Mole Meatballs Inspired by 'Like Water for Chocolate'

Mole Meatballs Inspired by 'Like Water for Chocolate'

Wednesday, 1 January, 2020

Food and drinks are some of the easiest ways — and the most fun— to vicariously experience another culture. When you add a great book to the mix, you've got the makings of a perfect evening. In Food+Fiction, we recommend a delicious read and a related recipe so you can try the taste of different destinations in your own kitchen.

This post is part of our Food+Fiction series.


Mole is the catch-all term for sauce in Mexican cuisine, but the mole that’s most familiar to us gringos is the dark, rich version known as mole poblano. In the enchanting novel Like Water for Chocolate, our heroine Tita prepares a most memorable batch of turkey molé, its aroma so enticing it lures her beloved Pedro to the kitchen where they share a caliente moment.

Built on layers of flavor that begin with chiles, mole can be an all-day affair of roasting and grinding each ingredient separately before combining them with water in a cauldron called a cazuela. The mole bubbles for hours in the pot and is continuously stirred to prevent scorching.

Most of us don’t have that kind of time, so this recipe uses shortcuts that make this recipe more manageable without sacrificing the flavor of the key ingredients: chile peppers, nuts, raisins, cocoa… and love.

Mole Meatballs

Serves 2–4. Total time: 40–45 minutes


Mole Sauce:

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 tablespoons raisins
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 3⁄4 cup tomato sauce or purée
  • 1⁄2 cup water or chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons almond or peanut butter


  • 1 1⁄2 pounds ground pork, chicken, beef, or turkey
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground coriander

Wilted Cabbage:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1⁄2 large head green cabbage

garnish: dry-roasted pepitas, fresh cilantro


Make the sauce. Warm the oil in a nonstick saucepan over medium-high heat, 2 minutes. While it heats, dice the onion. Add the onion to the pan and sauté it until it’s soft, 5–7 minutes. While it cooks, peel and crush the garlic and place it in a small bowl with the chili powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper. When the onion is soft, add the spices to the pan and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste, cocoa, raisins, and sesame seeds; stir- fry for about 2 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, water, and almond butter; stir to combine. Simmer over low heat while you prep the meatballs, about 10 minutes.

Prep the meatballs. In a large bowl, combine the ground pork, chili powder, salt, pepper, and coriander; mix well with your hands. Run a dinner plate under cold water, shake off the excess water, and set it near your workspace. Moisten your hands with cold water, measure a rounded tablespoon of pork with the scoop, then roll it into a ball and place it on the wet plate; repeat with the remaining pork.

Cook the meatballs. Purée the sauce with a stick blender inside the saucepan (or carefully in a food processor or blender). Bring the sauce back to a simmer and gently place the meatballs in the pot. Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes, then remove the lid and stir gently to coat the meatballs in sauce. Cover and cook 5 minutes more, then remove the lid and cook an additional 5 minutes uncovered, until the sauce has thickened and the meatballs are cooked through.

Cook the cabbage. During the final 10 minutes of the meatballs’ cooking time, place the olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet and warm it over medium-high heat, 2 minutes. While the oil heats, thinly slice the cabbage. Add the cabbage to the pan with a pinch of salt and stir-fry until it’s wilted, about 2 minutes.

To serve, divide the cabbage among individual serving plates and top it with meatballs and sauce. Sprinkle with pepitas and cilantro leaves.

This recipe is from our cookbook Well Fed Weeknights, and it’s packed with other easy-to-make and crazy-delicious recipes from around the world.

The trouble with crying over an onion is that once the chopping gets you started and the tears begin to well up, the next thing you know you just can’t stop. — Laura Esquivel

Like Water for Chocolate

by Laura Esquivel

Food, love, and passion color this luscious family saga set in a Mexican border town around 1900. This intimate story of one family is played out against the dramatic backdrop of the Mexican Revolution. Wistful and full of magic, the tale reads like a legend that’s been passed down through generations, and it centers on the forbidden love of Tita and Pedro. As the youngest daughter, it’s Tita’s fate to forsake love and to care for her domineering mother, Mama Elena, until her mother’s death. But Tita and Pedro fall madly in love. When Tita felt Pedro’s gaze on her, ‘she understood exactly how raw dough must feel when it comes into contact with boiling oil.’ To be close to her, Pedro marries Tita’s older sister, and no one’s life remains untouched by this flawed decision. {more}

This magical realism classic (256 pages) was published in August of 2002 by Anchor. The book takes you to a timeless Mexican village. Melissa read Like Water for Chocolate and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it. is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.

Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies


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