From a steaming cup of cocoa to brownies and fudge, chocolate is associated so closely with sweets that we rarely think of enjoying its rich flavor in savory dishes.

Mole, the dark Mexican sauce famously made with chocolate, is the only non-sweet use of it most people know.

If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, try adding a little cocoa powder to savory dishes for a deeper, richer and subtly complex flavor.

Cocoa powder is made from ground roasted cocoa beans from which some of the fat, called cocoa butter, has been removed. As a result, one tablespoon of cocoa powder contains one-half gram of fat, while a half-ounce of unsweetened chocolate, roughly the equivalent amount for cooking, contains seven grams of fat.

Equally important, cocoa imparts more of the floral and earthy notes we love in chocolate, with less of the bitterness found in most unsweetened chocolate, the kind easiest to use in savory dishes. This is particularly true for natural cocoa powder, which is not Dutch-processed.

Dutching involves treating cocoa with alkali to make it easier to dissolve in liquids. It also makes it taste milder. You probably grew up with the most familiar kind, which works perfectly in savory dishes.

Cocoa powder combines nicely with various spices, as you see in the dry rub for the chicken in this salad. Here, cocoa adds a different kind of warmth than cinnamon, plus unexpected depth. This spice blend also gives tomato sauce a new twist that you might enjoy.

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Cocoa can be a good salt-substitute, too. Sift it, store it a in a shaker and use a dash to garnish butternut squash, sweet potato, tomato and bean soups, and season sunnyside-up eggs.

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Spiced Chicken Salad

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. natural cocoa powder*
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. ground paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 skinless and boneless chicken breast (1 lb.) cut in 4 pieces
  • 4 cups baby lettuce, or mesclun greens
  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • 1 Fuji apple, cored, cut in thin wedges
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut in 1/2-inch strips
  • 12 red seedless grapes, halved
  • 1/2 cup low-fat ranch dressing

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. On a small plate, mix the cocoa, cumin, curry powder, paprika and salt with a fork until well combined. Dredge the chicken pieces in the mixture, coating them well. Arrange the chicken on a baking sheet.
  3. Bake the chicken until it is white in the center at the thickest part, 25 minutes. Set aside. Combine the lettuce and spinach, and divide the greens among four plates. Arrange the apple slices on top of the greens. Add the pepper strips, then the grapes. Cut the chicken crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange one-fourth of the chicken on each salad. Drizzle two tablespoons dressing over each salad, and serve.* Natural means the cocoa is not Dutched, or processed with alkalai.

Nutritional Information Per Serving

229 calories
4 g. total fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat)
21 g. carbohydrate
28 g. protein
5 g. dietary fiber
574 mg. sodium

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Diabeetic Exchanges: 3 Lean Meat, 1 Fruit, 2 Vegetable