When I think of chocolate, I picture rich and creamy dark chocolate bars from equatorial climates all over the world. Chocolate makes a great addition to savory dishes as well, such as the mole poblano sauce I enjoyed while living in Ecuador. As this precious fermented food becomes more globally available, I remember my grandfather, who only enjoyed chocolate once a year on Christmas day. When I savor cacao, I try to honor its source and all the work required to produce it.

Cacao beans, once harvested, fermented, and roasted, are a particularly potent source of healing antioxidants. Georgetown University studies have also shown that flavonols, antioxidants found in chocolate, help lower your levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and boost “good” HDL cholesterol. They ease inflammation and help prevent clotting and arterial plaque formation.

Natural, unsweetened cocoa powder has the highest level of cocoa flavonols and is the healthiest form of chocolate. Try to buy organic, Fair Trade–certified cocoa powder. Fair Trade certification aims to protect farmers in developing countries from exploitation by large corporations or from price fluctuations for commodity crops. In order to be Fair Trade–certified, companies are required to pay farmers a fair price for crops, enabling farmers to pay their workers a living wage, avoid using child labor, and practice environmentally friendly farming methods.

Adding cocoa to savory dishes is a great way to get the benefits of chocolate without all the fat and sugar usually found in sweet chocolate-based treats. Here are two recipes just in time for Valentine’s Day!

Red Chile Mole

Ingredients

  • 1⁄4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 teaspoon red chile powder (ancho is wonderful) 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 2 teaspoons coriander powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon each: clove and cinnamon powders
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1⁄4 cup raisins
  • 2 tablespoons tahini (roasted sesame seed butter) 4 garlic cloves, crushed (in a garlic press)

Directions

  1. In a large skillet, melt coconut oil. Add the chile and cumin seeds. Toast on low for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the onion and add it to the skillet. Add the rest of the spices EXCEPT the cocoa powder.
  2. Cover and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. You can add a splash of water if the onions are sticking to the bottom of the skillet.
  3. In a small bowl, pour boiling water over the raisins. Let them soak for 5 minutes. Drain 3⁄4 of the water, add tahini, and mix well. Add this mixture to the skillet.
  4. Now add the cocoa powder and water. Stir well to incorporate the flavors. Press the garlic into the skillet and cook, covered, for 5 minutes. You can mince the garlic if you do not have a press.

Enjoy over rice, grilled chicken, pinto beans, or cornbread!

Chocolate Almond Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1⁄4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 inch fresh ginger root, minced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 2 teaspoons coriander powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1/4 cup almonds, coarsely chopped 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1 pound organic, free-range chicken breasts or boneless chicken thighs 1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

Instructions

  1. In a large skillet, melt coconut oil. Chop the onion and ginger. Add these to the skillet. Add the rest of the spices EXCEPT the cocoa powder. Sauté for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the chicken, raise the heat to high and sauté, stirring constantly with a metal spatula, for 5 minutes or until chicken is lightly browned.
  3. Add the almonds and almond milk.
  4. Cover and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.
  5. Now add the cocoa powder. Stir well or whisk gently to incorporate the flavors. Press the garlic into the skillet and cook, covered, for 5 minutes.

Enjoy over corn tortillas and with a side of cooked greens if you like!

Writer Lisa Mase is a culinary medicine coach, food writer, translator, and ​folk ​herbalist living in Vermont.​ For articles and recipes, visit Lisa at www.harmonizedcookery.com.

For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or to sell any product.