With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, we’re all thinking about the sweetness of relationships but it takes a little more effort to delve into the deeper, more complex aspects of love. Similarly, chocolate’s savory side isn’t usually sought after or easily understood. Just try adding a little unsweetened cocoa powder to a dish for a whole new level of depth — that is, if you’re willing look beyond the more usual sweet chocolate taste. Before sugar is added to chocolate it has a bitterness that is best savored like a rich cup of coffee or a seasoned relationship. Oh chocolate, I think I’m beginning to love you in a whole new way.
If I say savory chocolate, you might think of chicken mole. But how about coq au vin instead? Perusing my current favorite cookbook, Canal House Cooking, I came across this unusual combination of ingredients. Adding a few tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder to the pot after the chicken and vegetables have finished cooking creates an almost alchemical richness and depth to the sauce. After all, that’s what the most interesting relationships are often about — putting together two complex elements and creating something new that far exceeds the individual qualities of either one.
The idea of chocolate paired with chilis and Mexican spices is another intriguing combination. I pulled out my crockpot with the intention of adding a little cocoa to my Black Bean Chili to give it a try. The result was deliciously dark, smoky and spicy with faint chocolate undertones adding that magical extra dimension.
Charlie was so impressed with this dish that he was willing to look away from the Super Bowl long enough to say that I should enter the recipe in a Chili Cook-Off. Now that’s an endorsement, I think. This chili is a different spin on an old classic and could be just as delicious as a vegetarian dish. (I’ve been trying to make my way through the freezer, using as much as I can. I came upon some Skagit River Ranch ground beef that I decided to add). I used my slow cooker but the stove top will work just as well.
Black Bean Chili with Chocolate
2 cups dried black beans, soaked overnight in cold water
1 or 2 medium onions, chopped
3 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb ground beef (optional)
1 28 oz can chopped tomatoes with the juice
1 T chili powder
1 bay leaf
1 T cumin seeds
2 t smoky paprika
1 t dried oregano or marjoram (or fresh if you have some)
1 T canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce, chopped
1 T unsweetened cocoa powder (grated unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate will also work)
1 t salt or to taste
After soaking overnight, drain black beans. Place in a slow cooker with chili powder and bay leaf. Cover with 2 ” water and cook on high until tender about 3 hours. They can also be cooked on top of the stove by bringing to a boil then reducing to a simmer, cover and cook until tender, about 2 hours.
Once beans are tender, drain off most of the liquid and remove the bay leaf, leaving the beans in the slow cooker.
In a large skillet, saute the onions and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add ground beef and cook until it’s no longer pink.
In a small skillet, heat the cumin seeds, paprika and oregano. Shake the pan to lightly toast — about 2 or 3 minutes. Grind the spices in a mortar with a pestle or in a spice grinder.
Add spices to the onions, garlic and meat and then put it all into the slow cooker along with can of tomatoes and 1T canned chipotle chili. Stir it all together, cover and cook on low for 5 or 6 hours.
Just before you serve, stir in cocoa powder and salt. Start with a small amount, taste, then add more to suit your taste.
If you feel you need to justify your consumption of chocolate by all it’s healthful qualities, you may as well eat the very best you can find. We have an amazing little-known resource in Seattle — Claudio Corallo Chocolate. This is truly hands-on artisanal chocolate grown on a previously abandoned plantation on a tiny island off the coast of Africa. It’s then transported to a neighboring island to be fermented, dried, sorted and crafted into chocolate. The Claudio Corallo North America flagship store is located on Westlake Ave. I haven’t been to the new store but I went to their former location and had a wonderful time learning about their unique operation and tasting the chocolate. Tasting chocolate is a lot like tasting wine. Enjoy it with someone you love but watch out, you might take your relationship to a whole new level.