Modern Moles

25 February, 2020

With Mexican cuisine still as popular as ever, mole is something that we’re going to be seeing a lot more of in the future, as creative chefs look to re-imagine this traditional dish into something altogether more modern and globally influenced.

Mole is a catch-all name that covers the many complex and richly spiced pastes, marinades and sauces that are a speciality of the country’s Oaxaca and Puebla states. Traditionally these are made using a base of chillies, fruits or nuts alongside other ingredients such as spices, herbs and chocolate. However it’s one of those dishes with no set recipe, and which varies from family to family and from region to region (each mole tends to be shaped by the ingredients available in each region), so there are almost unlimited variations. As such it makes for a great base or canvas for other flavours and also lends itself to experimentation and innovation.

Mole poblano and mole verde at Cacao Mexicatessan
Image courtesy of ‘cacaomexicatessan via Instagram

In Los Angeles, well regarded Mexican Chef Rocio Camacho not only makes refined, modern versions of many classic moles but also specialises in her own re-interpretations of these with a focus on purées of single fruits or vegetables and minimal use of chillies and spice. At her restaurant La Dioasa de los Moles, Camacho serves these moles as both an accompaniment to various meats, vegetables and fish and also by themselves as a tasting plate. Her more traditional moles include the spicy, smokey and bitter Oaxaqueño made with ground chillies, toasted nuts, seeds and burnt bread ashes and creamy green pistachio mole, while some of her less traditional versions include a purée of beets and her take on the classic velo de novia (Bridal Veil) made with white chocolate, golden raisins and fresh chillies.

Mole at Pujol
Image courtesy of @pujolrestaurant via Instagram

At restaurant Alcalde in Guadalajara, Mexico, chef Francisco Ruano regularly uses ingredients such as vinegar, charred bananas and onion purée is his moles and even makes an Asian-influence, umami-rich version using seaweed as a base. Nitally’s Thai restaurant in St Petersburg, Florida blend mole with red curry paste and coconut milk to make a panang mole curry – the mole lending the dish both an added sweetness from the chocolate and heat from the ancho chillies. In Mexico City chef Enrique Olvera serves mole madre (the mother of all moles) at his award-winning restaurant Pujol which, not unlike a sourdough starter, he keeps feeding and adding to, to develop its flavour – it’s currently over five years old. This mole is then served simply on a plate by itself with a stack of warm tortillas with which to mop it up. In fact renowned Nordic chef Rene Redzepi was so blown away by the flavour of this mole that it inspired the moles he created for the Noma residency in Tulum, Mexico in 2017.

Rosio’s Mole at Noma Mexico
courtesy of @alifewortheating

In London chef Neil Rankin serves almond and green moles as a starter at his newly opened, plant-based burger joint, Simplicity Burger, and at Temper, another of his restaurants, he serves it with wood-roasted cauliflower – a bit like a Mexican version of the classic cauliflower and cheese. Also in London, at the soon to open Kol, which will be headed up by former Noma Mexico chef Santiago Lastra, the menu will feature an oxtail and rosehip mole, while Corazon do skin on fries served with mole coloradito, queso fresco, crema and sesame seeds, and to finish of your meal, at Casa Pastor in King’s Cross Coal Drops Yard you can have a chocolate and mole tart.

Back in Los Angeles, at Mexican café and deli CaCao Mexicatessen, chef Christy Lujan makes a poblano mole with local black Mission figs, the recipe for which includes roasted chillies and a blend of dried and fresh figs, plus nuts, raisins, sesame seeds, chocolate, French herbs, plenty of spices and crumbled crackers to thicken it. This is served with a number of dishes, including enchiladas and skinny fries.

As Lujan puts it “What I really like about mole is that there are so many variations. You don’t really need a set recipe. As long as you have chillies, a type of nut and a sweetener like plantains or any fruit, you can make a mole.”

Mole poblano, pumpkin seed mole and guajillo chilli sauce at Cacao
Image courtesy of @cacaomexicatessan via Instagram