Cantina Mayahuel is one of my absolute favorite San Diego bars.
There are countless world-class craft beer bars and tasting rooms in San Diego that I love. This, however, is not one of them. Cantina Mayahuel is, in their words, a civilized cantina with old Mexico charm, providing education and information about the culture, the process, the heritage and the passion involved in the making of tequila.
To me, it’s the perfect lowkey, go-to spot. The tequila and mezcal selection is top-notch and the margaritas are on point. The bartenders are friendly and helpful. The space is cozy and seldom crowded. And the mole poblano is rich, complex, and well-balanced. They also introduced me to mezcal, which I immediately fell in love with, as well as pipian verde, a green mole made with pumpkin seeds that’s perfect over turkey. It’s the kind of spot that leaves you dreaming of a trip to Central Mexico.
So when I learned a friend would be getting married in Puebla, I knew I finally had an excuse and started planning a vacation. 3 cities. 700 miles. 10 days. Mexico City for tacos al pastor and Pujol, Puebla for mole poblano and chiles en nogada, and Oaxaca for mole and mezcal.
And, oh, it did not disappoint! I may have been a bit overzealous in how many cities were realistic, but it was absolutely worth it. Each city was so unique, particularly in regards to architecture in food. I couldn’t stop eating. The tacos pictured above are from a tianguis (open air market) in Mexico City. They’re also the best damn tacos I’ve ever had. And the mole! So many moles! I could go on and on about how incredible everything tasted and about the sights and sounds and people, but I’ll save that for the next mole-themed post…
For now, here’s a recipe for Pipian Verde, the mole I first tried at Cantina Mayahuel in San Diego and was fortunate enough to try again in Puebla, Mexico. It’s unique because it’s not made with dried chiles, like most moles, nor is the ingredient list prohibitively long. Instead, it’s made with a handful of fresh ingredients that balance each other to create an earthy, but vibrant sauce with just enough acidity and heat. I also like to add gose or witbier for the slightly sour, coriander laced, wheat bill that adds yet another dimension of flavor. It’s perfect when paired with chicken, turkey, or white fish and a stack of fresh, warm white corn tortillas alongside a gose or pale lager.
Total Time: 1 hour
Yield: 4 to 5 cups
1 cup shelled pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup white sesame seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pinch ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
6 tablespoons vegetable oil or lard
1 white onion, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 pounds tomatillos, husked and halved
5 garlic cloves
2 jalapeño peppers, halved, seeds and ribs removed
2 poblano peppers, quartered, seeds and ribs removed
1 packed cup fresh cilantro
1 packed cup fresh parsley
1/2 packed cup fresh epazote (if available)
1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup gose or wibier
salt, to taste
In a large skillet with sides, or a large saucepan, toast pumpkin seeds over medium high heat for 2 minutes, tossing frequently. Watch closely as seeds have a tendency to burn quickly. Add sesame seeds. Toast an additional 1 to 3 minutes, continuing to toss frequently, until fragrant and beginning to pop around. Once ready, remove from heat and place in a spice grinder or food processor. Pulverize until finely ground, adding a tablespoon or two of stock, if needed. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine onion, tomatillos, poblanos, jalapeños, garlic, and peppers; toss with 2 tablespoons oil or melted lard until evenly coated. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with aluminum and place on middle rack under a broiler; stir and rotate pan every 5 to 8 minutes and cook until well charred but not burnt, 25 to 30 minutes. Place in a blender or food processor, working in batches, if needed, with broth, beer, cilantro, parsley, epazote, cumin, cloves, and oregano. Process until well puréed and smooth.
Add remaining 4 tablespoons of oil or lard to skillet used for toasting seeds and set over medium high heat. Once hot, add vegetable and nut purées and fry, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt.