When I was growing up, chia pets were all the rage. As a gag for my Sweet 16 birthday, one of my friends gave me a kitschy chia dog that magically grew a luxurious "fur" coat after I placed hundreds of tiny chia seeds on the canine's bare body, and watered them religiously for several days. Today I still embrace those precious chia seeds, but now I sprinkle them on everything from acai bowls, smoothies and hot cereals to green salads, pastas, and stir fries, along with blending them in pancakes, scones, muffins and quick breads to dial up flavor, texture and add a nutritional oomph.
The chia plant or chia sage botanically known as Salvia hispanica, a native of the Mexican central valley, and staple of the Aztec and Mayan diets for thousands of years, has ironically transformed into a trendy new superfood of the Western world. The petite, elliptically-shaped black seed has Herculean powers, especially being hydrophilic. Having the ability to absorb more than 10 times its weight in water makes this potent oilseed both hydrating for athletes and healthful for diabetics as it puts the skids on the rate at which carbs are converted into sugars.
Soaked in almond, soy or coconut milk for an hour, the wondrous seeds form a gelatinous mixture that makes a refreshing fresca or indulgent pudding. There's more. Having a rich store of vitamins, minerals, proteins, dietary fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids, this translates to multiple benefits for mind, body and soul.
Feeling sluggish and logy? Chia seeds boost energy and enhance your work-out regimen. Have brittle bones and chalky teeth? Chia seeds are a calcium powerhouse beating out milk by a long shot. Your ticker need tweaking? Chias reduce inflammation, bad cholesterol and blood pressure levels to keep the heart and constitution humming.
Want to shed some holiday pounds? These slimming seeds regulate digestion and slow down food absorption. As an added boon, they're gluten-free with a heap of antioxidants to ward off harmful and aging free radicals. At last, the high fatty acid profile lubricates brain cells to keep you sharp and alert. Hearty and stable, chias have a long shelf life, unlike flax seeds that turn rancid quickly if not stored in a cool, dark place.
Another seed-related flash back to my youth relates to buckwheat, which my grandmother sautéed with onions and mushrooms, and tossed with little bow tie pastas (recipe provided) as a side dish for chicken, brisket or fish. The groats would perfume her kitchen with a distinct earthiness, so strong it would trail out the door. Once considered an ethnic dish popularly served at delis and other Jewish eateries, buckwheat is making a culinary conversion, becoming part of the mainstream repertoire of chefs coast to coast.
Of ancient Central Asian origins, buckwheat is a misnomer, since it is neither a wheat, grass nor cereal grain, although its chewy texture rife with complex carbs earned it the moniker "pseudocereal." A member of the rhubarb and sorrel family, buckwheat is a pyramid-shaped seed coated with a black hull. When the latter is removed, the kernel or groat is exposed, which can be ground into buckwheat flour to impart a nutty flavor to pancakes, breads or Japanese soba noodles. When prepared toasted and whole, the seed is commonly called "kasha," enjoyed as a sweet breakfast cereal, tossed in salads to add a protein load for a complete meal, molded into toothsome vegetable burgers, or used as a filling for cabbage rolls or a rice substitute.
Buckwheat contains a motherlode of gluten-free, anti-inflammatory nutrients, including vitamins B1 and B2 for metabolic functions and stress relief, iron and copper to pump up blood health, magnesium for normal muscle, nerve and bone function, and trace minerals, such as, phosphorous, zinc, and selenium to store energy and boost the immune system.
•••• Recipe: Kasha Varnishkes
Ingredients (Serves 4):
• 1 cup buckwheat (kasha), whole or coarse
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 sweet onion, diced
• 1 cup mushrooms (crimini, button, oyster, your choice), sliced
• 1 large egg, beaten
• 2 cups broth (chicken, vegetable or mushroom)
• 1 cup (cooked, drained) whole-wheat bow tie pasta (farfalle)
Heat oil on medium in a covered saucepan and sauté onions and mushrooms until tender. In a mixing bowl, blend kasha, egg and seasoning. Add to saucepan. Cook on medium until groats separate. Add broth. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covering pot until liquid is absorbed (about 10 minutes). Toss in pasta. Garnish with chopped parsley.