You know how easy it is to make chocolate truffles, right? Basically, it’s a ganache that you chill until firm enough to form it into small balls. Roll them in cocoa or other toppings. Boom. Done.Ganache isn’t in your repertoire? It’s a simple mixture–approximately equal by weight–of warm cream and chocolate, stirred until melted and smooth. (Use more chocolate for a thicker consistency, more cream for a looser one.) There. Now you have a frosting and glaze recipe, too. If you gently warm it, the ganache makes a rich ice cream topping, as well.Sure, you can make more complicated truffles, You can infuse them with espresso, liqueur, bourbon, extracts or flavoring oils, finely ground pink peppercorns, matcha tea powder, or your favorite flavorings. You can make them oh-so-rich and smooth with the addition of butter and egg yolks, as does the Grande Dame of chocolate, Alice Medrich, in this version. You can enrobe them in a delicate chocolate shell (you won’t need to temper your dipping chocolate if you’ll be rolling the coated truffles in cocoa or other toppings).Recently, I experimented by packing some nutrition into my already antioxidant-rich dark chocolate truffles by incorporating an ingredient that is entirely new to me. Moringa oleifera is a leafy green plant native to the sub-Himalayan areas of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, and also grown in Central and South America and Southeast Asia. In addition to being enjoyed as a food, various parts of the plant are believed to impart both nutritional and medicinal properties, including Vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium, iron, protein, and antioxidants. The leaves are said to be packed with vitamins and minerals that maintain their strength even after the plant is dried and pulverized.Some people have labeled moringa the next super-food, with the power to mitigate the effects of several acute and chronic illnesses. WebMD lists many beneficial properties, but suggests that pregnant and nursing women should avoid the plant. Kuli Kuli, the folks who introduced me to this powerhouse ingredient (more about them in a moment), has been working with leading moringa researcher Jed Fahey at Johns Hopkins University to dispel these claims, as apparently moringa has long been used in the developing world to boost iron in pregnant women. More research is needed to bear out these claims, but at a minimum the plant appears to have great promise for combatting malnutrition. (Disclaimer: I am neither a physician nor nutritionist and am not in a position to scientifically evaluate these medical and nutritional claims.)
That’s one pretty cool tree.
Lisa Curtis discovered the plant when she began experiencing the early signs of malnutrition while working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, West Africa. With limited access to fruits, vegetables, and many other nutritious foods, it’s no surprise that more than 18 million West African children suffer from malnutrition. But a young Peace Corps volunteer? Lisa didn’t expect this, and didn’t know where to turn. A friend suggested she eat the leaves of the moringa tree with a Nigerian food made from ground peanuts called kuli-kuli. Over time, she began to feel better and regain her strength. Her firsthand experience quickly made her a believer.
As someone with a background in social welfare working in the food industry, I was inspired by Lisa’s story when I first met her at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. Her Oakland, California, based company, Kuli Kuli, works with women-owned farming cooperatives in West Africa who grow moringa and use it to nourish themselves and their communities. It’s a terrific symbiosis that helps farmers in economically challenged communities to move away from dependency on food aid while bringing a healthy treat to the general public. (Disclosure: Lisa provided her company’s bars and moringa powder free of charge for me to sample.)
The bars are already in 40 Northern California stores, including 25 Whole Foods branches, with plans to be in 150 stores by the end of 2014 using capital raised through an AgFunder crowdsource campaign. (Their initial $53,000 IndieGoGo campaign is legend.)
Kuli Kuli’s first product are bars in three flavors: Black Cherry, Crunchy Almond, and Dark Chocolate. I must admit that, when I first tried them, I was instantly brought back to a time when I oft encountered brownies with a certain…err…herbal character. The texture of the bars is fantastic: chewy and sweet from dates, along with almonds, agave, and of course moringa. The “green” flavor is most pronounced in the Crunchy Almond flavor (a friend said it reminded her of a green smoothie, and found it strangely enticing). The chocolate and cherries in the other flavors somewhat mask the herbal flavors, and I preferred them.
When Lisa offered me some of her precious moringa powder to try out in recipes I jumped at the opportunity. But how to use that green flavor to best effect without simply dominating it? Not wanting to cook the powder (Lisa thought it retained more nutrition raw), I thought of chocolate truffles. As I got to work on an uncommon 90 degree Spring day in Oakland, a recipe that didn’t require the oven seemed like a good idea.The result: after adding 1/4 teaspoon of the powder to a small batch of truffles I was surprised to find that I didn’t taste it at all. I added another 1/4 teaspoon and, rather than dominating the flavor, it provided a subtle background note—almost like a hint of green tea—that complemented but did not at all overwhelm the confection. I’ll put it this way: I had a hard time not eating the whole batch. Lisa tells me that Kuli Kuli will be expanding their line in the coming weeks to include moringa powder, so you can try making these, too. We already know chocolate is a power food. With a little moringa powder, that’s one healthy chocolate bite.
- 70 grams (about 6 tablespoons) chopped dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips (65 to 72 percent cacao)
- 56 grams (1/4 cup) almond milk, or cream
- ½ teaspoon moringa powder
- Pinch of salt
- Cocoa powder, for coating
- Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler or in the microwave until you can stir it smooth.
- Use a whisk to stir in the almond milk, moringa, and salt until smooth.
- Refrigerate until firm enough to scoop, about 1 hour.
- Put about 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder in a small bowl.
- Scoop out the chilled filling, using about 2 teaspoons per truffle, rolling the filling between your palms to form a relatively smooth ball.
- Drop the balls into the cocoa as you form them.
- Toss the balls in the cocoa to coat them completely, then transfer them to parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
- Refrigerate the truffles in an airtight container, separating the layers with waxed or parchment paper, for up to 1 week. Enjoy chilled, or let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before eating.