I SAW AN ad the other day pushing bacon as an ideal Valentine's Day gift, and I had to laugh. It's like saying, "Here, sweetheart, I want you to die sooner!"
OK, I know this holiday is not about eating "right." It's about something bigger, and that something is love. Love and chocolate.
Dark chocolate is the treat that loves you back. Healthwise, you can have your chocolate cake and eat it, too, especially if you mix it with - don't laugh - fruits and veggies.
It's not a new idea. In 2007, Jerry Seinfeld's wife, Jessica, smuggled "sneaky beets" into chocolate cake with her Deceptively Delicious cookbook and recipes. Decades earlier, at least one woman, who shall remain unnamed, repeatedly and tirelessly cooked up zucchini- and spinach-laced chocolate cakes for her hapless kids, a trauma from which they're likely still reeling. (Hi, Mom!)
But there is a trend: The queen of fine vegan chocolate, Allison Rivers Samson, has noted "a recent revolution in salty and spicy chocolate flavors." She's added chipotle cinnamon fudge to her Allison's Gourmet line. In this fudge, "warming cinnamon adds extra depth while a touch of chipotle chili spices it up without setting your mouth ablaze."
In addition to side-by-side counterpoint, chocolate can blend with other flavors like, say, avocado.
"Avocado has a subtle taste that's easily overpowered by the strong flavor of chocolate" said Carley Leibowitz, a baker and sous chef for Miss Rachel's Pantry in South Philly. Her specialty is chocolate-avocado brownies. "Having the avocado in there adds moisture and helps the brownie to hold together better and not get crumbly."
Leibowitz adds that with avocado in the mix, "you're replacing some of the unhealthy saturated fats [plentiful in eggs and butter] with healthy, monounsaturated fats. Plus you're getting vitamin C, minerals and fiber."
OK, sure, a "healthful" brownie is better than the "death wish" valentine mentioned above, but what about chocolaty flavor? I had to try one of Leibowitz's creations. Wow! It was gone before I could even remember to try to taste the avocado. Just as Leibowitz promised, the final product was "creamy, moist and delicious."
Fudge and brownies, mainstays of V-Day home baking, come together in black-bean brownies. In The Happy Herbivore, Lindsay S. Nixon adapted this counterintuitive combo into a healthful and tasty treat: Hers are animal-free, gluten-free, low-fat and high-protein, all while delivering real chocolate brownie flavor.
Nixon says she had her own sweetheart sample the batter and the finished product before she disclosed "the magical ingredient," and he "had no clue!"
There are plenty of other offbeat ways you can make chocolate say "I love you, and I want you to live forever." Chocolate, after all, has numerous proven health benefits - as long as it's vegan. Dairy seems to block or negate almost all the positive effects.
Fortunately, dark, vegan varieties are becoming more common. With such a diverse array of wacky options to mix with dark chocolate - we didn't even get to carrots, pumpkin or sweet potatoes - why choose products created from some animal's breast milk?
V FOR VITAL STATS: Order Valentine's Day chocolates from Allison's Gourmet at allisonsgourmet.com; sign up for a Valentine's Day dinner, which you can have delivered, at missrachelspantry.com or 215-798-0053. DIY it with the Happy Herbivore recipe for black-bean brownies here.
Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 12-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia. VforVeg@phillynews.com or @V4Veg on Twitter.