Does anyone drink cocoa anymore? I don’t mean hot chocolate – delicious and welcome as it is – but cocoa. Made with cocoa powder and sugar, with water if you’re feeling austere or milk if you want to be a bit more indulgent. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually had it. In fact, rather than a taste memory of it, I think more of literary references, associating it with Enid Blyton-style midnight feasts. It’s about campfires, adventures and nostalgia.
Cocoa powder in my kitchen is generally used in chocolate cake. My favourite is Nigella Lawson’s sour cream chocolate cake, where the sour cream produces a lovely, soft, luxurious cake. More regularly I use cocoa powder in granola. The recipe I use comes from Joy the Baker‘s first cookbook, in which a couple of tablespoons of cocoa powder are stirred into the base of a granola, making it subtly chocolate-y. It’s paired with coconut, cinnamon and, in my version, whatever nuts or seeds happen to be in the cupboard (peanuts and pumpkin seeds this week).
However, a new cookbook induced me to use cocoa powder in a very different way. I was introduced several years ago to the idea of chocolate or cocoa powder in chillis, in which the dark bitterness of chocolate is used like a spice to provide depth, and have used this several times in various chilli recipes over the last few years. The other week, I tried a recipe from the Whitewater cooks at home cookbook, a Canadian cookbook I was given for my birthday, for chicken quesadillas with pumpkin mole sauce. This uses cocoa similarly to how it’s used in chilli – as a spice to provide earthy depth to the sauce – but here it’s smashed into a loose, gritty paste with ground pumpkin seeds and peanuts, chillis, cinnamon and cumin. The sauce is then spread onto one side of a tortilla, topped with cooked chicken and cheese and cooked as usual for a quesadilla. The flavour was fantastic, not at all chocolate-y, but deep and earthy, complementing the chillis and making a simple quesadilla a bit more special.