Giving Thanks with Cultural Cuisine: Chocolate Torte

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Every meal has to end with dessert, and a special Thanksgiving feast is no exception. Native American chef Walter Whitewater shares his recipe for Pinyon Chocolate Torte.

CHERYL CORLEY, host:

Though we always think we're too full somehow on Thanksgiving, there's always room for a little bite of dessert.

To end our special Thanksgiving feast, Walter Whitewater shares with us his Pinon Chocolate Torte. It's his unique take on a recipe his grandmother taught him.

Mr. WALTER WHITEWATER (Culinary Adviser, "Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations: Traditional and Contemporary Native American Recipes"): Thanksgiving is very special, because that's the time that we give back. We feed the family, you know? We share the food that we harvest, that we make. A place called Pinon in Arizona, I'm from there. Around this time, the people using harvest Pinon a lot. Pinon nuts is very sacred to the native people here in the Southwest. These are pine nuts. You just grind them. Sometimes, these usually have shells in it. So you take the shells off, and then the inside, the nuts is the one that we use, and we grind them.

The dessert that I'm making, called it Pinon Chocolate Torte, I first learned when I was probably, like, around 16. From then, the years went by again. I came back to the reservation. That's when I start cooking with grandma, you know? And then I started to realize some things that I - I wanted to do things a little different.

It takes a whole cup of - to do the Pinon nuts, you know? You crack them and you, you know, take them out of the shells. I usually put them in a Cuisinart. It turns them into like a peanut butter. Then you add your chocolate, then the egg, then the sugar, then vanilla. You scrape them out, and then you mix them with the flour. It's the blue corn flour. At the end, like, if you want to garnish something that - and then I add the prickly pear.

Prickly pear is back home, that was our dessert, you know? When we were herding sheep, you know, and it's like, hey. You know, there's that fruit that my people just use it like the way, like you're eating apple. Just clean up the hair, and, you know, and just - you just eat it like that. The same thing I did is, like, well, what can I deal with it? So we grind them, take the juice and just separate it from the seeds and we make it back into the syrup and add honey to it. Then some people add sugar to it. But I usually add honey to it.

I just wanted to say, during the pickings, we make offerings. There are reasons why that we - there's other living things that lives out there, we share it with. So we make offerings then, and we take the food just enough, just enough to, you know, so we save some for the birds and so those - so it can continue on growing again. And then, whatever is left, I usually put it back where it came from. Give back to the earth, say thank you. That's like all part of Thanksgiving. (unintelligible) means thank you. The nature that shared that with us, so we share that with the people and we give it back.

You want me to share a little Thanksgiving song with you guys?

CORLEY: Sure.

Mr. WHITEWATER: Okay. Here it goes. (Singing in foreign language)

That's just something that's asking the creator, thank you for giving us all the food, the medicine and all that.

CORLEY: Walter Whitewater is a member of the Navajo tribe and the culinary adviser for the cookbook, "Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations: Traditional and Contemporary Native American Recipes."

To read step-by-step instructions for this and all of the recipes our contributors offered and to see photos of some of the dishes, visit our Web site: npr.org/tellmemore. And happy eating to you.

That's our program for today. I'm Cheryl Corley, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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Recipe: Piñon Nut and Chocolate Torte

By Walter Whitewater

Torte
Lois Ellen Frank

The Pine Nut is a very sacred nut to the various tribes throughout the Southwest. It has been used as a food source for millennia. Piñons are harvested by hand in the Fall Season when the nuts are released from the pine cones and fall to the ground. Many times, whole families will go out together and harvest nuts. For this dessert, they are ground into a nut butter and mixed with chocolate to make a wonderful delectable dessert.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup piñons (pine nuts)

2 tablespoons cornmeal

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

9 ounces semi-sweet chocolate

6 egg yolks

3/4 cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup confectioners' sugar and 2 Tablespoons blue cornmeal, for decoration (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS:

Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a food processor, grind the piñons to a moist nut meal (about 2 minutes). Add the cornmeal and blend again for about 30 seconds, just long enough to combine. In a double boiler over medium-high heat, melt the butter and chocolate together, stirring occasionally so that they melt and blend together evenly. Add to the piñon mixture in the food processor and blend about 1 minute until smooth. Beat the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla together in a bowl, and add to the other ingredients in the food processor. Blend again until smooth.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and pat down with your fingers until evenly spread in the baking pan. This is a thick batter. Bake approximately 12 to 15 minutes, or until the cake is firm and springs back when the center is touched. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool before decorating. This is a dense torte; it resembles dense brownies.

When the torte has cooled, after 20 to 30 minutes, remove it from the pan. Be creative with the decorating process. You can do individual stencils on each slice or decorate the entire torte. To make the southwestern motif pictured, cut a stencil out of cardboard. First, dust the cake with confectioners' sugar using a medium-sized sieve, lightly tapping the sides and moving it in a circular motion around the surface of the torte. Then carefully hold the stencil as close to the torte's surface as possible, without touching it, and sprinkle the blue cornmeal through a sieve over the exposed areas. Carefully remove the stencil without disrupting the design.

For a finishing touch, place a few piñons at the corner of each stenciled triangle.

Serves six.

Books Featured In This Story

Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations

Traditional & Contemporary Native American Recipes

by Lois Ellen Frank

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Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations
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