September is my New Year. Do you know what I’m talking about? Far more than after the holidays, at the end of summer is when I most feel a need to reboot. Partly because I have no choice: work gets busy, school starts up, and kids activities begin again. Partly, though, I feel the need to hit “refresh” in the fall because June, July and August is when I forget about my fitness and health goals and just cram as much ice cream, fried seafood, frozen cocktails and lounging as I can into Boston’s short summer. In that spirit, I’m currently shocking my system back into the land of wellness with lots of smoothies, salads and junk-food alternatives, which is what brings me to chia pudding!
What is chia? The plant behind those weird grow-your-own “chia pets” you may remember from endless 90s TV jingles (“Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia!”) it is actually a seed from the salvia plant that has been cultivated as a food crop among Aztecs since before the sixteenth century. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids and full of B-vitamins, chia seeds also provide a good source of calcium, zinc, iron and magnesium. When soaked in liquid, they form a gel that can actually replace a portion of the eggs and oil in many baking recipes! They are frequently used in smoothies, granola bars and atop cereal, but they are definitely enjoying a trendy moment as the “ancient seed” of choice, and chia pudding recipes abound on Pinterest, Instagram and health-food blogs. Novelty isn’t a very good reason to try something that indigenous cultures have grown for centuries, but folks who struggle to consume enough calcium and B-vitamins because their diet lacks animal products by necessity or choice (like me) should be very intrigued by something that’s so simple to prepare, to add to existing foods, and to keep fresh (it does best in the refrigerator, just like flax seeds). So, I gave chia pudding a shot.
Chia pudding develops in a few hours, and works pretty similarly to overnight oats. Same concept: take a dried grain/seed, soak in liquid alongside ingredients like fruit and spices, and wake up to a thickened, ready-to-eat breakfast or snack. There are a few tricks to making chia pudding tasty, though, as I learned through trial and error. Here is the basic recipe I started with, and some ideas for making it as good as can be. At first I didn’t care for the consistency, but then I realized Chia Pudding really shines when you add toppings such as nuts, fresh (or dried) fruit, coconut shavings or granola, and when you combine the chia seeds with a complementary grain such as rolled oats, which can help vary the texture. Let me know if you come up with any must-try combinations!
Layering the following in a mason jar overnight:
- 1 mashed ripe banana (omit if desired; I just really like bananas)
- 1/4 cup Chia Seeds
- 1 can coconut milk (about 1 cup)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- cinnamon to taste
- tiny dsh of salt
- 1 TBSP maple syrup (optional)
Eat as is the next day once the seeds have turned into a gel, or blend in a blender for a super-smooth texture. If blending, you can sub a few dates for the maple syrup!
* add 1 TBSP peanut butter or another seed/nut butter
* add a drizzle of honey
* add 1 cup rolled oats overnight for a different texture (this works if you’re blending it all up at the end, too! Oats are awesome in any smoothy or pudding)
* use less milk, and add some yogurt to make it extra thick
* vary the milk type, from almond to coconut to dairy to soy — or try a flavored milk, like chocolate! The thinner the milk, the less you’ll want to use, or add in some yogurt, banana or dates to thicken.
* top with fresh fruit or your favorite granola or spiced nuts! You can also blend any fruit you like right into this pudding in the blender, and add some chocolate or cacao powder for a real treat!
I hope you enjoy ~ I’ll update this post with any good flavor combos I develop 🙂