Three Bites: Mole Verde

Marilyn HawkesJanuary 11, 2023
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Photography by Angelina Aragon
Photography by Angelina Aragon

Valley chefs get saucy with tomatillo-based mole verde. 

Widely considered the national dish of Mexico, mole comes in multiple guises. You’ll find everything from mole poblano, a complex, savory-sweet chile sauce with fruit, nuts and Mexican chocolate that’s typically served at weddings and quinceañeras; to mole verde, an easier-to-make tomatillo-based sauce infused with fresh chiles and herbs and a shot of toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds). 

After years of ceding mole primacy to the poblano variety, mole verde is making a push in Valley restaurants. For his enchiladas de mole verde ($19), chef Jose Rodriguez at Agave del Scottsdale (8390 E. Via De Ventura, Scottsdale, 480-248-6901, agavedelscottsdale.com) blends cilantro with roasted jalapeños, serrano chiles, tomatillos and pepitas, then reduces in a saucepan to thicken. Ladled over house-made corn tortillas stuffed with chipotle-tinged chicken tinga, and topped with panela cheese crumbles and ribbons of sour cream, the zesty, tangy  sauce pulls the dish together, enhancing all the flavors. Rodriguez also features the sauce in mole verde doña carmelita ($24) – a double pork chop smothered in mole verde. “It’s a simple sauce, easy to make and you can put it on anything,” he says. 

For a different spin on the sassy green sauce, try the new camarones en mole verde bowl ($12) on the lunch menu at Los Sombreros (three Valley locations, lossombreros.com). Owner Kurt Riske plates four plump shrimp in a moat of saucy mole verde, highlighted by tomatillos, pepitas, avocado leaves and epazote, a Central American herb with anise and citrus notes. Riske serves the bowl with traditional Mexican rice sautéed in oil and cooked with house-made guajillo sauce; and a heap of sautéed carrots, red bell peppers, zucchini and broccoli sprinkled with lime juice. He then finishes with sliced red onions, chopped tomato and fresh cilantro. Riske urges guests to mix all the ingredients in the bowl. “It’s just so good all together.” Pro tip: Los Sombreros’ magnificent wood-fired puerco en mole verde is no longer on the dinner menu, but the chefs will still make it upon request. 

Another mole story: After becoming fascinated with mole while visiting Mexico, executive chef Angelo Sosa decided to add a mole verde dish to Tía Carmen’s (5350 E. Marriott Dr, Phoenix, 480-293-3636, tiacarmendesertridge.com) inaugural menu. Sosa’s Baja striped bass ($36) is plated with mole verde made from Swiss chard, kale and spinach for earthiness; sesame, pistachios, pepitas and almonds to add a nutty essence; and dried shrimp to bring the umami to the forefront. He also includes hoja santa, a Mexican herb that imparts hints of anise and fennel. “I wanted to create something dynamic and layered,” he says. “All those flavors bounce off each other.” Sosa places the mole verde next to a piece of pink-hued striped bass encrusted in pecans, almonds and pepitas, toasted to extract their rich flavors and oils. He tops off the dish with a cloud of Thai basil foam – cooked basil blended with olive oil and then frothed. “The Thai basil adds a rich creaminess and is a conduit for the mole verde,” Sosa says. “It’s a beautiful dish.”

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