Friday, October 8, 2010

The Chia.

No, not tai chi. Chia. As in . . . no I can't say it. If you must go there, at least go here. Yes, I've had the song running through my head the whole time and the one time it came out of my lips my kids kept asking me what I was singing. But yeah, it's that chia.

The back story: One of my kids is allergic to tree nuts and peanuts. Since his diagnosis we've not kept nuts in the house except for an isolated garage stash of boiled peanuts for Mr. Maricucu. It's a southern thing and I like his boiled peanuts about as much as he likes plantains (which is not at all). So, no nuts in the home. We keep sunflower seeds and sunbutter plus flax seed and milled flax seed to boost protein. I was trying to find another source of easy protein both for snacking, meal boosting and most importantly, something crunchy to put in salads. I love nuts in salads and was really missing the hefty fat/protein boost. So in my search I came across the mention of chia seed.

Before I go much further let me bare my food soul. My food philosophy so to speak and hang on 'cause it's a wild ride down the rabbit hole with this one. First, I'm not a vegetarian, vegan or raw foodist. Nothing wrong with any of those food preferences, I'm just not wanting people to stumble across this post with lofty expectations involving any one of those three and then be shocked out of their gourd when I mention that I'm considering soaking some chia in condensed milk. See? I told you.

So, here's the food rules according to me and my clan:

1. Sugar is bad but artificial sweeteners are worse. Better to eat real sugar, honey or maple syrup. (sugar police, please don't bother stopping here). Do I try to limit sugar? Sure but not severely. I do love to bake and my vice of choice is butter+flour+sugar so I don't have too much label reading to do. Am I convinced my all butter blueberry muffins are health food? Nah. Do I think they're better for me than the premade stuff using HFCS, plus a whole mess of unpronouncables? Shyeah. It's a continuum and this is where I am.

2. Fat is good. Fat fills in wrinkles and keeps you from going woo-woo-crazy as you age. Good fats help you regulate hormones as we *cough* all race down that slippery slope towards menopause. So olive oil, coconut oil, butter (yes real butter!) - good fats. Personally, I use them liberally. In fact, I don't weigh or measure myself but I'm a couple sizes smaller than I was when younger and afraid of fat. Just sayin'.

3. Yes your momma was right. Vegetables and fruit are good for you. Doesn't mean you have to eat them steamed with no salt and a side of blegh. Have you seen a Latin, Indian or Southern cook in action? Seasoning, caramelization, balanced salt and yes good fats can take a veggie from no way to yes please.

4. Grains aren't health food but I'm kind of attached to them so I try to temper my use of unbleached white flour with whole wheat flour. I also try to not build a meal around starches alone (see #3). I am Dominican, so there's no way I'm giving up my rice. Just not happening. Mr. Maricucu will sob if I mention giving up potatoes. Again, we're not going there. Aside from our very, very, very brief foray into Atkins as a young married couple (that ended with a big bang during a family Thanksgiving) we're not going to give up carbs. But we have lessened them and made better choices.

5. We drink green smoothies in the morning. Nothing fancy, an apple, a whole mess of spinach and a huge amount of frozen fruit with a dollop of honey. Great way to start the day for this ADDer that used to self medicate with caffeine. Alas it required eating something proteiny (yes that's a word) a couple of hours later. We just started doing this in the Spring then the baby arrived and it all went to pot. It's just now that I'm back to making the morning smoothie.

Ultimately though, flavor rules. I balance our choices so that we are getting nutritious meals but really if it doesn't taste good there's just no convincing my own palate (the pickiest one in our family). Balance. It's all about balance. I'm not an extremist when it comes to food and will severely break imaginary "food rules" all the time if there's something yummy involved. I've been known to eat a twinkie still (can't keep them in the house though or I'll inhale them). I eat deep fried things. Yes I do. I try to keep grass fed red meat for cooking but if I run out I'll use the regular stuff. I'll drink the occasional Coca Cola but lately have been preferring lemonade. I'll go into that another day. Food is a joy, it's a pleasure. I grew up in a family that appreciated and celebrated food. So while Mr. Maricucu and I have made changes over the course of many years we don't fall into any one food philosophy and that's my disclaimer.

Phew. So glad to have gotten that off my chest. Not a confession but a solid proclamation that I'm weird and proud of it. Chia seed. Right. No more tangents. I found out about chia seed from another mom who mentioned that her kids liked it. I learned they were filled with Omega 3 essential fatty acids, tons of minerals and chock full of protein as well as fiber. Sign me up. I kept perusing google but the search came to a halt when someone mentioned that you had to eat them soaked and that the seeds developed a gelatinous coating like a caviar. Screeching halt. Heck no I was not going to snarf down snotty chia seeds even if they made me another foot taller and grow long flowing blonde hair. I closed my browser and continued to search for an alternative. A couple of days later I decided to search more about the gelatinous seeds and found that you can indeed sprinkle them into salads and other food dry as long as you weren't dumping them in by the bucketful and drank water. Good enough for me. I ordered some with my next vitacost order.


Now facing a whole pound of chia seed I decided there would be no convincing the other people in this house to try something I didn't taste myself. That, and if I was going to incorporate it in some recipes, I needed to know how it played with other ingredients. I took a few of the tiny dinosaur egg shaped seeds and sprinkled them in my mouth. Bland. Not in a bad way but really they taste like nothing. Same texture as a poppy seed but a much more bland taste. That was great since it would only help to include it in various recipes.


Since the chia seed were so bland dry I got a bit adventurous and soaked some according to the jar instructions. I thought it might be a wonderful protein boost for our morning green smoothie and the texture wouldn't be offensive if blended to a pulp.



Several minutes later there we were. Just a small mason jar of suspended gelatinous seeds and me. I took a bit on a spoon and tasted.


Eureka! Bland again. Not only bland but unlike snot (sorry!), the gel like coating was not goopy. More like a loose melty jello consistency. Oh yeah, this was better than I had anticipated. Suddenly my brain was whirring with applications and another google search produced recipes galore. Chia pudding caught my attention immediately. Any kind of milk (I used whole fat cow's milk), sweetened and with a touch of vanilla. Then the seeds were soaked in this mixture.


Someone mentioned it was similar to drinking bubble tea. I've never tasted the stuff but am itching to try one now. The chia pudding was light, fun and pretty tasty. I sweetened my milk with xylitol (my lone exception to the no other sweeteners rule but it's great for your teeth). Next time I'll thicken the milk mixture by using either coconut milk or sweetening with condensed milk


All along the tasting process I gave a taste to each kid and they loved it. The pudding was a hit as well and while fun to eat with a spoon, given a straw instead, the kids declared it a hit.


I'm planning on doing some kind of take on this holiday chia pudding recipe soon possibly using canned pumpkin puree and condensed milk instead of the blended nut milk she makes. Meanwhile I've been adding about 1/2 cup of chia gel to a batch of smoothie in the morning (our batch makes about 7 cups) and you wouldn't believe the difference. I was able to knock out the banana that I was using to make the smoothie creamy and thick. The banana was okay but it was a pretty assertive flavor and some of the fruit combos were overpowered by the banana. With the chia gel I got that thick and creamy texture with no added flavor. But the best part was when Mr. Maricucu mentioned he was full until lunch. So was I and my mental clarity was amazing. Well, in comparison to my normal. Recently I added a scoop to our morning Dominican style oatmeal and the seed cooked down very well and aside from the specks, no noticeable difference in texture.


Ch, ch, ch, chia! Sorry but I had to scratch that itch.


Marin said...

Mmmmm....I loves me some ch-ch-ch-chia (I can't help saying it. It's a sickness!) I am boring though and I usually just have chia in water with some lemon. I love the texture and the taste for some reason. I never thought to try it in pudding though. Hmmmm...

Marielle said...

Hmmmm, I heard of chia lemonade and now you mention the lemon . . . Must try it soon.