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Spice it up with chocolate

Spice it up with chocolate

Chocolates and chillies make for a good sauce



Rahul Verma

Are you dreading the chocolates that threaten to flood your home on Valentine’s Day? Fret not! If you don’t want to eat chocolates, cook with them. On February 14, when chocolates of all shapes and hues peep out from store shelves, we should raise a toast to this ubiquitous ingredient and sweet. It has an ancient and rich history. The Olmecs, who lived in central Mexico centuries back, were the first to plant and use the cacao beans. The Mayans saw the beans as restorative and used them for special ceremonies. European explorers who went to Latin America centuries later returned with the cacao. But even 150 years ago, nobody (as far as we know!) had eaten a chocolate — it was had only as a drink. Milk chocolate was first prepared in 1875, with powdered milk and chocolate liquor.

What interests me is the fact that chocolates can be used to spice up food. We don’t have to see it as dessert but can cook savoury dishes at home with chocolate. In many parts of the world, chocolates are added to meat and fish. I still remember the taste of a pork chop I ate with a sweet-and-bitter sauce that had been prepared with dark chocolate. Roasted baby carrots taste good when served alongside a sauce prepared with balsamic vinegar and bitter chocolate. Mexico’s popular chilli is cooked with beans, chocolate, chilli powder — and a host of other ingredients.

Chocolates and chillies, in particular, make for a good sauce. A chef who did magic with chocolates had shared his recipe of a green chilli chocolate dip with me. He had melted 30-gm butter in a pan and gently stirred in 30-gm flour. He heated and added 200 ml of fish stock (but you can go for any other stock if you wish to) to the butter and flour, and let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes. He then strained it. In this, he melted 60-gm white chocolate and then added 3-4 green chillies, half a teaspoon of lime juice and 2-4 finely sliced spring onions, along with salt.

I once had a delicious Japanese dish of basa fish cooked in sous vide style (that is, over low temperature) and served with a chocolate-flavoured sauce. For this, you need to blanch, peel and julienne 200 gm of beetroot and shred 200-gm cabbage. Lightly season two basa fillets and put them in a vacuum pack (say a ziploc bag) in an enclosed water bath with a set temperature of 60°C. Cook for 15 minutes, and then cool the fish to room temperature. Heat some butter, add a bit of crushed garlic to it and then toss in the beetroot and cabbage, but do not overcook. Sprinkle some cinnamon powder over it. Crisp fry 100-gm leek. In a pan, put 100-ml red wine and let it simmer with 1 teaspoon of dark chocolate. Add 50-ml cacao juice, and some more butter. Sprinkle the Japanese furikake spice on the fish and pan-sear it. Put the fish on a bed of the tossed beetroot and cabbage. Drizzle the cacao juice-red wine sauce on it and garnish with the crisp leek on top. In one word, yum!

Equally memorable was a delicious dish that I once had of a smoked salmon and melon salad, which had been served with a vodka chocolate sauce — a blend of vodka, chocolate ganache, chilli flakes, chilli oil, mustard paste, balsamic vinegar and lemon zest. This was drizzled over the smoked salmon, placed in a bowl with melon wedges, cucumber, lettuce leaves, olive and cherry tomatoes.

Clearly, vodka, chilli and chocolates meld well. A chocolatier in south Delhi used to keep a green chilli dipped in vodka for three days. And then he would put it in hot chocolate. The outcome was hot, sweet — and delicious.

You could think of preparing some mole sauce with chocolates at home (see recipe). This sauce used in Mexican cuisine has many varieties, but is largely prepared with a variety of spices, nuts, onions and other ingredients.

For a good sauce, look for chocolates with high cocoa solids. The higher the proportion, the better the taste. Chocolate also burns easily, so chop a bar finely before melting it. The best way to melt chocolate is by putting it in a double boiler.

Dark chocolates have antioxidants, which are good for us. Chocolates have phenylethylalanine and theobromine, which make us feel happy. They also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps the brain produce serotonin, which again makes us happy.

All in all, make the best of the Valentine’s Day chocolates. Cook with them, and be happy.


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