Chia—yes the very same seeds that sprout “hair” on chia pets—is a highly nutritious seed harvested from a Mexican desert plant and made popular among endurance book worms by Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run,” a tale about organizing and racing an ultra, and the lifestyles of the Tarahumara Indians, mysterious wunderrunners who execute amazing feats of endurance in homemade sandals. McDougall recorded the Tarahumara “sports drink” he tried made up of lime juice, water, chia seeds and a bit of sugar or agave, a concoction he observed may be partly responsible for the vitality of the skirted uberrunners.
However, the simple diets of the Tarahumaras were studied long before the “Born to Run” phenomenon helped build momentum for the minimalist running movement; a study published in 1979 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that the low-fat, low-salt diet high in fiber, complex carbohydrates and mostly plant-based protein “provides a model for a diet composition more favorable for prevention of some chronic diseases,” study authors noted. Summed up, the Tarahumara diet observed in this study included: beans, corn, greens (cactus, picked wild plants), chili peppers, squash, coffee and a very small amount of sugar and fat.
Because chia seed is now widely available at Whole Foods and other health foods stores across the country, adopting nutrition principles from the Tarahumara is incredibly easy to do at home. If you’ve never tried the seeds, buy some and pop a few in your mouth: They’re chewy and a bit crunchy but don’t have a distinctive flavor, making it perfect for boosting the nutritional value of almost any recipe. You can sprinkle the seeds whole onto cereal, yogurt, salads, etc., but I find that their chewy texture overwhelms the mouth in larger quantities. Instead, consider these five seamless ways to pepper chia into your diet, and a list of tools that’ll come in handy to execute these ideas in your home kitchen.
2. Crush them. Dump two or three tablespoons into a mortar and pestle and grind away until most of the seeds are cracked open. Add to any sauce, soup, stew or casserole.
3. Bake them. Toss pulverized seeds with flour, corn meal or maize to make bread, tortillas, muffins or even brownies.
4. Boost dips or spreads. Pulse three tablespoons of chia in a food processor or blender with juice from one lime. Use chia-lime juice to add flavor to guacamole and keep the avocados from oxidizing.
5. Make refried beans. Toast chia seeds in a nonstick skillet over medium heat for two to three minutes. Add one teaspoon of canola oil, two cloves of minced garlic, one small chopped yellow onion and 1/2 minced jalapeno pepper. Cook for four to five minutes or until onion and jalapeno have softened. Add one can of rinsed and drained kidney or pinto beans and one teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Warm beans for about two to three minutes. Remove skillet from heat and mash beans with a potato masher (the back of a fork works fine, too, you just have to execute more patience). Stir in juice of one large lime and two tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro.
Helpful Kitchen Tools:
1. A potato masher
2. A blender
3. A mortar and pestle (a ziplock bag and a rolling pin will also work in a pinch) or food processor