So last week I was at one of my happy places, Rancho La Puerta, a spa/resort in Mexico where I have the incredible, amazing, stupefyingly good fortune to be a visiting cooking teacher about once a year.
It’s a very cool place that miraculously manages to be rustic yet pampering, invigorating yet relaxing, super fun yet super indulgent. They have hot and cold running activities, from hiking to circuit training to Latin dance cardio to meditation to crystal bowl healing to jewelry making to cooking classes. It’s like camp for grown-ups, with great food, plus every spa service you can imagine.
Like I said, very cool.
But being there reminded me of something else that’s cool—cocoa nibs.
Cocoa nibs are basically the raw material of chocolate-making. They’re cocoa beans that have been dried, roasted, and winnowed—winnowing is the process that removes the outer papery skin from the roasted bean—resulting in the crunchy roasted cocoa nutmeat, if you will. To make chocolate, you grind, grind, grind those cocoa nibs into a peanut butter-like mixture, then add ingredients including sugar. (This is a super-simplification—for more about the miracle of chocolate-making, read this post.)
But cocoa nibs are great in and of themselves. In both taste and texture, they’re a lot like nuts, but ones with a slight coffee/cocoa flavor. Which means you can use them any place you’d use nuts, but your finished dish will be waaay more interesting.
Use them in brownies, for example—we made Mexican Chocolate and Cherry Brownies topped with cocoa nibs (pictured) in class last week.
You can also mix cocoa nibs into cookies and cakes and muffins. Sprinkle them into salads and over sundaes. Puree them into pesto. And mix them into rice or granola. Again, basically any place where you’d use nuts, you can use cocoa nibs.
I once worked a chocolate-themed lunch where we served a twist on green beans almandine—cocoa nibs browned in butter, then dribbled over blanched green beans.
Many thanks to Denise, Gina, Anna, Saida, Angelina, and everyone at Rancho La Puerta for yet-another awesome week. Thanks, too, to all who attended my classes at the Ranch—for our new friendship, and for giving me the opportunity to reappreciate cocoa nibs.