molê sauce in a mason jar on a marble cutting board with pumpkin seed and cocoa powder garnish with corn tortillas in the background

Mexican-Inspired Molé Sauce (Vegan and Gluten-Free)

This Mexican-inspired molé sauce is a simple and quick take on the authentic dish and happens to be vegan and gluten-free!

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molê sauce in a mason jar on a marble cutting board with pumpkin seed and cocoa powder garnish with corn tortillas in the background

While developing this molé recipe was 100% a time-intensive labor of love, it is by no means an authentic recipe. Molé sauce has an incredibly rich and storied history that I couldn’t possibly live up to. My goal was simply to create a sauce inspired by this history that happens to be vegan and gluten-free and slightly quicker to make. The final product certainly lives up to this and is perfect for a variety of dishes.

A Brief History

The word molé itself derives from the Nahuatl word “mōlli,” which simply means “sauce.” While written molé recipes did not appear until around 1810, there is a great debate on whether the sauce originated with the Puebla or Oaxaca states in Mexico. Furthermore, there are a variety of origin stories that may or may not be true. One particularly fascinating one is that a group of nuns at a convent panicked when an archbishop surprised them with a visit and they had no food prepared. They industriously threw together a sauce and served it with turkey, thus creating what we know as molé sauce.

Today, there are many different variations of molé sauce and most have 20-30 ingredients and take almost all day to prepare. Typically, molé sauce will have at least one type of chile (usually, ancho, chipotle, or pasilla). It can also include myriad other ingredients such as cumin, cloves, star anise, allspice, sesame or pumpkin seeds, almonds or peanuts, tortillas, bread, dried fruit such as raisins, cilantro, tomatoes, tomatillos, onions, garlic, and of course chocolate. There are many different types of molé and most of them have many ingredients. It is also traditionally a labor intensive process to make molé sauce, as women would often spend all day roasting, grinding, and simmering the ingredients. If you would like to learn more about the fascinating history of molé sauce, I encourage you to read more here and here.

molé sauce in mason jar on marble cutting board with cocoa powder and pumpkin seed garnish

Molé Sauce Ingredients

Oil: Any neutral oil will work. I used avocado, but canola and vegetable would be perfect. This is to make sure our ingredients caramelize nicely.

Raw Almonds: Most molé has some type of nut in it. I chose almonds, but peanuts would work too!

Sesame or Pumpkin Seeds: Both work great!

Red Onion: Will be sautéed before being blended along with several other ingredients, which is an important part of the flavor profile here.

Garlic: A universally beloved food-enhancer.

Raisins: Adds a lil’ sweetness and depth of flavor.

Ancho, Chipotle, and Regular Chile Powder: Arguably the most difficult ingredients on this list to find in a standard grocery store. Ancho chile powder is made from dried poblano peppers and chipotle chile powder is made from smoke-dried jalapeño peppers. While I can sometimes find these in Whole Foods or Target, I am generally always able to get them at local spice stores that sell in bulk. If you can’t find them, don’t sweat it. Using all regular chile powder will work fine.

Cumin: Adds some nutty, spicy vibes.

Allspice: While allspice is from the berries of an allspice tree, its flavors are reminiscent of cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, and cloves.

Cloves: To round out the warming flavor of the allspice and make sure it shines through.

Sea Salt: Essential to enhance the many flavors percolating in this molé!

Coconut Sugar: Just a tablespoon to sweeten things up. Brown or white sugar work great too!

Corn Tortillas: That’s right. We’re gonna put two whole tortillas in the blender. This will thicken up the sauce nicely.

Canned Roasted Tomatoes and Green Chiles: To provide a tomato base for the sauce.

Vegetable Broth: Traditional molé calls for chicken broth, but I used vegetable in order to keep this sauce vegan.

Cocoa or Cacao Powder: Either works! Stir in at the end after removing the sauce from heat.

Ideas for Serving

  • Molé sauce is perfect for enchiladas of all kinds (maybe especially these!).
  • It’s a fabulous marinade for chicken, turkey, or even tofu!
  • It would serve as a great base for a molé-inspired chili.

If you make this molé sauce, be sure to leave a rating and review! This helps Google find little blogs like mine and is super helpful. You can also find me on Pinterest and Instagram. I always love hearing from you!

More Fun Vegan Sauces and Dips

molé sauce in mason jar
molé sauce in mason jar

Vegan and Gluten-Free Molé Sauce

This Mexican-inspired molé sauce is a simple and quick take on the authentic dish and happens to be vegan and gluten-free!
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 35 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 4

Equipment

  • Blender

Ingredients
  

  • 1 tbsp neutral oil (avocado, vegetable, or canola)
  • ¼ cup raw almonds (peanuts work too!)
  • ¼ cup pumpkin or sesame seeds
  • 1 medium red onion roughly chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic peeled and minced
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • 1 tbsp regular chile powder
  • tbsp ancho chile powder (or more regular chile powder)
  • ½ tbsp chipotle chile powder (or more regular chile powder)
  • ½ tbsp cumin
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar (cane, brown, or coconut sugar)
  • 2 corn tortillas
  • 1 14.5 oz can fire roasted tomatoes and green chiles
  • 2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 tbsp cocoa or cacao powder

Instructions
 

  • Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat and add almonds and sesame or pumpkin seeds. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 3-5 minutes.
  • Add onion, garlic, and raisins and sauté another 5-8 minutes or until onion is translucent and soft.
  • Add ancho chile powder, chipotle chile powder, regular chile powder, cumin, allspice, cloves, sea salt, and sugar and sauté for about one more minute.
  • Carefully transfer mixture to high-powered blender along with tortillas, canned tomatoes and chiles, and vegetable broth. Blend on high until well-combined, about one minute.
  • Return to a large saucepan and bring to a gentle boil on medium-high heat. Reduce heat to simmer on medium-low heat for about 20 minutes until the sauce thickens slightly and the flavors come together.
  • Remove from heat and stir in cocoa or cacao powder until well-combined. Add to whatever dish you please!

Notes

Storage: Sauce can be kept in refrigerator in airtight container for up to a week. It also freezes well in a Stasher or Ziplock bag for up to 6 months. 
Keyword gluten free, healthy, molé, molé sauce, vegan, vegetarian

Photography by Hope Agresti

molé sauce in a mason jar

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