Sweet, sensuous, and rich, with a flavor that does not merely float past your tongue, but really sinks into your taste buds; chocolate is an experience, not merely a food. It was discovered first in Central America by the ancient Incas, Aztec and Mayan tribes who made a beverage out of cocoa beans called Xocolātl (A luxury reserved only for the warriors and royalty.) As the discoverers of chocolate, the Aztecs were naturally the first to experiment with this flavor, having a better stomach for its bitterness than the Spanish Conquistadores who, upon discovering this, sweetened the recipe with sugar.
Thousands of years since, the world has perfected the Chocolate, with innumerable varieties of flavors and twists to it. The Swiss are particularly renowned for their expertise with chocolate, and the process of making it is as mouthwateringly delicious to watch as it is to eat.
Chocolate, notwithstanding, is more than just a sweet wrapped in glittery, shiny paper. It is a flavor fermented, husked and refined from dark, bitter cocoa beans, and exists in various forms that can be used and consumed. There are a staggering variety of ways in which a chef can innovate with chocolate in the kitchen, not just in sweet dishes or baking, but also in drinks like beer, and cooking!
1. Chili Con Carne
Chili Con Carne is a non-vegetarian dish typically cooked with beef and lots of chili. Many of the recipes that talk about the rules of pairing flavors work on the principle of contrast: that exciting results come from the “agitation” of opposite flavors. Hence, Nigella Lawson also recommends a thumb sized cube or two of bitter dark chocolate in the final stages of making a chili con carne in place of a teaspoon of sugar, which is typically used to caramelize vegetables while frying. However, the amount of chocolate added should be very light and subtle, so those who eat it are unable to identify it in the flavors even as it does its magic.
2. Barbecue with Cocoa
Cocoa, dry mustard, and savory spices make a dry seasoning you can add to the typical sauces and dressings you use on barbecued meat. It takes around 30 minutes to prepare, and can be used on chicken, fish, pork, and beef: you name it!
3. Chocolate Beer
There are different kinds of beer, and different kinds of chocolate! The intricacies of home brewing these things to just the right intensity and flavor requires an expertise that comes only with a lot of knowledge and experience (read: trial and error) this is not one of your idle-afternoon-culinary experiments but a time consuming process. Pure, untreated cocoa beans can be used like coffee beans in your brewing. Other forms of chocolate, however, come with additional ingredients like sugar, butter and fats that affect the brewing process and so need to be dealt with in a careful, specialized way. Chocolate and beer is an adventure meant only for those who are seasoned. Others, try your luck at a brewery or just munch on a piece of chocolate alongside sips of your regular drink.
One seldom finds this on coffee shop menus, and it is about high time one does! The oldest innovation with chocolate ever, this drink is a spicy Mexican preparation pronounced “chocolatl”. Now that we live in a free, open and globalized world, we can have access to this drink from the comfort of our own homes. Add one green chili to a cup of boiling water, seeds and all. Strain the seeds and chili from the water and add 4 more cups, then stir in some (unsweetened) cocoa powder and vanilla essence into the coffee pot. The drink should be completely clear, and ready in 5-10 minutes. And there! Your Xocolatl is ready! Your history teacher will be impressed. Another interesting thing to note is that if you add red chilies to Chocolate, it enhances the absorption of nutrients and vitamins found in it, making it healthier!
5. Chocolate Rice
Whoever heard of chocolate and rice? Who eats sweet rice? Oh wait, it says “chili” here. So spicy rice? Who’s heard of sweet, spicy and chocolate in the same sentence as rice? Well, this recipe is a terrific idea if you are in the mood to experiment and have a taste for the exotic. Get your hands on:
2 cups of low-fat milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
2 cinnamon sticks
As much red hot chili pepper as you want (½ or ¼ teaspoon recommended)
And toss them in a saucepan over medium heat. Once you see the mixture bubbling at the edges of the pan, and steaming, remove the vanilla pod and the cinnamon sticks. Then, add 2 cups cooked rice and simmer on low heat. Keep stirring it over twenty minutes, so as to avoid burning. Chill and serve!
6. Chocolate Salami
Chocolate Salami is a no bake dish. Adapted from the Italian hard-cured sausage dish called Salami, Chocolate Salami is popular across Europe and is served during festive seasons such as Easter. Assorted nuts like pistachio, almonds and walnuts and dried fruits like dates soaked in rum are used in this dish. There are dozens of varieties found all over the internet for this dish.
7. Chocolate Bark
The name is strange, but Chocolate Bark is an Aztec spin on the chocolate western spin on the traditional nutsy snacks of Chikki, or peppermint bark. This dish is basically melted chocolate with toasted pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, and red chili pepper sprinkled over it. Lay the melted chocolate mixed with the ingredients over a flat baking pan lined with wax paper. Then leave it to harden in the fridge. Shape it however you want! The resulting dish is good for about one or two days.
8. Chocolate-Dipped Fruit
Your kids don’t like fruits, and pull a face at virtually anything healthy you offer them? Try this delicious recipe with almost anything: strawberries, grapes, cherries, etc. You will need to melt milk chocolate in a boiler, and then add chocolate shortening (or paraffin as a substitute). Using toothpicks, pierce through the top of the fruit (unless it has a stem, like the cherries) and dip into the hot mixture. Then stab a piece of Styrofoam or a corkboard with the other end of the toothpick as the chocolate cools and hardens around the fruit, without you touching and getting your fingerprints all over it. Smoothness, perfection, and happy children! There you go!
9. Ice Cream Bar Dessert
It looks complicated, but isn’t really so. You can whip up an attractive dish like this, by playing with layers of fudge, ice cream, chocolate and whipped cream. Pour the chocolate syrup into a bowl and microwave 2 minutes on high. Do not allow the chocolate to boil. Stir peanut butter into hot chocolate until it is smooth. Allow to cool to room temperature. This forms the base for your Hot Fudge Ice Cream Bar Dessert.
10. Chocolate Cheesecake
The chocolate cheesecake is a marvelous invention that looks dangerously good. Baked on a crust of biscotti, a chocolate ganache settles on top of the eggless cheesecake, so that when you slice it, the cheese oozes thick, luscious, lip smacking and delicious. All you need is to prepare the biscuit base, whip up the cheese with sugar and whipping cream, prepare the chocolate ganache and chill to set. The best part is, this recipe needs no oven, and can be made completely vegan, by replacing the cheese with hung yoghurt.