Hot Trend: Inventive Mole

Mexican mole is a rich sauce with complex flavors, served with meats or enchiladas. Oaxaca and Puebla are Mexico’s centers of mole, but the sauce is now common in restaurants and burrito shops north of the border. It often contains chocolate, one of a dozen or more ingredients Americans have come to expect, along with ground nuts and sesame seeds, dried fruits such as raisins, spices, meat broth, and, of course, soaked and puréed dried chiles.

WHAT’S NEW
In Los Angeles, Chef Rocio Camacho (below) is doing really inventive things with mole. At Rocio’s Mole de los Dioses, Camacho’s six-month-old restaurant in the suburb of Bell (there's also a more casual spin-off in the San Fernando Valley), the Oaxacan-born chef is stripping away mole’s complexity to focus on purées of single fruits or vegetables. Her use of chiles and spices is sparing.

Food critic Jonathan Gold has called Camacho “a mole diva.” In both of her restaurants, Camacho does fantastic versions of half a dozen traditional moles (huitlacoche, Oaxacan black mole, manchamanteles), a mole special that changes weekly, and another half-dozen molelike sauces (chipotle-strawberry, for example). You can also order cream of grasshopper soup, chilaquiles with squash blossom sauce, and carne de chango—grilled, guava-leaf-smoked pork.

One of Camacho’s inventive moles could as simple as a purée of beets, flecked with crunchy passion-fruit seeds, spooned over a fat piece of filet mignon. Her brilliant Velo de Novia (“Bridal Veil”) swaps out white chocolate for dark, golden raisins for regular ones, and fresh chiles gueros for the typical mix of dried red chiles. (See recipe below for Camacho’s Mole de Aromas for beef or lamb.)

Though she has four kids, Camacho still finds time to work the line at the Bell restaurant from 8 in the morning till 2 in the afternoon, then commutes 25 miles to Sun Valley to work dinner. (“Until midnight, usually,” she says nonchalantly.) Her latest dream: to open a mole shop on the Strip in Vegas.

MOLE DE AROMAS
By Rocio Camacho, Rocio’s Mole de los Dioses; adapted by Javier Cabral

Difficulty: Easy | Total Time: 1 hour | Active time: 20 minutes | Makes: 3 cups

This contemporary mole from Los Angeles chef Rocio Camacho has a surprising ingredient: beet. Thickened with toasted nuts and plump raisins, it recalls Persian fesenjan sauce, and is delicious spooned over seared beef fillet (as in the photo, top) or braised lamb shanks. Make sure you serve plenty of rice and tortillas to sop up every bit of sauce.

INGREDIENTS
• 1 medium red beet
• 1 cup whole almonds
• 1 cup walnut halves
• 1 cup golden raisins
• 2 tablespoons canned chipotles in adobo sauce
• 1 clove
• 1/4 cup grapeseed or vegetable oil
• 1 bay leaf
• Salt

INSTRUCTIONS
1. Bring water to a boil over medium high heat in deep saucepan; add beet. Cook beet until tender, about 30 minutes, Drain, cool slightly, and remove skin (for easier peeling, place beet in a paper towel, pinch the skin, and peel off).

2. Heat almonds and walnuts in a 12-inch skillet over high heat and cook, stir nuts until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Transfer toasted nuts into a blender, add beet, raisins, chipotles, clove, and 2 cups of boiling water; season with salt and purée until smooth (texture should be like that of heavy cream; if necessary, add more water to achieve this consistency). Set sauce aside.

3. Heat grapeseed oil in a deep saucepan over medium high heat, add sauce and bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, reduce for 30 minutes, until sauce has thickened and is fragrant. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Note: If you prefer a silkier consistency, pass sauce through a sieve.

Photos by Javier Cabral

Based in East Los Angeles, Javier Cabral is founder of TheGlutster.com, a food, booze, music, and general desmadre blog. His work also appears in LA Weekly and Saveur.