How to Cook with Chia Seeds

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chia-seedsChia seed, bursting with nutrients, was first cultivated by both ancient Aztecs and Mayans. The Mayan word for the plant means “strength” and there is no wonder since these crunchy seeds delivery high levels of nutrients you need like fiber, protein, omega fatty acids, calcium, and antioxidants.

aztec-codex2Chia is primarily grown in South America but in 2008, Australia was the world’s largest producer. Chia is a top source for fiber, vital for weight loss, gut health, and blood sugar balance and even digestion.

I’m a big fan of this tiny superfood since it plumps when it comes in contact with water so it’s a great way to fill up your tummy longer. Soaked chia is is well known as a boon for digestive orders like GERD and IBS, but be sure to soak them first in cold water or dairy-free liquids like coconut or almond milk (since dairy can aggravate digestive disorders). For one cup of liquid, stir in 2 tablespoons chia seeds, rest on the counter top for 30 minutes then drink. Chia comes in both black and white, both have a similar nutrition profile and taste.

Chia is also a versatile food to add to recipes that you already know and love. Store your chia seeds in the fridge in an air-tight container until ready to use, since the delicate, healing fats in the seeds can go rancid if left out on the countertop too long!

Breading, Mixture, Fritters, and Pancakes

chia-breadingChia enhances breading mixtures — adding additional nutrients and a spectacular crunch. To balance the calories, swap out a few tablespoons of your standard breadcrumb mixture for two tablespoons of chia. Bread your item and cook as you normally would.

I like to use chia in my breading mixtures along with Old Bay seasoning for special seafood dishes like crab cakes, crispy shrimp, and salmon cakes. Chia also works well in meat mixture for recipes like meatloaf, meatballs, and even savory fritters and pancakes. Start with 2 tablespoons for recipes that serve 4, which adds about 35 extra calories.

Smoothies and Soups

Blend chia seeds into smoothies and soup as a natural thickener. Add 1 tablespoon per cup and blend right before serving. Or sprinkle chia over the surface of your smoothie or soup for added crunch and texture. Unlike flax, chia does not need to be ground in order to reap its health benefits. Since chia is high in calories (like nuts) start with a tablespoon per person to keep calories in check. If you’re adding it to a smoothie recipe that also has nuts, cut back on the amount of nuts and replace them in part with chia. If you’d like to thicken soups, chilies or stews without using flours containing gluten, use a few tablespoons of chia instead!

Salads

Sprinkling chia over salads to balance them with more protein and a pleasant crunch. You can add chia to dressing but you’ll also need to add a few tablespoons of water to account for the thickening. Since chia has a mild flavor, it pairs with almost any fruit or veggie that you’ll find commonly in salads, from strawberry spinach, to beets and goat cheese, to a massaged kale salad — chia works well in all of them. Just add 2 teaspoons of chia per plate before serving so they keep their crisp texture.

Desserts

chia-cinnamon-applesChia is lovely in desserts, as a crunchy component added right before serving or used as a creamy component if soaked in sweet liquid like coconut milk, chocolate or cinnamon milk or even a sweet juices like pomegranate or cranberry. Chia also works well in no-bake bars and peanut butter treats.

Macadamia Chia Apples with Cinnamon and Cardamom
Leaving the skins on the apples adds more fiber and retains more of the cancer-preventative compounds. Baking makes them easier to digest but this gentle form of cooking doesn’t harm any of the active healing compounds.

Serves 4

4 apples, cored and seeded (such as Ruby Frost)
4 teaspoons light olive oil, coconut, sesame, or safflower oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons honey (optional)
1/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts
2 tablespoons chia seeds, white or black

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the apples in an 8X8 baking dish. Brush the tops with the oil and sprinkle with the spices and vanilla extract. Bake uncovered 35 to 40 minutes until the apples are very soft and brown.

Drizzle with the honey, macadamia nuts, and chia, serve immediately.

Nutritional stats per serving (1 prepared apple without honey): 115 calories, 1 g protein, 7 g carbohydrates, 5 g sugars, 9 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 0 mg sodium

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