when looking for those less available mole ingredients that we can’t ship you in your CK Box!

Happy Mole-making!

The Culture Kitchen Team

We <3 Substitutions: Coco Rico, the Fizzy Coconut Drink

When developing our third Culture Kitchen Kit we discovered that some of the ingredients our Master Cook Linh uses can be impossible to find if you aren’t in a medium to large city.  But fear not, we got to testing in our labs and found great substitutions even Linh would be happy to use.

Coco-Rico, according to it’s labeling, is a “natural coconut-flavored soda” that is sold in six packs of 12 ounce cans in the beverage aisle of Asian and Latin grocery stores.

Coco Rico has a light coconut flavoring and subtle carbonation which brings a delicate coconut flavor and fluffy consistency to whatever batter it is used in. If you’re like us, you’ve probably had never heard of Coco Rico. But, if you want to make Master Chef Linh’s delicious Coconut-Turmeric pancakes, Banh Xeo (featured in our most recent Culture Kitchen Box), or the mini cake version, Banh Knot (on our website), you will be surely be scrambling to find this fizzy coconut drink.

Put the car keys down and take a deep breath: we have you covered. Our team of fearless cooks has tried a number of substitutions to make your pancakes and other wonderous Vietnamese dishes light and full of flavor while saving you the aggravation and gas costs of traveling to multiple markets.

Trial by fire!  First trial = failure.
We never said we’d get it right the first time! Here is the proof: we tried a few substitutes that didn’t quite make the cut.

(1) Coconut milk and baking soda,

(2) Seltzer and coconut extract,

(3) Coconut water and baking soda

Do not put baking soda and turmeric together: they are not friends and make for a pretty scary red sight with a very bold baking soda flavor!  While substituting coconut extract was closer to the real thing, the texture was lacking the fluffy and light consistency of batter made with Coco Rico and left the cooked pancakes a bit oily and rubbery.

So we went back to the drawing board.

Bring me some tonic–I need to celebrate success!
We knew that coconut flavor needed to be involved, but incorporating carbonation was the tricky part. Tonic, the sweet and fizzy drink, was our missing link. For whatever amount of Coco Rico your recipe calls for, swap with either of the following:

(1) 1/2 tonic + 1/2 coconut milk
(2) 1/2 tonic + 1/2 coconut water

Using coconut milk leaves a slightly richer batter compared to using Coco Rico and using coconut water produces a batter slightly flatter than using Coco Rico, but both variations produce good substitutions to using the real thing and taste delicious.

Happy Vietnamese Cooking!
The Culture Kitchen Team