6 surprising ways with chocolate
You may love nibbling a few squares after dinner, but did you know that you can use chocolate in savoury and sweet dishes to add richness, depth and a surprising number of health benefits?
Chocolate olive oil mousse
BEST FOR A heart-healthy dessert
150g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
4 large eggs, separated
80ml olive oil
60g caster sugar
1 Gently melt chocolate in the microwave or a saucepan, checking regularly. Let it cool a little, then add the egg yolks and whisk to a thick paste. Whisking continuously, slowly pour in the olive oil.
2 In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Continue to whisk while adding the sugar a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture becomes glossy.
3 Beat one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate, then fold in the remaining egg whites carefully. Pour into ramekins and chill for three hours.
The plant polyphenols in cocoa and olive oil are a winner for your heart. When a group with at least three cardiovascular risk factors (such as high cholesterol) had 40g of dark chocolate enriched with extra virgin olive oil daily for 14 days, it increased levels of EPC (cells that protect against heart damage). It also decreased carnitine, high levels of which can indicate heart problems. Good cholesterol levels also significantly increased, while blood pressure lowered.
Read more: 10 simple ways to boost your heart health
Bean and roasted pepper chilli
BEST FOR Vascular health
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
1 celery stick, finely chopped
½ carrot, finely chopped
1 sweet pointed red pepper, finely chopped
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 jar roasted red peppers, drained reserving the water
1 tsp chipotle paste
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
½ tbsp cocoa powder
½ tbsp dried oregano
½ tbsp sweet smoked paprika
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
½ x 400g can butter beans, drained and rinsed
2 x 400g cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 x 400g can black beans, drained and rinsed
60g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
1 Fry the onion, garlic, celery, carrot and chopped pepper in a little oil over a low heat in a heavy-based saucepan, until soft. Blitz a quarter of the roasted peppers from the jar in a food processor with the chipotle paste, vinegar, dried spices, cocoa and herbs to form a purée.
2 Tip into the veg and cook for a few mins. Add tomatoes and juice from pepper jar; simmer until thick. Add the beans, chocolate and remaining peppers, cut into pieces; heat until bubbling. Season to taste, garnish with coriander; serve with rice.
It’s important to keep that elaborate network of veins and arteries healthy. Research shows that dark chocolate helps restore flexibility to arteries and prevents white blood cells from sticking to blood vessel walls, stopping arteries hardening. Other research has found that consuming a lot of beans reduces arterial stiffness, too.
Dark chocolate and hazelnut cookies
BEST FOR A stress-reducing treat
125g cold coconut oil
100g golden caster sugar
150g light muscovado sugar
125ml coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
275g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda, salt
200g dark chocolate chips
100g 70 per cent dark chocolate, broken into pieces
1 Toast nuts in a dry pan and halve. Heat oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4. Mix coconut oil and sugars in a bowl, whisk in coconut milk and vanilla, sift in flour, baking powder, bicarb and a pinch of salt, then stir. Fold in the chocolate chips and nuts, form the mix into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and chill for an hour.
2 Line baking sheet with paper. Form the mixture into 20 balls and place on the sheet 2cm apart. Bake for 12-15 mins until golden but soft to touch. Leave to cool for 5 mins, then transfer to a rack to cool. Melt the chocolate and dip the cookies into it until half-submerged, then place them on a sheet of baking parchment and cool in fridge.
Two studies have shown that eating dark chocolate has positive effects on stress, mood and memory, thanks to the antioxidant flavonoids.
Read more: 3 natural ways to beat stress
Banana, cinnamon and dark chocolate porridge
BEST FOR A pre-workout breakfast
50g porridge oats
150ml milk of your choice
½ tsp cinnamon
Drizzle of sweet date syrup
Handful dark chocolate chips
1 Put the oats and milk in a pan over a low heat and stir until thickened.
2 Remove from the heat, slice in your banana, sprinkle with cinnamon, drizzle with date syrup and throw in chocolate chips. Gently stir through and serve.
A UK study found that chocolate gives similar benefits to beetroot juice, a favourite with elite athletes. Epicatechin, a type of flavanol in cacao beans, increases nitric oxide production in the body – this dilates blood vessels and reduces oxygen consumption, improving endurance. In the study, a group of cyclists replaced their usual daily snacks with 40g dark chocolate for 14 days; they used less oxygen when cycling at a moderate pace and covered more distance in a two-minute time trial. Oats, meanwhile, provide healthy carbohydrates, while the bananas are full of fibre, minerals and natural energy.
Read more: Zanna Van Dijk’s 9 rules for eating strong
Roasted butternut squash and mole enchiladas
BEST FOR A mood boost
1 butternut squash, diced
1 x 400g can black beans, drained and rinsed
100g feta, crumbled
6-8 corn tortillas
Handful toasted pumpkin seeds
For the mole sauce:
25g ancho chillies
2 large tomatoes, peeled
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp flaked almonds
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp walnuts
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
Pinch of cinnamon
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp fennel seeds
6 black peppercorns
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 tsp smoked paprika
50g stale brown bread, torn into small pieces
50g dark chocolate
Salt and black pepper
1 For the sauce, cover the chillies in boiling water, and leave aside for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 200ºC/180ºC fan/gas mark 6, spread the squash on a baking tray, drizzle with oil, season and roast for 15 mins.
2 Chop tomatoes roughly; put in bowl with oregano. Lightly toast seeds, nuts and spices, then grind spices; add to tomatoes. Fry onion in olive oil for 10 mins, add smoked paprika, raisins and bread. Cook for 10 mins. Drain chillies, but keep juice, slice thinly and add to pan.
3 Stir in tomato mixture, cook for 10 mins. Pour in 200ml of water from chillies and simmer for 10 mins. Grate in the chocolate and season with salt. Blend until smooth.
4 Grease a baking dish and brush a third of mole sauce on bottom. Warm the tortillas in the microwave for 10 seconds. Fill each with some feta, squash and black beans. Roll and place seam-side down in a baking dish. Brush mole sauce over the enchiladas, cover with foil and bake for 20 mins. Uncover, bake for 5 mins more. Remove from oven, scatter with coriander and toasted seeds. Serve with a dollop of mashed avocado.
Using EEG technology, researchers took images of people’s brains while they performed cognitive tasks. After eating dark chocolate, they were more alert. Chillies also boost the brain: when you eat them you get an endorphin rush, which gives the same ‘runner’s high’ as exercise. Olé!
Read more: 7 surprising health benefits of chocolate