Who says that money doesn't grow on trees? Well, it doesn't today. But it used to. Many centuries ago the beans from the pods of cacao trees were used as currency by the Aztecs. According to historians, a turkey cost one hundred cacao beans but an avocado only cost three. That being the case, you were sure to find at least one cacao tree in the backyard of every Aztec home.
Today, cacao beans are put through an arduous, multi-step process to create cocoa liquor which is then separated into cocoa solids and cocoa butter. These components derived from cacao beans are the building blocks of the chocolate that we eat and enjoy in desserts, candies, and sometimes even savory preparations. When
mixed with different combinations of sugar, milk or milk powder, and vanilla, cocoa liquor and cocoa butter produce milk, white, and dark chocolate - and a lot of happiness too. But chocolate has only existed in hard form for the last two hundred years. Before it was discovered that cocoa butter and sugar could be added to cocoa powder to create moldable chocolate people only consumed chocolate as a beverage - not that that was not just as enjoyable. So for this meatless Monday, to celebrate the origins of the cacao tree - quite possibly the Aztec gods' vegetarian gift to humanity - here is a recipe for Hot (Coconut) Chocolate.
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 2/3 cups milk
3 cups chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the coconut milk and the sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar. In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the cream and the milk. Bring to a simmer. Remove the milk from the heat and then add the chocolate to it to avoid burning - chocolate can be very temperamental! Stir just until the chocolate is melted. Pour the hot chocolate into 8 mugs and then pour some of the coconut milk on top. What you've got is a warm beverage fit for an Aztec god!