I can’t live without chocolate. If I could inject it straight into my bloodstream, I would. Whether it’s hot chocolate with marshmallows, fudgy brownies (I call dibs on the corner piece!), or a fun-sized candy bar, eating chocolate is the highlight of my day. However, if you’re like me and love chocolate but still want to be mindful of your sugar intake — or you simply want some non-dessert ideas to spice up the snack — I have good news: There are several delicious ways to use chocolate in savory dishes. Below is a quick explanation of chocolate’s salty history, plus a few chocolate-based dinner recipes you can make tonight.
A Brief History of Chocolate
Loving chocolate is a longstanding tradition: According to History.com, humans have been enjoying it since as far back as the early 16th century B.C., when Mesoamerican cultures used cacao — the seeds that grow into cocoa and are cultivated into chocolate — in celebratory beverages. From there, explorers and conquistadors are believed to have brought chocolate to Spain, thus beginning its proliferation throughout Europe and beyond. According to Food Network, the first chocolate bar was invented in Switzerland in 1819. Now, Americans eat more than 12 pounds of the stuff annually. (I’m sure doing my part in contributing to that average.)
Chocolate As a Savory Food
Though dessert is chocolate’s primary mode of consumption in the U.S., several cultures use it in savory recipes. Among the most popular of these is mole, a rich, aromatic sauce that’s a staple in Mexican cuisine. America’s Test Kitchen says that mole poblano, one of seven definitive mole variations, “has a rich, bittersweet flavor and deep, dark-brown coloring that comes from a special ingredient: cocoa.” Cocoa is also a recommended ingredient in the Egyptian spice mix, dukkah, and the foundation of a Spanish pesto called picada. Italians have been topping their pasta and meats with chocolate for a long time too, according to food historian Francine Segan.
The reason chocolate works in both savory and sweet dishes is scientific. As cookbook author Sue Quinn explains, “in their natural state, cacao beans contain more than 600 aroma molecules, the volatile airborne compounds that impart flavors, and these range from fruity and earthy to nutty and toasted.” Chocolates, she says, is “a much more versatile ingredient than many cooks realize.” (She also shares a recipe for Pasta With Gorgonzola, Walnuts, Rosemary, and Chocolate that I am definitely trying soon.)
3 Ways to Use Chocolate in Savory Dishes
Some sources note that chocolate’s unique blend of sweetness, acidity, and bitterness make it the perfect ingredient for balancing and deepening the flavors in savory dishes. Ready to test this theory for yourself? Check out these three recipes. (Keep in mind that when cooking savory chocolate dishes, you’ll be using cocoa powder, cacao nibs, or dark chocolate — save the Snickers for dessert.)
1. Smoky Butternut Squash and Cacao Soup
Though it’s not pumpkin-flavored or sugary like seasonal candy, the combo of squash and chocolate in this dish screams “fall.” Impress your guests with the recipe adapted from author, scholar, and restaurateur Maricel E. Presilla’s cookbook of Latin American recipes, Gran Cocina Latina; it was also posted on The Earthy Delights Recipe Blog.
- 2 pounds butternut or other meaty squash, such as kabocha or Hubbard
- 12 ounces plum tomatoes
- ½ small onion, unpeeled
- 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 1 canned chipotle in adobo or 1 dried chipotle chile, reconstituted
- ⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 ounce cacao nibs
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon brown or unrefined sugar
- 8 cups chicken stock
- 1 ounce dark chocolate, 60 or 65 percent
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 ounces diced Manchego cheese
- 1 cup Mexican crema or crème fraîche
- Salsa of your choice
- Fresh cilantro sprigs
- Chop squash into one-inch pieces.
- Roast tomatoes, onion, and garlic over medium heat until blistered and charred, about 10 minutes, and set aside to cool.
- Blend tomatoes, onion, garlic, chipotle chile, and seasonings (including cacao nibs) in a food processor until smooth.
- Bring olive oil to medium heat, add purée and brown sugar, and cook, stirring constantly, 5 minutes.
- Add squash and chicken stock, bring to boil, reduce to low, and simmer until squash is tender, 15-20 minutes.
- Remove from heat, blend until smooth, and pour through fine mesh strainer. Discard solids.
- Stir in chocolate until it melts, garnish as desired.
2. Chocolate-Chipotle Sirloin Steak
You can have this unique and hearty steak dish on the table with just five ingredients and less than 30 minutes of prep time. The recipe from Taste of Home makes four servings and promises “smoky heat and chocolaty rich color.”
- 3 tablespoons baking cocoa
- 2 tablespoons chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- 4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ pounds beef top sirloin steak
- Blend first 5 ingredients until smooth, coat beef with mixture, and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
- Grill beef, covered, over medium heat, or broil 4 inches from heat 8 to 10 minutes on each side (or until it reaches desired doneness).
3. Roasted Baby Carrots with Balsamic-Bitter Chocolate Syrup
If you’re not ready to commit to a chocolate-centric main dish, these carrots are a perfect side dish to try. The author of this recipe, posted on Theo Chocolate’s website, notes that this syrup goes well with meats or other veggies, and recommends you use “real baby carrots, the kind with lacy green tops and delicate peel” and not “the factory-shaped cylindrical ones that come in a bag.”
- 3 pounds baby carrots, green tops trimmed to 1 inch
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 5 or 6 sprigs fresh thyme
For the syrup:
- ½ cup balsamic vinegar
- ½ ounce pure 85 percent dark chocolate, chopped
- ½ teaspoon honey
- Generous pinch kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place carrots on sheet pan in single layer, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle salt, and place thyme sprigs on top.
- Roast until tender and brown in spots, shaking pan and turning once or twice, 35 minutes total.
- While carrots cook, start syrup by simmering vinegar over medium-low until reduced to ¼ cup.
- Remove vinegar from heat, add chocolate, melt 30 seconds, stir until melted completely.
- Add honey and salt, mix well.
- Discard thyme, drizzle syrup over carrots, and serve.
I don’t exactly need any more reasons to reach for chocolate — but it looks like it might become a part of my dinner rotation from now on. I hope you give these recipes a try (and don’t skip dessert! If it makes you feel any better, chocolate has plenty of health benefits).
This article originally appeared on our sister site, First for Women.