Cha Cha Cha Chia

My son checking out a Chia Pet (hippo to be exact)
My son a few years back gazing in delight at his first Chia Pet, a hippo purchased by his Grandpa Chuck. Honestly, none of us quite knew what to make of it but it was interesting. Wait a minute, did someone sprout some seeds on my boy’s head? Look at his wild hair! Those were the days before his buzz cut… I loved that wild mop

Loaded with fiber, healthy omega-3 oils, and antioxidants, Chia seeds are good for a whole lot more than growing “hair” on terra-cotta Chia figurines. Health food stores are overflowing with expensive Chia-filled products but we’ve been buying it in bulk and experimenting at home.

One of the unique properties of a Chia seed is that it develops a gelatinous “goo” (for lack of a better word) around itself when immersed in water. This slimy texture is often a deal breaker for even the most health-conscious but I’ve found a couple of recipes that actually make that slippery gel work to your advantage.

CRACKERS

I learned about Ben Greenfield’s blog through my long-distance trail-running husband. This Ultra-Marathon man is fit beyond fit(I mean Ben Greenfield but come to think of it, so is my husband). Mr. Greenfield’s site is a gold mine of fitness and nutrition advice. Don’t let his shirtless video on the home page discourage you from diving in, this guy really knows his stuff and so does his wife, Jessa Greenfield. My first attempts at making kimchi and kombucha were inspired by Mrs. Greenfield’s video tutorials and I’ve actually gotten pretty good at both, thanks to her (OK, I’m still working on the perfect kimchi but my kombucha is delish if I do say so myself—more on that another day). Digging around their site, I found a healthy Gluten-Free Flax Cracker recipe that works beautifully – my recipe below is based on their brilliant (but a little plain tasting) starting point. The result is a savory, full-flavored, wonderfully crispy cracker perfect for eating plain or scooping hummus.

GLUTEN-FREE CHIA & FLAX CRACKERS

2 cups flax seeds and chia seeds, mixed
2 cups water
1 small can tomato paste
sunflower seeds, sesame seeds & fennel seeds (around a fourth cup of each but you can play around with this depending on what you like–and if you hate the taste of fennel, it’s OK to leave those out and possibly try a different seed)
salt, italian seasoning, Trader joe’s African Smoke seasoning to taste

Preheat oven to 225 degrees F.

In a medium-sized bowl, cover the flax and chia seeds with water and allow to soak for about 20 minutes (or longer). The seeds will plump up and develop a gelatinous coating. Add more water if necessary — you want the mixture to be spreadable, not runny. Once the chia and flax seeds are gooey, stir in the tomato paste and additional seeds and seasonings.

Spread the cracker paste in a thin layer (about 1/8 inch) onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets and bake for an hour or two. After a couple of hours I usually peel off the parchment paper and “flip” the huge cracker to let it get really dried and crispy. The best way to insure this is to bake at low heat for a long time (the low heat means the health benefits aren’t cooked out) then turn off the oven and leave the crackers in there for 4-6 hours to dry the whole way (making them in the evening then turning the oven off and letting them sit in there overnight works well). Break into cracker “slabs” then store in an airtight jar or bag.

 

GRANOLA

Cynthia Lair is amazing. Her Feeding the Whole Family cookbook is one of my favorites (sadly that also means that it’s the most abused, covered with splatter from many a recipe). Anyhow, I’ve been making her Maple Butter Nut Granola for a long time and it rocks. It comes out toasted and crispy with a wonderful flavor but I have to say that I’ve still missed the big yummy clusters of granola in my cereal bowl. Then I remembered my cracker recipe that magically sticks together…. enter:  Chia and Flax seeds. My version of Cynthia’s classic is a little less sweet but still gives you that wonderful crunch and tasty granola flavor.

CYNTHIA-INSPIRED GLUTEN-FREE GRANOLA GOODNESS

2 cups chia seeds and flax Seeds, mixed
2 cups water
4 cups gluten-free rolled oats (or regular rolled oats if gluten isn’t an issue for you)
½ cup each of sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and pecans (roughly chopped) (this recipe is really versatile, you can actually use whatever combination of seeds and nuts that you prefer)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup maple syrup or agave nectar
½ cup coconut oil (melted)
1 tablespoon almond butter (any nut butter is fine)
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 225 degrees F.

In a medium-sized bowl, cover the flax and chia seeds with water and allow to soak for about 20 minutes (or longer). The seeds will plump up and develop a gelatinous coating. Add more water if necessary but you want the mixture to be gooey and spreadable, not runny.

While the seeds are soaking, mix oats, seeds, nuts, spices and salt in a large bowl.

Combine and melt the coconut oil, almond butter, and maple syrup then stir until smooth. Add the vanilla and almond extract to this mixture.

Mix together the gooey seed mixture with the coconut oil/nut butter mixture then pour it over the oats, nuts and spices in the large bowl. Fold everything together with a spatula until the dry mixture is coated and the seeds are evenly distributed.

Press the mixture onto baking sheets as if you are making bars. Bake at 225 for an hour or two then check to see if the granola is looking crisp and dried out. Flipping it in pieces seems to help everything dry/toast evenly. Another great trick to get it as crisped as possible is to turn off the oven then leave the granola in the still-warm oven several hours. Break into pieces once cooled then store in an airtight jar or bag.

How about you? Have you come up yummy with ways of incorporating Chia seeds into your diet?

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