In the Washington Post’s ongoing superfoods challenge, a pair of enterprising chefs have tackled the ingredient we’ve been waiting for: dark chocolate.
Its antioxidant (polyphenols, flavonols) properties, said to be greater than those of many other superfood fruits and seeds, are among the reasons for its healthful status.
Although it’s not all that difficult to consume the recommended 100 calories’ worth per day, it is good to discover ways of working dark chocolate into creations that aren’t full of fat or sugar.
Jeff Witte, 33, and Jeremy Anderson, 32, have spent a combined 20 years or so working in the kitchen at Airlie, a 1,000-acre under-the-radar retreat in Warrenton, Va.
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Named after a Scottish castle, the 53-year-old private conference center and hotel has played host to big thinkers, policymakers, global leaders and historic initiatives such as the first Earth Day. (Even locals have long thought the place was owned by some top-secret government agency.)
About a year ago, Airlie began extending its special-events hospitality to the general public as a weekend getaway spot handy to Virginia’s wine country, although its lovely grounds and dining opportunities seem sufficient draws on their own.
(Go to www.airlie.com for information.)
As executive chef, Witte in 1998 helped launch Airlie’s Local Food Project, an educational effort to promote foods of the mid-Atlantic that includes a 4-acre organic garden and a hoop house, both on site.
In January, he was promoted to culinary director, a move that prompted Anderson’s takeover as head chef.
“We were totally up for this challenge. We’re about eating healthfully, buying locally and sustainably,” Witte says.
“Keeping things simple is key,” Anderson says.
Both of them say they’re lucky to be able to gather foodstuffs from more than 30 farms and artisanal producers nearby, in addition to the blueberries, artichokes, apples, radishes, squashes, gourds and impressive array of herbs that are right outside their door. The chefs also have a lot of mint at their disposal – a 20-by-6-foot hedge of several varieties.
Anderson crafted a dark chocolate mousse that’s just as rich-tasting as the classic French kind he was trained to make, but it uses almond milk instead of heavy cream, and egg whites instead of whole eggs.
Witte was keen to bring dark chocolate to the first meal of the day, so for granola it is melted and poured over a quickly baked mixture of oats, flax seed and almonds.
A few experiments with another superfood, honey, led them to an interesting choice for the challenge’s second superfood ingredient: tea, from Seven Oaks Lavender Farm in Catlett, Va.
“The complexity in their lavender-lemon tea turned out to be just right for a take on vegetarian pho,” Anderson says.
The tea-infused soup has a lovely finish on the palate. Rainbow chard sautéed along with mushrooms colors the latter a soft, winy pink. The vegetables rest on a nest of rice noodles.
Dark chocolate mousse
You’ll need 6-ounce ramekins. If you have concerns about the health risks involved in using raw egg, use a pasteurized brand, such as Davidson’s Safest Choice.
Make ahead: The mousse needs to be refrigerated (covered) for at least 30 minutes before serving. It can be made and refrigerated (covered) up to a day in advance.
Recipe from Jeff Witte and Jeremy Anderson.
5 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 65 percent cacao), coarsely chopped
5 tablespoons almond milk, warmed
3 large egg whites (3 ounces total)
2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
4 raspberries, for garnish
4 blackberries, for garnish
Dried culinary lavender, for garnish (optional)
Mint leaves, stacked, rolled and cut crosswise into thin ribbons (chiffonade), for garnish
Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water; place over medium-low heat. Place the chocolate in a bowl that fits over the opening of the saucepan (to create a double boiler). Once the chocolate is soft, stir in the warm almond milk until well incorporated. Remove from the heat to cool.
Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. Beat on high speed until frothy. With the motor running, gradually add the sugar – this should take about 3 minutes – to form a meringue that’s glossy, with soft peaks.
Use a flexible spatula to gently fold half the meringue into the cooled chocolate mixture. Once it’s almost fully incorporated, fold in remaining meringue until just combined.
Divide among individual ramekins, smoothing the tops. Cover with plastic wrap, avoiding direct contact with the mousse, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 day. Uncover; garnish each portion with the berries, a few grains of the lavender, if using, and the mint chiffonade.
Serve right away.
Per serving: 220 calories, 4 g protein, 30 g carb., 12 g fat (7 g sat.), 0 mg chol., 35 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 25 g sugar
Tea-infused rice noodle soup
The kitchen at Airlie in Warrenton, Va., makes a vegetable broth with celery, carrots, onions, mushroom stems and fennel. The chard colors the mushrooms so they look almost like beef. You won’t miss meat here, but it can be added for extra protein.
From a recipe by Jeff Witte and Jeremy Anderson.
12 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth
1 whole star anise
4 tablespoons dried herbal lavender-lemon tea, such as Seven Oaks Lavender Farm brand
Freshly cracked black pepper
7 ounces dried rice noodles (1/4-inch wide)
1 medium shallot, cut into 1/4-inch slices
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut into quarters
1 small clove garlic, minced
4 large rainbow Swiss chard leaves, stemmed and chopped into 1- to 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 lemon, cut into 4 wedges and seeded
Finely crushed dried Thai chili peppers, stemmed and seeded (optional; may substitute crushed red pepper flakes)
Heat the broth and star anise in a large pot over medium-high heat. Cook for about 1 hour, uncovered, until the broth has reduced by half. Remove from the heat; add the dried tea. Steep for 10 minutes, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, discarding the solids. Taste, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Wipe out the pot.
Return the broth to the pot; keep it warm over low heat.
Add the rice noodles and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until they are cooked through.
Meanwhile, heat a few teaspoons of oil in a medium saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds, then add the mushrooms, garlic and chard. Cook for about 1 minute, stirring, then add 1/4 cup of the warm broth. Cook until it has almost evaporated. The mushrooms will have turned pinkish. Remove from the heat; season lightly with salt and pepper, then stir in the cilantro.
Use tongs to transfer the rice noodles from the broth to individual deep bowls, twisting them to form “nests.” Top each portion with equal amounts of the mushroom-chard mixture. Ladle about a cup of broth into each bowl. Garnish with lemon wedges and dried peppers, if using. Serve warm.
Per serving: 240 calories, 3 g protein, 51 g carb., 3 g fat (0 g sat.), 0 mg chol., 250 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 8 g sugar
Dark chocolate granola with plums
(Makes 1 1/2 cups to 1 3/4 cups)
This powerhouse mix also makes an energizing midday meal. Make ahead: The granola can be stored at a cool room temperature for up to 5 days.
From Jeff Witte and Jeremy Anderson of Airlie in Warrenton, Va.
1/2 cup rolled oats (do not use quick-cooking or instant)
1 tablespoon flax seed
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon honey
4 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 65 percent cacao), coarsely chopped
2 cups plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt
1 large black plum, cut into 1/4-inch slices
Mint leaves, for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet with cooking oil spray.
Combine the oats, flax seed and almonds in a mixing bowl. Stir in the butter and honey until evenly coated, then spread the granola mixture on the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, then cool. Reserve one-quarter of the granola in a separate medium bowl.
Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water; place it over medium heat. Place the chocolate in a shallow bowl that fits over the opening of the saucepan (to create a double boiler).
Once the chocolate has melted, pour it over the granola on the baking sheet and stir to coat. Refrigerate for 7 to 10 minutes, until firm.
Break into small chunks; transfer to the bowl with the smaller portion of granola and toss lightly to incorporate.
When ready to serve, divide the yogurt among individual bowls. Top each portion with plum slices, then the granola. Garnish with mint, if using, and serve.
Per serving: 340 calories, 16 g protein, 36 g carbohydrates, 17 g fat (8 g sat.), 10 mg cholesterol, 50 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 25 g sugar