Chocolate for dinner? Yes, please, though it's not exactly what you're expecting when you bring cocoa nibs onto the dinner menu. Those crunchy bits -- packed with antioxidants -- are the byproduct of the chocolate making process, and a prominently featured ingredient in the outstanding new cookbook from Seattle-based Theo Chocolate.

theo cocoa nibs and chicken
Cocoa nibs are so good for you, and taste great, too. Photo by Theo Chocolate

Debra Music, Theo Chocolate founder and co-author of the book with Joe Whinney, said one of her goals in writing this collection of recipes was to inspire people to cook savory dishes. "I started advocating for using cocoa nibs about 10 years ago," she said. "They're crunchy and really healthy, why not eat it in its natural state?"

Think about a wild mushroom bread salad with cocoa nibs, a recipe contributed by chef Tom Douglas, or a handmade cocoa nib pasta created by chef Maria Hines, a tagliatelle paired with rustic lamb sugo. The Honey- And Saffron-Braised Chicken with Cocoa Nib Couscous whispers "warm and cozy". Those dishes and more are included in the chapter called "Chocolate For Dinner."

But Ms. Music didn't have a lot of history to draw on when she began using cocoa nibs as an ingredient. "I don't really know of any tradition where cocoa nibs were used. The beans were originally ground and made into a drink, and the chocolate bar came later."

She often tosses a handful into a dish, using them as a handy sub for nuts. "I keep them in a mason jar on the island in my kitchen. That way, there's that power of suggestion."

Here's a recipe sure to turn you into a cocoa nibs fan:

Honey- And Saffron-Braised Chicken with Cocoa Nib Couscous


3 cups chicken stock

½ teaspoon packed saffron, (about 1 teaspoon loosely


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 2½ pounds)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

3 tablespoons honey, divided

½ cup dry white wine

4 large carrots, cut into ¼-inch slices

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes

2 cups couscous

2 tablespoons (½ ounce) Theo roasted cocoa nibs, finely ground

¼ cup pitted green olives, halved


1. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, bring the chicken stock to a simmer. Turn off the heat and add the saffron. Cover the pan and set aside to let the saffron steep.

2. In a heavy-bottomed pot large enough to hold all the chicken thighs in one layer, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper to taste, and brown the pieces, skin side first, for 3 to 5 minutes per side. Place the chicken on a plate and set aside.

3. Add the onions to the pot along with a few pinches of pepper, and sauté, over medium heat, until they're limp and translucent, about 5 minutes. Turn down the heat if they start to brown before they're soft. Add the garlic and 2 tablespoons of the honey, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden brown, about another 5 minutes. Add the wine and simmer for about 1 minute. Add the carrots, tomatoes, and saffron-infused stock and bring to a boil. Replace the chicken, tucking the pieces into an even layer,and reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot tightly and simmer gently for 45 minutes.

4. After 45 minutes, remove the chicken from the pot. Ladle 3 cups of the cooking liquid from the pot into a small saucepan (about 2½ quarts works well) and bring it to a boil. Immediately stir in the couscous and cocoa nibs, then turn off the heat and cover the pan.

Yield: 6 servings