During the recent 15 months of isolation, outdoor physical exercise helped me manage my anxiety. I am deeply grateful that I could spend time in the forest, on the beach, on the water. My family in Italy, locked inside their apartment, provided me with a comparison that magnified my gratitude. Usually, I exercise early in the morning. Then, before I start my workday, I enjoy a nourishing breakfast, which includes chia pudding.
Chia seeds contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber and calcium. When mixed with liquid, they soften and develop a mucilaginous coating that gives the resulting combination a gel texture. Add their mild flavor to the mix and the result is a nutritious food that is an ideal canvas for creative composition.
It has become a kind of ritual for me to end the day making chia pudding so I only need to remember to take it out of the refrigerator the following morning (usually before I go out, since I prefer to eat it at room temperature), then top it with the fruit of my choice and enjoy it.
You can make a simple version of chia pudding or enrich it until it becomes an fine dessert. Mine is on the simple end of the spectrum. Besides chia seeds, the pudding includes sweetener, liquid and topping. The combinations are vast and it is hard to get bored.
For sweetener, I like monk fruit, which is plant-derived and has no aftertaste. For liquid, I favor cashew milk. Originally, I purchased unsweetened, cashew-only milk, then I started experimenting with making it at home. After trying a couple of different methods, I have settled on a method from the cookbook Go Dairy Free by Alisa Fleming: I grind the raw cashews and blend them with water. Since I don't drink the cashew milk, I don't need to filter it. One advantage of making cashew milk at home is that I can make a smaller amount more often and always have it fresh.
Seasonal fruit is my topping of choice. Currently, it is 'erry chia pudding time — that's not a typo, but my way of referring to berries and cherries together. I am an equal opportunity 'erry eater; I like them all, add them to a lot of dishes and often eat them straight from the container. I get my fill at the market, then each day I make a different chia pudding, with a single fruit or a few.
While small, tender berries (like blueberries, loganberries, raspberries) can be added directly to the pudding and mixed in, other 'erries benefit from a little preparation: Slice strawberries, pit and halve or quarter cherries. Use the same idea with other fruit (peaches, kiwis, persimmons, etc.), peeling and/or cutting them into small pieces as needed.
Between exercise and work, I carve out a small sliver of time to enjoy the light sweetness, creamy texture and fruity flavor, savoring it before turning my attention to the daily to-do list.
Serves 1; multiply as needed.
1 tablespoon chia seeds
2 teaspoons monk fruit sweetener or other sweetener of choice
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cashew milk (recipe below)
Fruit of choice (e.g., berries, cherries, peaches)
½ tablespoon sliced almonds, toasted in a dry skillet (optional)
For the cashew milk:
2 ounces raw cashews
1 ½ cups water
To make the cashew milk, finely grind the cashews in a spice grinder or small food processor. Place the ground cashews and the water in a blender and blend well. Pour into a glass jar, seal and refrigerate until ready to use.
Several hours before you plan to eat the pudding (or the night before), place the chia seeds and sweetener in a 4-ounce ramekin or serving glass. Add the vanilla extract. Shake the jar containing the cashew milk well, then pour 1/3 cup onto the chia seeds. Stir well. Let stand for 5 minutes and stir again, making sure the seeds are not clumped. Cover and refrigerate.
Take the pudding out of the refrigerator ahead of time so it's at your preferred temperature when served.
Prepare the fruit. Peel, pit and cut the fruit, as needed — small berries are fine as they are. Top the pudding with the fruit and optional sliced almonds, and serve.
Simona Carini (she/her) also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her blog www.pulcetta.com.