Maybe it was because I paid more attention to the waiter than him or gushed over the chef like he was a long lost lover, but the poor fella who I ate the best dinner of my life with…didn’t stay in my life much longer after that meal. While that love affair was not meant to be, my love of nearly all things chocolate has endured. That meal, or rather experience, was a collaboration dinner put on by a quaint little French restaurant and local chocolatier in Providence, RI where I was living at the time. And though nearly 8 years and many amazing meals have since past; it is still the best dinner of my life.
What made the experience so intensely memorable and worth writing about all this time later? Chocolate.
Every course of this 6 course meal incorporated cocoa in such a unique and absolutely delicious way that was nothing short of ecstasy. While the three dessert courses were as decadent as one could imagine, what was most intriguing were the way the culinary creators incorporated chocolate into the three savory courses. It began with a mixed green salad topped with cacao nib crusted scallops and drizzled in a not-too-sweet white chocolate vinaigrette, that I have been unsuccessfully trying to duplicate since. The next course was shredded rabbit in a rich and spicy milk chocolate mole folded perfectly into small tortillas like tacos. And finally, before the desserts starting flowing, was a pork dish with dark chocolate cherry stuffing and drizzled in a red wine and bitter chocolate glaze. I still have the menu, which was presented at each place setting in the form of a wrapper around a handmade chocolate bar.
Like nearly everyone I have had a love of chocolate since childhood. My affinity for the sweet even inspired my father and me to buy shares of stock in the Hershey Company when I was still in elementary school. Possibly we just used the excuse of a shareholders meeting as an escape to the sweetest place on earth: Hershey, PA. My taste in chocolate has grown finer over the years and exploring all that this bean has to offer is a culinary quest with endless enjoyment.
Cacao beans are considered one of the most nutrient-dense foods on earth (hooray!). But don’t let that rationalize running out and grabbing the closest candy bar…I’m talking about the raw beans (which are actually the seeds of the cacao fruit) and nibs (peeled and crumbled whole beans). The nibs can be roasted or added as is to granola or baked goods, made into shakes and lots of other treats. Nibs and raw chocolate is becoming more popular, but is most well-known for being processed into chocolate.
Pure cacao is loaded with antioxidants, minerals such as magnesium and iron, and even contains fiber. The naturally occurring chemicals found in the beans could be the source of the pleasure we find in chocolate. Theobromine is a bitter compound affecting the nervous system and with Greek roots theo (God) and broma (food) meaning food of the gods.
Cacao also contains phenylethylamine, which is known as the love chemical and is thought to increase focus. Tyrptophan and Serotonin, both protectors from stress are abundant in cacao. Also present in chocolate is stearic acid, a unique saturated fat thought to help lower cholesterol. No wonder we crave this bean in any form…exciting, stress-free, healthy love and happiness from a decadent food-count me in!
And it certainly sounds like the perfect food to entice a lover on Valentine’s Day (or any day) doesn’t it? But, we could all come up with something sweet in the kitchen to melt a hungry heart; chocolate truffles, molten chocolate cake, even Mom’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies can accomplish that warm fuzzy feeling. I think we should explore this ingredient outside of its comfort zone and into more culinarily daring territory…the savory side of chocolate.
Many are familiar with the classic and more commonly known mole sauce. Originating in Mexico this strong sauce is used primarily with meats and has as many variations as there are kitchens. Ingredients range from pumpkin and other seeds, cilantro, nuts, cinnamon and every spice imaginable, grapes, plantains, tomatoes, garlic, and onions; but every recipe includes some sort of chili peppers and usually chocolate. Try our recipe for Red Mole with Roasted Turkey and Vegetables.
If you’re worried a spicy and rich mole sauce won’t fancy your lover’s taste buds, don’t despair, there are quite a few adventurous ways to incorporate this aphrodisiac into your dinner. Because of their bitter and rich flavor profile, cocoa powder or cocoa beans are easier to incorporate into savory dishes than sweet processed chocolate itself. Here is a recipe for a cocoa rub (I think I once had a spa treatment that was very similar) that is excellent on pork. I like it rubbed on whole pork tenderloin before searing and finishing to desired doneness in the oven. But it would also be great on pork chops, a roast, or even chicken thighs. When I need a little sweet and spicy kick, I add in some chili powder and a tablespoon of brown sugar.
Cocoa Spice Rub
2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
½ T. ground white pepper
½ T. ground coriander
1 ½ T. cinnamon
2 T. course sea salt
1 t. ground nutmeg
The one piece of my perfect meal in Providence that I have been able to replicate is the scallops. Simply grind cacao nibs coarsely, similar to coffee, salt and pepper some fresh scallops, and dip the scallops on both flat sides into the ground nibs. Sear the scallops in a hot pan with a bit of butter for just a few minutes on each side. Serve that on baby arugula or mixed greens with a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar, a touch of olive oil, crumbled fresh goat cheese, and toasted hazelnuts or almonds. This simply sexy salad can be served as a first or main dish and the flavors balance impeccably.
Here are some other great recipes that bring some of that choco-happiness into a main meal:
So don’t be afraid, add a bit of sweet to your savory, an unexpected ingredient into your culinary repertoire. Put a little extra love and some chocolate into your main dish… the one you cook for will appreciate it, I promise.
With “A Kitchen Inspired” we will share with you the current and up and coming ingredients, products and cooking methods that inspire our team members, chefs and the kitchen at Whole Foods Market Dublin. Do you like your chocolate savory or sweet? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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