Combining chocolate and chiles seems like avant-garde cuisine, but South Americans have been doing it for more than 1400 years. Before chocolate bars were invented, the Aztecs enjoyed hot chocolate by grinding cocoa pods with chiles and cinnamon. Other recipes, like mole negro (a thick sauce made with unsweetened chocolate, chiles, nuts and seeds) remain a staple in Mexican cuisine.
The sensation came into American consciousness with the 2001 movie, Chocolat, in which Juliet Binoche’s character spiced up romances through handmade chocolates. Real-life chocolatiers, like Jacques Torres, have capitalized on the “new” flavor by offering wicked hot chocolate.
You needn’t go to a nouvelle chocolatier to tickle your tastebuds. In fact, the professionals often over or underwhelm chocolate with chiles. My favorite way to enjoy the flavors is to eat chili or curry on its own, then cool off my mouth with a square of chocolate. The heat from the food seems to melt the chocolate faster. The next time your mouth’s on fire, don’t reach for a glass of water or milk; go with chocolate!
Coming in a close second is Daisy Martinez’s recipe for “sweet & spicy almonds.” Cumin, cayenne pepper, cocoa and powdered sugar are layered onto almonds to create an addictive snack. They’re just sweet enough to satisfy a dessert craving but salty enough to inhale like Lay’s “betcha can’t eat just one” potato chips.
There’s two delightful ways to eat them. You can just pop them in and let the “brown snow” dance around your mouth. Or, if you’re more patient, don’t chew right away. Let the cocoa dissolve, then let the spice layer sting your tongue before giving way to the candy shell.
Plus, these almonds are highly nutritious. One ounce of almonds has 35% of the RDA of vitamin E, is high in fiber and high in heart-healthy fats. Plus, cocoa arguably has more antioxidants than green tea. Granted nuts are high in fat, but if you snack on them instead of potato chips, you’re well on your way to good health.
1 Tbsp cumin
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 pound brown sugar or piloncillo (Mexican sugar)
1 cup water
3/4 pound (2 1/2 cups) whole unpeeled almonds
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 300F. Stir together spices.
Heat brown sugar and water in a pot over medium heat until dissolved. Add almonds. Scoop out with a slotted spoon to drain out the liquid. Toss with spices.
Bake on a greased pan for 20 minutes, rotating half way. Meanwhile, stir together the cocoa and powdered sugar. Roll hot almonds in the cocoa mixture.
- Don’t use blanched almonds; the skin helps the spices stick.
- Just use table salt; coarse salt won’t stick.
- Any type of nut can be substituted. If you like Nutella, hazelnuts would be divine.
- Honestly, my almonds didn’t taste hot, but that’s probably because my spices were old.
- Use the leftover sugar syrup to sweeten drinks or as a topping for pancakes, etc.