Chia Vanilla Pudding (and other dessert thoughts)

Getting our priorities in order, let's start off this week of eats with a dessert recipe.

Kind of ironic considering we don't prepare typical desserts for everyday fare. I bake cakes for my kiddos' birthdays, or even better, my mom might be visiting and do the baking instead. After years of cooking and baking with minimal animal products, fats, oils or sugar I've lost my skill for pulling together an indulgent birthday cake. 

Birthday cakes aside, we follow a few dietary guidelines for our home eating that preclude most dessert foods. We also try to limit our consumption of out-of-the-house sweets to one treat/week.  A trip to the ice cream stand, cake at a friend's birthday, soda with a supper out etc.  We don't always succeed on this account but it keeps gratuitous sugar consumption in check.

Brienne's reaction to eating an honest-to-goodness cookie (whole wheat and vegan but definitely not healthy),
a treat I baked for the kids earlier this spring

That may sound depressing, but it really isn't. It's called keeping our health, our teeth and our sanity - our children do not have sugar highs and sugar crashes and they are darn pleasant to be around.

Weekday desserts at our house are usually a couple squares of fair trade (yada, yada) dark chocolate, fruit smoothies, Damien's signature mashed banana, tahini and cocoa pudding, fresh fruit or dried fruit. But sometimes we feel like something a little more special, something like this pudding recipe.

Chia seeds seem to be all the rage these days. We've been eating them for at least a year (bought them here) and we use them when hiking, mixed with lime juice and water, as an energy drink. Apparently they are really healthy but all I can think of every time I use them in our meals is chia pets, which were heavily advertised on TV when i was a kid.

Chia Vanilla Pudding

This recipe is an easier, quicker and healthier alternative to tapioca pudding. Not that tapioca pudding is necessarily unhealthy but the nutrition in chia seeds makes them a substitution worth trying, if you don't mind the slight crunch and goo.

Really though, the crunch and goo aren't too pronounced. We like those jelly balls that form around each chia seed (similar to tapioca) but if you have a crew of picky eaters you might need to serve small quantities - then scarf the rest down yourself.

Also, this is not a sweet dessert. It's sweet by our standards but 2 tbsps of maple syrup in 3 cups of pudding is not much. You may want to add more (but I dare you not to).

Recipe includes the option of adding cocoa powder for a chocolate pudding. I like it equally well both plain vanilla or rich chocolate.


  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 - 2 vanilla bean pods (optional - see notes)
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup fair trade quality cocoa powder (optional for chocolate pudding)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract


  1. Using a high powered blender, blend cashews, water, maple syrup, vanilla bean pods and sea salt till smooth. Ie: no chunks of nuts remain.
  2. Pour liquid mixture into medium sauce pan.
  3. Add chia seeds and whisk well. Whisk in cocoa, if using.
  4. Stirring often, bring chia mixture to boil over medium heat. Turn down to the heat to a simmer. Stir pudding with whisk (not constantly but enough to not stick and burn) until thickened to your liking. Maybe 5 minutes or so. Rememer pudding will thicken more as it cools.
  5. Remove from heat. 
  6. Serve either warm or cold, according to your liking.


I make my own vanilla extract so I buy vanilla bean pods by the 1/2 pound. Much cheaper this way and my kitchen smells like heaven while they sit in the cupboard awaiting their vodka soak. When the beans are done soaking in the vodka, usually 2 months or longer at my house, I strain the vanilla extract and then save the vodka soaked bean pods in the fridge. They last a long time, they are steeped in alcohol after all, and I throw them into the blender with wet mixtures for baking and such. Adds a nice flavor (if you don't mind the teensy black flecks) to whatever I'm making.

For this pudding I've used both these post-extract beans and fresh pods that we just tantalizing me with their smell (double, super yum).

I know not every one has bean pods sitting around their kitchen so technically this ingredient is optional (use more vanilla extract maybe?). Omit at your own risk.

As requested by one of my readers my mom shared a recipe for Black Bean Brownies on her blog today. Very timely if I say so myself.

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Filed Under

« A week of Eats ~ Get Ready
A Green Revolution »
  • Debbie

    Debbie on May 11, 2010, 2:19 p.m.

    Ch-ch-ch-chia! Ha ha! I remember those commercials from when I was a kid too. This sounds yummy. I despise tapioca pudding because of that little jelly sack thing. Maybe I wouldn't like chia seeds either? you think I could use hemp seeds instead? Those cookies look great. We made good old chocolate chip cookies yesterday. HUGE treat in our house. And you are so right about the sugar high/crash - not at all fun. Thanks for sharing your recipe. -Debbie


  • Kika

    Kika on May 11, 2010, 6:45 p.m.

    Any chance you'd share what is in those cookies that Brienne is eating - what, in particular, makes them "not healthy"? Also, a question about your gluten-free pancake recipe: do you grind your own garbanzo bean flour/ do you think this is interchangeable with another bean flour? How different are quinoa flakes from regular quinoa? I'm just trying to see if I can simplify by using what I have on hand rather than having to buy all new ingredients.


    • renee

      renee on May 11, 2010, 10:43 p.m.

      I made up the recipe as I went along, based on another recipe, I think from the web. I didn't save it but I can tell you it was de-lic-cious! But not g-free. 

      I have pretty high standards for what constitutes healthy. These had oil and sucanat and that's enough for me to deem them not healthy. Doesn't mean they're so bad but they aren't health food.

      I buy an Indian brand of garbanzo bean flour, actually called besan (the flour is called that). Garbanzo bean flour is used in Indian cooking.  I get it from our buying club.

      Quinoa flakes are very different from quinoa grain. They are flattened and steamed. They remind me of rolled oats vs. an actual oat grain. Alternately, you could grind quinoa and try that instead. 


  • Spring

    Spring on May 12, 2010, 2:11 a.m.

    SO looking forward to these recipes! (And I'm going to try that black-bean brownie one too!) These "treat" recipes are coming just at the right time, when I am trying to climb back on the sugar-free wagon! As the rest of my life calms down, it's back into the kitchen for me!! I'm looking forward to it! :)


  • Rana

    Rana on May 12, 2010, 2:46 a.m.

    I've been sugar free for a couple of months. I'm looking forward to trying this out. I'm always on the lookout for some great recipes. Plus I have been trying different smoothie combination's. Do you have any tasty smoothie recipes to share?


  • Bridget Stevens

    Bridget Stevens on April 9, 2012, 6:10 p.m.

    I knoe this post is from a while back but I was wondering how you mix up that chia drink for hiking? my husband rides 7 miles each way to work on his bike every day and could use a non-processed energy replacement drink.


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