A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with a friend at Hu Kitchen. The two of us started working together a few months ago, only to discover that we are both Jersey girls who now live just a few blocks from each other in Manhattan, are getting married within a week of one another in May, practice yoga, and love talking about (and eating) food. Oh, and to top things off, I’m obsessed with Portlandia, and Fred Armisen lives IN. HER. BUILDING! She just needs to start a food blog (c’mon, everybody has one…), and our doppelgangerism will be complete.
Anyway, one fine March Friday we hopped the subway from midtown to Union Square to check out this new(ish) food spot called Hu. I love the mission of this place: to be a resource for real, high-quality, unprocessed food that’s actually good for humans to eat (they’re somewhat Paleo-minded in that they eschew refined sugars and grains). We ordered some entrees and sides, and all were pretty good (especially the miso kale salad), but I’ll get right to the highlight of our meal, which was dessert: a rich, creamy and super-chocolatey chia pudding.
I usually label anything featuring chia seeds as health food, but this stuff was downright decadent. At first taste we both exclaimed in unison that it tasted just like chocolate frosting, so that’s definitely saying something. Before we left, I scanned the pudding’s ingredients label (it was in a grab-and-go container, thus bearing an ingredient lists — so helpful for those tinkerers and re-creators among us). Lo and behold this delicious concoction contained simply coconut milk, coconut sugar, chia seeds, Valrhona cocoa powder, vanilla, and sea salt.
The keys to the richness of this pudding are using thick, creamy coconut milk and top-quality roasted cocoa powder, such as Valrhona or Scharffen Berger (I would avoid raw cacao powder here, as it is lighter and fruitier and can give off notes of alcohol). In my version I added ground cinnamon to help boost the chocolate flavor and subbed maple syrup for the coconut sugar (so I wouldn’t need to blend the mixture to dissolve sugar granules).
Chia seeds are a polarizing topic; they seem to be one of those ingredients you either love or hate. There is indeed a ‘slime factor’ involved when working with chia, and that’s not often a characteristic we appreciate in our food. But I admire the chia’s thickening power, as well as its wealth of nutritional offerings (good source of omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, protein), and as I’ve worked with these little seeds in various recipes I’ve developed a fondness for them.
One thing I’ve found is that the longer chia seeds soak, the more pleasant (read: less slimy) the pudding’s mouthfeel becomes. If the pudding sits for a short time (15 to 30 minutes) the slime factor is more pronounced; but once you get to the 12 + hour mark (I think 24 hours is ideal), the seeds become more fully hydrated and the pudding is not slimy at all, but rather thick, rich, and frosting-like. This is a great recipe to make in the evening to enjoy the next day; I tried it as breakfast, snack, and dessert (it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it), and can attest that it fits the bill for each.
Chocolate Chia Pudding
Inspired by Hu Kitchen
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 12 to 24 hours (depending on your desired chia-soaking time)
1 can coconut milk (13.5 ounces)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup high-quality cocoa powder (such as Valrhona or Scharffen Berger)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup chia seeds
Fresh berries, toasted shredded coconut, chopped dark chocolate, and/or chopped toasted nuts (hazelnuts are particularly good), for garnish
1. Whisk the coconut milk, maple syrup, cocoa powder, cinnamon, vanilla, and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Taste and add more maple syrup and/or cocoa powder until the levels of chocolatey-ness and sweetness are to your liking.
2. Whisk in chia seeds.
3. Let mixture sit for 15 minutes, then whisk again to break up any lumps (this will help ensure that the chia seeds are evenly distributed throughout the mixture). Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours before serving.
4. When ready to serve, stir pudding until smooth and transfer to small bowls or ramekins. Garnish with berries, toasted coconut, dark chocolate shavings, and/or chopped nuts.