A Cocoa Hit

Cocoa nibs 4 12.8.12Cocoa nibs came into my circle several years ago when I saw them in a magazine, a chocolate touch for a Valentine’s Day salad. I was intrigued. I found a source online, ordered them and got them just in time to make that same salad to bring to my book group for our monthly wine-sharing, potluck-dinner book discussion.

These sliver-shaped nuggets are the broken pieces of roasted and shelled cocoa beans that you can toss into salads, over ice cream, on your cereal, or grind into a powder and allow to infuse a stew or chili. In fact, my husband has done that often when he’s made chili. Because they’re cocoa, they’re not sweet, so instead you get, well, the deeper, darker taste of cocoa…in tiny bursts.

Outside of making that salad and using the nibs over ice cream, or something similar, I don’t remember using them too much more, mostly my husband grinding them to add to chili from time to time. Yet, oddly enough, I continue to keep cocoa nibs stocked in the house.

Then along came this week, and once again a salad to be made as my contribution to the upcoming book group get-together. Casually flipping through a food magazine, I was hoping something would strike me that would serve as an ingredient to play with in this blog for the next three weeks, and that would also lead to a salad idea. Inspiration came in the form of a beautiful chocolate cake. It’s not the cake that registered in my brain, but the chocolate part, which made some quick internal connections, and led to my mind clearly stating, “Cocoa nibs.”

Very quickly, the salad mentally grew to include red and green leafy lettuce, grapefruit, pomegranate seeds, and maybe cheese if I could find the right one. So I headed to Trader Joe’s.

I picked up a package of their red and green oak leaf lettuce. I got an organic pomegranate and an organic red grapefruit. And, then, in their cheese section, I found a cheese I thought could do the job, one of Trader Joe’s more recent additions, a parmesan-gouda blend. I liked the idea of a little sharpness and a little creaminess, so into the cart that went, too.

After rinsing and spinning the lettuce, I tore it into bite-sized pieces and abundantly filled a rectangular white serving platter.

I thinly shaved pieces of about half of the parmesan-gouda wedge with a vegetable peeler, tucking into the greens.

I segmented the grapefruit over a strainer sitting on a bowl to catch the juices. I used the method where you cut away all the skin and pith, and then slice between the membrane and fruit to release the fruit and leave the membrane, then squeezed the remaining juices from the membrane. I further sliced the segments into three or four thin slices, and draped those on and in among the greens and cheese slices.

I sprinkled the seeds of half a pomegranate over top. (See last week’s post regarding freeing pomegranate seeds and juice from skin and membranes.)

And over all that, I sprinkled a couple tablespoons of cocoa nibs.

To a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil, I added two tablespoons of the fresh grapefruit juice (actually a little more than that, to use it all up), two tablespoons of pomegranate juice, a couple grinds of pepper, and salt to taste.

About half that dressing was enough for the salad, and I added it right before serving.

Lush, light, a little tartness, a little creaminess, some crunch, and then, every bite or so, that deeper, dark flavor of cocoa.

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