Most people crave comfort foods from time to time. What exactly is comfort food? According to the Oxford Dictionary:
“Food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically having a high sugar or carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking”
Sadly, most comfort foods are not healthy. It is interesting how we crave carbohydrate rich foods when we are stressed or tired. This is no accident. Stress causes the release of the cortisol into our bloodstream and our body starts to burn glucose for energy. In order to replenish our glucose supply, we start to crave sugar and refined carbohydrates. To make matters even worse, sugar and refined carbohydrates trigger the pleasure centres of our brain.
My comfort foods from my childhood included mint chocolate chip ice cream, macaroni and cheese, pizza, pasta and meat sauce, and my all time favourite rice pudding! Rice pudding is basically white rice, milk, refined sugar, eggs, and raisins—a perfect combination of sugar and refined carbohydrates. The only saving grace of rice pudding is probably the eggs, as long as they are organic pasture raised (see my post on eggs).
One of the really fun parts of my job is when I take an unhealthy food and reinvent it in a healthy manner. While dining out in New York City a few weeks ago, I tried coconut chia pudding. The taste and texture reminded me exactly of rice pudding, except it was both comforting and healthy. I decided that I would try to recreate a simple version of this healthy comfort food.
I give you Vanilla Coconut Chia Pudding. This recipes requires just a few ingredients: shredded coconut, chia seeds, maple syrup, a whole vanilla bean, and a few dashes of cinnamon.
I try to buy organic large flaked coconut, but finely shredded coconut will work just fine. Of course, if you happen to have a palm tree in your backyard or a spare coconut sitting around, you could make this even more delicious. For the sake of convenience, I’ll use shredded coconut. Canned full-fat organic coconut milk would also work for this recipe, but I like to avoid canned goods whenever possible.
Set up your blender and add 1 cup of shredded coconut and 2 cups of boiling water. When blending hot items, be sure to leave off the blender top and cover with a dish towel, unless you have a Vitamix, Blendtec, or other blender that has steam vents built in. Blending boiling hot items in a sealed blender could lead to the top bursting off and a big mess on your ceiling.
Blend on high speed for about 1 minute, until it looks like milk.
Pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. I use a spoon to squeeze all the liquid from the leftover pulp. You can discard the pulp or save it to add fibre to a smoothie or other treat.
Let the mixture cool for about 30 minutes.
A quick word about coconut: it is an excellent source of healthy saturated fats and contains small amounts of key minerals such as magnesium, selenium, and manganese. It is also a good source of fibre, except that we have removed it in this recipe—not to worry as you will read in a moment.
Next add 6 tablespoons of chia seeds to your coconut milk. Mix well.
These little nutrition powerhouses pack a punch in just 1 tablespoon. This small amount contains about 5 grams of mainly soluble fibre. Soluble fibre has a lot of health benefits including helping with regularity, reducing spikes in blood sugar, soaking up toxins to be eliminated, and lowering cholesterol. A tablespoon of chia seeds also contains a good amount of healthy omega 3 fats, a bit of protein, and a variety of minerals.
Add 3 tablespoons of maple syrup and mix well.
Pure maple syrup is a good natural sweetener, when used in moderation of course. It is still sugar, but also contains some trace minerals. When consuming sugar with fibre such as chia seeds or in whole fruits, the fibre will slow down the digestion of the sugars minimizing spikes in blood sugar levels.
I like to work with whole vanilla beans whenever possible.
Use a paring knife to carefully cut a vanilla bean in half vertically. Then flatten each half and use your knife to scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds to your pudding and mix well.
Vanilla is an excellent source of antioxidants. various B vitamins, and bunch of trace minerals. Vanilla can relieve anxiety, help with energy, and may work as an aphrodisiac.
If you are not able to use whole vanilla beans, you can use either 1 teaspoon organic fair-trade vanilla extract or vanilla powder.
Cover and refrigerate your pudding for at least 1 hour or longer, stirring once or twice to break up clumps of chia seeds.
Dish a few tablespoons into small bowls or ramekins to enjoy! Comfort food you can enjoy guilt free!
When serving your vanilla coconut chia pudding, you can garnish it with a few dashes of ground cinnamon.
Vanilla Coconut Chia Pudding
Yield: 6 servings
Ingredients1 cup shredded coconut 2 cups boiling water 6 tbsp cup chia seeds 3 tbsp maple syrup 1 vanilla bean, cut open and seeds scraped out ground cinnamon to taste
Place shredded coconut and boiling water in your blender. Blend on high speed for about 1-2 minutes. Pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a small glass bowl. Save the fibre for future use or discard. Let the coconut milk cool for 30 minutes. Mix in chia seeds, maple syrup, and vanilla bean seeds. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, mixing a few times. Serve garnished with a few dashes of ground cinnamon.
Keeps in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.