Autumn is well and truly starting to take hold here in the North of England. What better way to embrace the longer nights than with a bowl of steaming spiced chocolate and lentil chilli? If the rich, aromatic chocolate, swirled decadently throughout also just happens to be vegan then I’m officially declaring it my favourite season. Fire up the central heating and bring on the dusk.
The addition of chocolate in savoury dishes is not a new concept. From traditional Mexican Mole to the contemporary restaurants of Hotel Chocolat. When done correctly chocolate adds a deep, bitter sweetness to the overall dish without overpowering or cloying the base ingredients or flavour. The fact that the standard accompaniment to savoury chocolate dishes are predominantly meat based only fuelled my idea to come up with an animal friendly alternative.
As a self-confessed chocolate lover I’ve enjoyed using my switch to a vegan lifestyle as a fabulous excuse for trying out many of the delicious dairy free chocolates that are abundantly available if you know where to look. Enter Ayni Chocolate which I discovered earlier in the year at The Great Yorkshire Vegan Festival in Leeds. As tempting as it was to make off with the whole stall I opted to go with something a bit different and was drawn to the intriguingly named Limited edition Cacao Masala spice blend.
I was hooked by the heady combination of Star anise, cardamom, cayenne, cinnamon, ginger and black pepper all rounded out with 70% cocoa to produce a fragrant, mildly spiced chocolate with just enough sweetness to make it very, very moreish.
Whilst I contemplated demolishing the whole bar in one sitting it occurred to me that each of the spices featured were about to be used in my vegan lentil chilli and so the deal was sealed and my Autumn spiced chocolate and lentil chilli was born.
Ritual: Slow Cooked
Free from: Gluten. Soy.
- Dried Puy lentils - 1 cup - Washed & Drained
- 1 Red onion - Diced
- 2 Celery sticks - Chopped
- 1 Red and 1 Yellow pepper - Diced
- Chestnut mushrooms - 2 cups - Chopped
- Cooked sweetcorn kernels - 1/2 cup
- 2 Tins Plum tomatoes - Chopped
- Vegetable stock - 300 mls
- Vegan red wine (optional)
- 2 Garlic cloves - Crushed
- 1 tsp Sesame oil
- 1 Star Anise Pod
- 1 Cinnamon stick
- 4 Cardamom pods - Lightly bruised
- 1 tsp Coriander seeds - Ground
- 1/2 tsp Dried ginger
- 1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp Black pepper - Ground
- 2 squares per serving of Ayni Cacao Masala chocolate (or preferred high quality chocolate)
Heat a large pot over medium heat. Once heated add the oil, onion and celery. Cook for 5 minutes stirring frequently until onions begin to turn translucent.
Add diced peppers, garlic, coriander seeds, dried ginger, cayenne pepper and black pepper. Continue to stir for a further 5mins allowing the peppers to begin to colour.
If the mixture seem to be catching or sticking add just enough red wine or stock 1 Tbsp at a time to loosen and deglaze the pan.
Next add the mushrooms, sweetcorn, puy lentils and stir for 2-3 mins until the mushrooms begin to release their juices.
Add the tinned tomatoes, star anise, cinnamon and cardamom and stir well.
Add the remaining stock and reduce the heat to low.
Cover loosely with a vented lid or tinfoil.
Check after 10 mins to make sure you have achieved a low simmer and adjust heat accordingly.
Continue to stir every 15 mins or so for approx 1 hour then test the lentils to ensure they are cooked through. Cooking the lentils in an acidic base (such as tomatoes) increases the cooking time when compared with cooking alone in water.
If you feel the mixture is too wet remove the lid whilst continuing to simmer. If the liquid seems to be evaporating too quickly reduce the heat further and add more stock as necessary. You are looking to achieve the thick consistency of chilli by the time the lentils are cooked through.
When you're happy with the overall texture turn off the heat and stir in one piece of chocolate per serving. Taste and decide if to add a second piece of chocolate per serving and adjust seasoning to taste.
Once you're confident with this recipe and your choice of chocolate my preferred way to add the chocolate is piece by piece into each individuals bowl on top of piping hot chilli so they can experience the smell and watch it melting before stirring it through.
Serve with wholegrain brown basmati rice, green salad and flatbreads
With so many elements of varying taste and texture to explore from crunchy cacao nibs to powder and rich decadent cocoa butter I can see it being a looooong time before I get bored with cooking with cocoa so expect to see it as a recurring theme in the future.
Let me know in the comments below your favourite savoury chocolate recipes and don’t forget to #applefalltree over in Instagram with photos of your own chocolate and lentil chilli creations.