Cooking with tea is nothing new. The ancient Chinese used dried oolong leaves to stuff fish before steaming, added leaves to the fire for smoking duck, boiled eggs with tea leaves which were slightly cracked toward the end for a marbled appearance and today tea is commonly added to stir-fry for a fresh grassy punch.
Cooking with tea and the new herb tea from South Africa, Rooibos, is an exciting and healthy way of cooking. These teas have numerous health benefits, are easy to use, easily available and inexpensive plus have no calories, sugar or fat and add taste and flair to foods. You also need only a few pieces of equipment including a tea strainer, teapot, a spice grinder and a sieve or French press-style tea infuser. Some important elements to keep in mind when cooking with tea include imagination, steeping in less than boiling water for no more than 3 minutes or in room temperature water for 20-30 minutes and infusing teas leaves with cream or citrus juices to bring out the flavor. Consider using these teas in the following ways:
Tea as an herb or spice - simply grind the leaves of tea and combine with white pepper or herbs for use as a simple rub to add crunch and a flavorful crust to fish, meat or poultry or add Rooibos with spices to add a different dimension to curries and chutney.
Tea as soup stock - create a unique base for soups plus add essential vitamins and minerals just by replacing the water with tea or Rooibos.
Tea as a tenderizer - tea and Rooibos are efficient tenderizers for a melt-in-your-mouth effect when the infused liquid is added to your favorite freshly made marinade.
Tea as a green - tea is an edible leaf with a very earthy, spinach-like taste so why not substitute the brewed leaves in those recipes that call for spinach such as a quiche or dip.
Tea as a broth - use brewed tea or Rooibos for braising especially chicken, poaching or as a broth for grains or rice.
Tea as an aromatic - tea and Rooibos are a compliment to many flavors and are filled with rich and subtle aromatics which add interesting levels of smell as well as flavor
Tea as a garnish - try sprinkling dried tea leaves atop an omelet or add to a salad
Tea as dessert - because teas take sugar well, tea can add wonderful hints to many sweets. The trick for cake and cookies is to melt the butter with the tea leaves and let steep a few minutes and strain out the leaves if desired and re-chill if necessary. Rooibos is especially good in spiced desserts.
TEA TIME TRIVIA
Spent tea leaves may be tossed onto compost,
sprinkled around indoor or outdoor plants for extra fertilization
or dried and scattered on pet beds to ward off fleas!
GREEN TEA CREAM SPREAD
1 - 8oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter
2tsp green tea leaves
2tsp small capers, drained & rinsed
2Tbs minced shallots
Melt the butter with the green tea leaves and let steep 5 minutes then combine with the cream cheese and caper in an electric blender until smooth. Scrape into a bowl, stir in the shallots, cover and refrigerate until needed. Serve chilled spread on prosciutto and wrap around asparagus spears or use on bread for tea sandwiches.
ROOIBOS GINGERBREAD CAKE
1/4 c loose leaf Red Rooibos
8Tbs unsalted butter
1/2 c dark brown sugar
1/2 c dark molasses
1/2 c dark corn syrup
2 1/2c all-purpose flour
1 1/2tsp ground ginger & cinnamon
1/2tsp ground cloves & nutmeg
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1Tbs lemon juice
2 tsp baking soda
4 c confectioners’ sugar
Steep Rooibos in 1 1/2 cups of boiling water 5 mins. and strain water. Melt the butter, then add brown sugar, molasses, and corn syrup. Set aside to cool. Combine flour, spices and salt in a food processor and blend. Add eggs and lemon zest and blend until smooth. Stir the baking soda into 1 cup of the tea then add to the batter and mix well. Place in a greased 10"x15" sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 mins or until springy. Cool.
Icing: Combine the remaining tea (1-2 tsp) with the lemon juice, then add the confectioner’s sugar, whisking until a thick but spreadable icing is achieved. Pour over the cooled cake.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”