I tasted my first authentic mole in Mexico City on a History of Art trip to study the art of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. With the vibrant paintings swirling through my head, I became completely intoxicated with mole poblano. From the Mexican word molli meaning ‘concoction,’ mole is commonly known in the combined form guacamole – avocado concoction. Mole is a generic term for a variety of sauces in Mexico with ingredients ranging from chilies and peanuts to tomatillos and chocolate. It is typically used to top chicken but in restaurants it is often used in enchiladas. The pumpkin mole yields a lighter sauce, not as complex or heavy as traditional recipes – perfect when paired with fresh lime as a summer lunch.

Frida Kahlo, Still Life, 1942
oil on copper, 64.5 cm diameter, Museo Frida Kahlo, Mexico City

Still Life was commissioned by the president of Mexico to be hung in the dining room of the presidential palace in the place of honor. Once completed, the painting was revealed at a dinner party where the wife of the president found the painting to be indecent and ordered it to be returned to Frida. The uterus-shaped squash is filled with fertile seeds and dominates the composition. Sitting above the squash on a leaf is a Polyphemus moth – throughout art history the moth was used to denote loss and decay. This breed in particular has one purpose in life, to lay eggs on plants that will provide nourishment for the larvae. This painting presented itself as the perfect segue from Berndt’s botanical illustration as it was composed with scientific exactitude and resembles “illustrations found in medical and botanical texts” (1).

{Roasted Chicken with Pumpkin Mole}

adapted from Bon Appétit

brown onion, sliced into rings
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 slices of multi-grain bread
3/4 c canned tomatoes, drained
3 1/2 c chicken broth
2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
1 c pumpkin, roasted and pureed
8 chicken breasts
lime wedges

Saute the onions and garlic in a pot over medium heat in a bit of olive oil. Once cooked and soft, after about 4 minutes, transfer to a large bowl. Keep the oil in the bottom of the pot and fry the two slices of bread on both sides. Add the bread and the tomatoes to the bowl and puree with a hand blender. Return to pot.

In the same bowl puree the two chipotle chilies and 1/2 c of the  chicken broth. Add to the tomato mixture in the pot and cook for about 2 minutes before adding the roasted and pureed pumpkin and remaining chicken stock. Cook until reduced to about 3 cups, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile rub the chicken with the adobo sauce from the canned chipotle chilies. Roast in a 180C oven until the juices run clear, about 30 minutes depending on the thickness of the chicken.

Top the chicken with the mole and garnish with the coriander and lime wedges. Serve warm.

This is the third post in a five part series examining the still life paintings of Frida Kahlo.