What would Valentine’s Day be without chocolate? Although the origins of their association are rather muddled (aphrodisiac properties and Cadbury commercialism are the most commonly floated theories), since Victorian times never have the twain been parted. To this day, nothing says love like a Whitman Sampler. The cacao bean at the root of it all has a much deeper history, of course, having been an important part of Mesoamerican culture going back more than 4,000 years. Aztec sacred ceremonies featured cacao drinks, with the fermented, roasted and ground beans whisked into water and sometimes mixed with corn or chilies. They were onto something truly delicious, and the later addition of sugar by the Europeans kicked chocolate into the stratosphere.
If you’d like to woo your beloved with something dark and seductive, you might consider making a meal that weaves chocolate throughout. Rick and Michel Mast, Brooklyn maestros of bean-to-bar chocolate, recently published a cookbook, “Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook,” that include recipes for such savory enticements as Cocoa Coq au Vin, Chocolate Cranberry Pork Tenderloin and Cocoa Balsamic Vinaigrette. These may sound crazily ultramodern but, as my recent trip to Mexico revealed, unsweetened chocolate has long been an element in the traditional Oaxacan moles that blanket everything from stuffed tortillas to roast turkey. Surely a dinner featuring any of these dishes would conquer even the hardest of hearts.
But for all its versatility, and its often decidedly earthy notes of smoke, leather and wine, chocolate in its sweet incarnations is what really drives people wild. So with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it’s only fitting that I offer you a couple of recipes for what is rightfully perceived as a classic of the dessert genre: chocolate mousse. After all, it’s French and who does love better? Generally a matter of lots of cream and eggs, my mousses require neither, though top quality bittersweet chocolate is essential. In fact, both these recipes are velvety, voluptuous and—wait for it—vegan.
The first one combines chocolate soy milk, silken tofu and a hit of Kalhúa with melted chocolate. Whizz this in the blender and chill. You will be astonished by the decadent results, particularly for something so relatively low in calories and fat (and so easy to make). I like to serve this mousse with a topping of spicy candied pumpkin seeds. They make a nice textural counterpoint, but you could also try some chopped crystallized ginger, or toasted almonds, or a spoonful of crème fraîche, if you throw vegan caution to the wind. The other one contains just two ingredients—chocolate and water—and requires a simple but brilliant technique developed by molecular gastronomist Hervé This. All you do is melt the chocolate with a bit of water, pour this into a bowl over an ice bath and whisk like mad. In a few short minutes it miraculously becomes mousse! It’s intense and ridiculously simple, sort of like falling in love. But with more whipping.
[Read Laura Silverman’s food column, Relish Every Day, in The River Reporter on the fourth week of every month.]