RECIPE: Chocolate’s indigenous history makes spicy tale
Washington—Chocolate is a flavor as old and varied as the Americas, says Richard Hetzler, executive chef at the acclaimed Mitsitam Cafe at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
Mayans transplanted the cacao tree from the rainforest to their villages and fermented, dried and roasted its seeds to concoct a decidedly unsweet drink involving chilies and lots of froth.
The Aztec were drinking the bitter brew when the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the 1520s. Although the Spaniards didn’t like the beverage, they hauled the cacao seeds back to Europe. A century later, when someone thought to add sugar—a luxury the ancient Mayans didn’t have—this indigenous American flavor became a lasting worldwide sensation.
Native ties to making chocolate continue into the 21st century via Bedré Fine Chocolates, a company the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma bought in 2000. Bedré, sold in Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s department stores, is particularly proud to provide the guitar-shaped chocolates to three of the Seminole Nation’s Hard Rock© hotels. Guests find the delicious products of the only Native American-owned chocolate company in the United States on their pillows.
At the Smithsonian’s Mitsitam Cafe, Hetzler likes to cook chocolate the old-school way, though with a twist. His Mexican hot chocolate is both sweet and spiced with pasilla peppers. And the Mitsitam’s Chocolate and Coconut Soup draws out the chocolate’s distinctive flavor with coconut milk, onions and pasilla negro chile peppers.
Hetzler will demonstrate cooking with chocolate during the museum’s “Power of Chocolate” festival on Feb. 13-14. The festival will travel back to the roots of chocolate with Bolivian cacao farmers and presentations about the history, mythology and art surrounding its origins.
Mitsitam Cafe shares the flavor, originally sipped with chilies by the Mayans, with two quick, tasty recipes.
The Mitsitam Cafe’s Chocolate and Coconut Soup, garnished with cocoa-dusted plantains
- 1 medium white onion, diced
- 2 medium shallots, diced
- 3 dried pasilla negro chile peppers
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 14-oz. can of coconut milk
- 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (74 percent)
- 1 green plantain
- ¼ cup cocoa powder
- ¼ cup sugar
For the soup, sauté onions, shallots and the dried chiles until translucent. Add cream and half-and-half; bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add chocolate. Whisk until blended. Add coconut milk. Puree in blender. Season lightly with salt.
For garnish, peel a green plantain and slice fruit into thin discs. Lightly deep fry until crispy. Stir together cocoa and sugar, and use the mixture to lightly coat the fried plantain chips. Scatter the cocoa-coated chips atop each serving of soup.
By Kara Briggs
American Indian News Service