superfoodsforlifecacaoBy Barbi Lazarus, Donor and Volunteer Resources Coordinator

If you’re like me and you’ve been fanatically watching the Food Network’s Great Holiday Baking Championship, you may associate cocoa and chocolate with holiday desserts at this time of year. You may be dreaming up your favourite recipes for chocolate crinkle cookies, chocolate pecan pie, or dark chocolate truffles. And you may be thinking of devouring these treats as a kind of guilty indulgence.

Well, registered dietitian Matt Ruscigno (you may recognize him from providing the nutrition info for Isa Chandra Mokowitz’s Appetite for Reduction) is here to prove you wrong with his new book Superfoods for Life: Cacao.

Although the book contains 75 delicious recipes, it is so much more than just a cookbook. It delves into all of the reasons why cocoa is something you should include in your diet regularly, not shy away from. Did you know cocoa helps to lower blood pressure, has strong antioxidants to help prevent cancer and reduce the effects of aging, and helps muscle recovery for athletes?

However, this book doesn’t only speak of the nutritional properties of cocoa. It also traces the history of cocoa consumption around the world and explains how it is cultivated and processed. The information that is tucked in between recipes is truly fascinating.

If it’s the recipes you are after, you’re also in for a bit of a twist. Although there are some sweet recipes in the book, they are mainly savoury! Like I said, Matt is pushing for you to get more cocoa into your diet so there are recipes for all sorts of main courses, salads and appetizers that you would have never dreamed of, like the Crowd Pleasing Bell Pepper Pizza (dressed with cocoa flavoured pizza sauce) and Chocolaty Bindi Masala.

tamarindchocolatechiliEven I was a bit skeptical of some of the recipes at first, so I started with something more familiar, Basic But Wholly Scrumptious Fudge. Everyone who tried this fudge was absolutely floored. The use of coconut milk and coconut oil made it as luscious and rich as can be. It reminded me of the fudge you’d get from a classic fudge shop somewhere in Muskoka.

After a successful stab at a chocolaty dessert, I went for the Miso Cacao Un-Cheese, which I ate spread on top of crunchy crudites from Through Being Cool Bakery. I found that it was the miso flavour that stood out, with a hint of cocoa coming through. It was certainly unlike anything I’ve tried before, and I mean that in a good way!

I have to admit that as I was pulling the Cocoa Jerk Tofu out of the oven, I had my doubts. It certainly looked like tofu coated in a chocolate syrup, and even I, a serious chocolate lover, wasn’t quite sure how the two would marry. But first and foremost, this was jerk tofu, with all the traditional spices like curry powder, all spice, cinnamon, garlic, etc. The cocoa flavour was not overpowering, but added a nice twist. The extra broiling recommended for the end of the baking cycle gave the tofu a nice, chewy texture.

So this holiday season, might I suggest surprising your guests with something a little different? Perhaps bring out the cocoa at the start of the party rather than waiting until the end. Of course it’s always fun to end with a rich dessert too. Now you know you can have your cocoa and eat it too!