In my ever-constant search for things that taste fantastic but are also good for me, I think I've stumbled across a dessert that fits all my criteria—it tastes wonderful, it's filled with healthful and beneficial ingredients, and it’s endlessly customizable.
It's mock chocolate rice pudding, and the star of the show is white chia seed. Yes, that's right: cha-cha-chia!
The very same seed that sprouts to create the entertaining novelty gift for Secret Santas everywhere is also a ancient food source that was cultivated by the Aztecs and Mayans. And when you read a little bit about its properties, you can understand why. Aside from being an excellent source of fiber, chia is the richest plant source of omega-3 and is high in protein, calcium and antioxidants. When added to fluid, the seeds plump up. The teeny-tiny center of each seed remains a bit crunchy after being hydrated, but the other layers take on a soft, gel-like consistency. And that natural textural change works well to mimic the texture of pudding without the use of dairy.
To make my chocolate chia pudding, I do most of my work in my Vita-Mix, although it could also be done by hand. These amounts make enough chia pudding to last an entire week—for two people having one little 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup serving each day.
I add to the Vita-Mix container:
• Two cups of water
• A handful or so of whole raw almonds
• 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• A squeeze of honey or agave (or whatever sweetener I want)
• A teaspoon of vanilla powder
• A teaspoon of cinnamon
• A pinch of sea salt
All of these measurements are approximate—it really should be about personal taste and I recommend starting conservatively, then tasting and correcting to find the right proportions.
Once all these are in the Vita-Mix, I process everything at high speed. The advantage of doing this all in the VM is that the end texture comes out perfectly smooth. Whenever I try to incorporate a dry powder like cocoa into a wet mixture by hand without heat, it ends up lumpy. Not so with the VM! After just a couple of minutes, it's velvety and beautiful and the almonds give the mixture creaminess and body, so it's close to pudding texture already.
I pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in 1/3 cup or so of chia seeds. Then I put it in the fridge for a few hours, and the chia absorbs the liquid. I sometimes add up to another cup of water, until I get the consistency to my liking as the chia continues to absorb and plump up. In the end, they even look a little bit like rice.
Looks kinda gross, tastes delicious.
The pudding is delicious, healthful and filling—exactly what I'm looking for in an afternoon snack or evening dessert. And there are so many different ways to customize. Use coconut water instead of almonds and water and then add some coconut cream for a chocolate coconut pudding. Drop a banana in for chocolate-banana pudding, or cherries for chocolate-cherry pudding. I've even added ginger for a chocolate-ginger pudding. Anything that goes well with chocolate will work great. My favorites so far have been just plain chocolate with stewed strawberries on top and a chocolate-pomegranate version, where I used pomegranate juice, almonds, vanilla powder, cacao powder, sea salt and agave for the base.