Eat Chocolate!

I come from a family of chocolate lovers. Cakes and other sweets made of chocolate were always our favorites.

chocolate mousse 88 (photo credit: )
chocolate mousse 88
(photo credit: )
I come from a family of chocolate lovers. Cakes and other sweets made of chocolate were always our favorites. So it was natural for me, after I studied professional cooking and baking in Paris, to write a book of chocolate desserts. Still, I felt somewhat guilty indulging in all those chocolatey delights. So I was thrilled to learn about a recent discovery. Chocolate is healthful! Dr. Steven Pratt and Kathy Matthews, authors of SuperFoods HealthStyle (Morrow, 2006), call chocolate a "SuperFood." Chocolate made it to Dana Jacobi's list in the 12 Best Foods Cookbook (Rodale, 2005). She wasn't talking about the 12 best tasting; most people would include chocolate on that list! Her book presents the 12 healthiest foods. What makes chocolate such a powerful health promoter is its flavonols, which Pratt characterizes as "plant compounds with potent antioxidant properties." Antioxidants, according to Jacobi, stop the action of destructive molecules "that damage cells and can lead to aging and various diseases through the process of oxidation." "Research is now suggesting that flavonols in chocolate are responsible for the ability to maintain healthy blood pressure, promote blood flow and promote heart health," wrote Pratt. Chocolate has lots of flavonols, more than tea and red wine, which also contain appreciable amounts. Indeed, according to Jacobi, "Dark chocolate has the highest antioxidant content of any food" and contains minerals such as iron, magnesium and potassium, as well as fiber. What about the fat in chocolate? Much of it has no apparent effect on cholesterol, and some is monounsaturated, like olive oil, and has a slight cholesterol-lowering effect. In fact, wrote Jacobi, "A number of studies in which people ate dark chocolate or drank cocoa have demonstrated heart-protecting benefits, including increased HDL (good cholesterol) levels and reduced LDL (bad cholesterol) levels." Worried about chocolate's caffeine? It's a myth that chocolate is loaded with it, says Pratt. There's only a bit; a typical bar has less than one-tenth as much as a cup of coffee. Mollie Katzen and Dr. Walter Willett, authors of Eat, Drink, & Weigh Less (Hyperion, 2006), make chocolate part of their weight control plan, citing that dark chocolate is beneficial for the cardiovascular system. Their pyramid-shaped diagram of the foods that form the basis of their diet allows dark chocolate more often than white bread, white rice, white pasta and potatoes. In their 21-day weight loss plan, Willett and Katzen include chocolate treats, such as chocolate-banana shakes, chocolate-dipped strawberries and chocolate meringue cookies. The darker the chocolate, the higher its antioxidant content. Choose chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa solids for maximum benefit. Besides, dark chocolate has less sugar. Although milk chocolate and white chocolate contain some polyphenols, there is some indication that milk diminishes their benefits. That's why some cooks use soy milk rather than cows' milk in chocolate desserts; they end up healthier and parve as well. Of course, chocolate should be eaten in moderation. Jacobi suggests, "Plan a daily chocolate treat, setting aside 1 ounce for a snack. Put away the rest of the bar." Pratt recommends regarding dark chocolate as a little healthy indulgence and eating about 100 calories of it daily, adjusting your calorie intake and exercising appropriately. A square of fine chocolate can be superb, but what if you want a yummy, healthy chocolate dessert to enjoy on Shabbat? Of course, you don't want to spoil chocolate's healthful qualities by adding saturated or trans fats. There are plenty of possibilities, because often it is the chocolate that makes desserts luscious. When I lived in Paris, a French master chef taught me to make chocolate mousse from only two ingredients - fine quality chocolate and egg whites. To make the mousse creamy even with commonly available chocolate, I melt it in a little milk or soy milk. My favorite garnish is chocolate coated nuts - they're delicious and besides, nuts are healthy, too! For a more elaborate sweet treat, I like chocolate nut ice cream cake, made of nut meringues sandwiched with light chocolate ice cream. Using chocolate chips is an effective way to enjoy chocolate in healthful desserts because you get little chocolate bites throughout. Norene Gilletz, author of Healthy Helpings (Woodland, 2004), uses them in her ABC muffins - apricot, bran and chocolate chip - which are loaded with healthful ingredients: applesauce, egg whites, canola oil, wheat germ and a mix of whole wheat and white flour. In The Millennium Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 1998), authors Eric Tucker and John Westerdahl present brownies from their highly regarded San Francisco restaurant of that name, made of chocolate chips, cocoa, prune puree, natural sugar, flax seeds, canola oil, soy milk, maple syrup and vanilla. "Knowing that a bit of fine chocolate is nudging you toward better health, rather than in the opposite direction, should be sweet news indeed," wrote Willett and Katzen. So enjoy your chocolate, slowly. LIGHT AND CREAMY CHOCOLATE MOUSSE WITH GRAND MARNIER This recipe gains its richness from chocolate, and needs no egg yolks or whipped cream. You can make it parve but still creamy by melting the chocolate in soy milk, rice milk or almond milk. 200 gr. fine-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped 1⁄2 cup low-fat milk or soy milk 5 large egg whites 2 Tbsp. sugar 1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier 2 tsp. grated orange zest 4 or 5 chocolate-coated nuts or small piecescandied or chocolate-coated orange peel Melt chocolate in milk in a medium bowl set above hot water over low heat. Stir until smooth. Remove from water; cool for 3 minutes. In a large dry bowl, whip egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually beat in sugar; whip at high speed until whites are stiff and shiny but not dry. Stir Grand Marnier and orange zest into chocolate. Fold in about 1⁄4 of whites until blended. Spoon mixture over remaining whites; fold gently just until blended. Divide among 4 or 5 small ramekins. Refrigerate for 3 hours or up to 1 day; if keeping for longer than 3 hours, cover after mousse has set. Serve garnished with chocolate-coated nuts. Makes 4 or 5 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Chocolate Sensations (HP Books). It was published in Hebrew as Shokolad by R. Sirkis Publishing.