LAKE COUNTY, California. There’s just something so comforting about a cup of tea, and February, with its scary occasional weather, is a perfect month to enjoy.
I am absolutely fascinated by tea, whether white, green, fermented, smoked or otherwise. When plant and flower tisans are factorized, imbibing becomes a multifaceted journey, a journey that to me may be limited by an obsession.
Tea has long been a pleasure of mine, but perhaps my strongest interest in it arose when, once upon a time, I gave a culinary class at a local tea shop, one that specialized in flower teas and herbal teas.
Creating recipes with their inspired selection of creations stretched my awareness of what tea can be in the kitchen. It should not be reduced to the role of escort; can be the star of a meal, with flavor combinations limited only by your imagination.
All kinds of tea, however packaged, can be used in this way loose leaves, tea in bags, powdered teas like matcha, ground tea leaves (a coffee grinder or mortar and dedicated mortar are good for this ), specialty teas like genmaicha (which includes puffed cereals), smoked teas, tea blends and all kinds of herbal teas can be food for your experimentation.
One of my favorite teas is the flower blend sold at the Holy Monastery of the Dormition in Calistoga. While making a purchase there a few years ago, I first heard the term tea docent (as in, our tea docent creates these blends). I was immediately impressed by the thought of such a happy career.
Maybe, just for today, I can consider myself your tea master in the kitchen offering some ideas as a starting point for you. Please read, get inspired and make your kitchen an experimental place for your brand of tea-filled creations.
Today’s recipe is also below, a vegetable frying with green tea layered all over through the infusion into the sauce as well as the rice served with it.
A Chinese proverb says, drinking a cup of tea every day will surely starve the pharmacist. Maybe this is also true if we eat our cup daily.
Bake with tea
Earl Gray or warm chai flower and fruit spices go well with baked goods like pound cake, shortbread, or sugar biscuits. Their soft sweetness provides a perfect backdrop for the aroma of the tea. Other teas also work well, such as green tea, black tea, or floral-flavored tea, such as rose, jasmine, or lavender.
Powdered tea, whether bought in that form as matcha or ground at home, is perfect for this purpose. You can get rid of vanilla and replace it with tea or, if you use a strong flavored tea, keep vanilla for added flavor.
Experiment vigorously when adding to dough. Start with a teaspoon and add or not taste. Tea powder can be made to roll biscuits before baking; use teaspoon of powdered tea in cup of sugar for this.
Fill the tea in the dairy
Tea can be infused into milk or cream for a variety of applications. Add the tea (no need to brew as whole leaves can be used) to the juice and heat slowly until slightly boiling. Remove from the heat and allow to cool, then drain before using.
All kinds of desserts can be made with tea-infected dairies, from panna cotta to bread pudding to milk cake.
Sencha, a steamed Japanese herbal tea with herbal notes, with herbs, can add moist soil to a cream sauce, black tea can add unexpectedly bold flavor to crum brulee, and floral tisans are beautiful on ice cream or whipped creams.
Enjoy a tea blush
Green tea, black tea and ginger tea are popular supplements for Asian-inspired fried dishes. Roasted tea can be used as an ingredient in a sauce, or dry tea can be added as a spice directly to the pan.
Genmaicha, a Japanese green tea with the addition of puffed rice and corn, can add an earthy ingredient to nuts, in frying.
To use, add to the pan first so that the leaves and grains have a chance of becoming delicious; set aside and add again later when things are ready to cook. For layering aromas, try serving your fry over rice or another bean cooked in tea.
Add tea to a meat grinder
Strongly flavored black tea leaves can be added to regular rubbing ingredients like salt, brown sugar and garlic. Adds a mysterious scent a kind mmmmm, that’s fine, but what is it? factor for meat. Smoky lapsang souchong (a favorite of my tea) is perfect for this.
Flavors and pasta with tea
The addition of green tea powder to the pasta dough gives it a rather pale green color and an earthy, herbaceous aroma.
Add to noodle soups either Asian-inspired, or otherwise or make a green-themed pasta dish by adding pesto and green vegetables.
Make tea butter
Add the tea to the butter at room temperature (it should be soft and fluffy) and stir until well blended. Roll the butter into a skewer and wrap well with plastic wrap. Store in the refrigerator (or refrigerate for long-term storage).
Buttercups cut from the trunk can be used to roast meat, flavor vegetables (try adding to vegetables during baking) or toast.
For those of us who prefer plant-based foods, this can also be done with coconut oil.
Tea-infected coconut butter or oil can also be used for cooking. (Note that powdered tea will change the color of the butter, while whole leaves will add striped drawings.)
Replace tea in stock
Tea can be subjected wherever stock is used, such as in soups or stews or for cooking cereals.
It was summer when I was teaching in the kitchen hour at the tea shop, so I created a cold peach soup using hibiscus tea.
Try rooibos tea with pumpkin or barley soup cooked in green tea. Adding black tea to a wild mushroom rice soup adds an incredibly interesting flavor.
Use the tea as a marinade
Tea can only be used as a marinade or added to other ingredients. I tried a recipe for a chicken eggplant fry, where the chicken was first marinated in black tea. If other flavors are used in the dish such as hoisin sauce and soy sauce in this it is important that the tea is strong enough to stand up to them and shine.
I once tried a recipe for grilled green beans, tossed with cocoa ribs and now I am predicting how wonderful the combination of cocoa and tea flavor would be if the beans were marinated with black tea and balsamic vinegar.
Use tea directly from the bag instead of spices
I made cranberry pancakes this morning, and as I think back I realize that adding a light floral tea to the batter would have added an interesting complementary flavor.
Mint tea from the bag sprinkled on yogurt can make a quick and easy flavor for Indian or Middle Eastern dishes.
Chai tea would be wonderful sprinkled with roasted cucumber squash or in a winter fruit salad.
Use tea as an unlicensed juice
This can be used in sweet or savory ways, consider roasted pears in rooibos tea or green tea or fish or chicken tea.
Make simple tea syrup
Simple aromatic syrup can be made by mixing equal parts of prepared tea and sugar and reducing it on the stove to a syrup consistency. Imagine the pleasure of lemonade sweetened with plain syrup filled with ginger tea or iced green tea with a fruit-flavored tea syrup like peach or raspberry.
A few months back I visited the Calistoga farmers market and happened to be in a stack of locally produced teas made by Napa Valley Tea Co.
I fell in love with their Divinitea, a naturally sweet blend of white and green teas with eight different fruits, making it perfect for this application. I look forward to trying a tea soda with Divinitea syrup and sparkling water.
Add tea to the smoothie
Add liquid tea or powder to your morning smoothie for added antioxidants and flavor.
As mentioned, below is today’s recipe, a blend of healthy and wholesome vegetables with tofu as protein. If preferred, chicken can be substituted. Beef or pork can overshadow the delicate taste of green tea.
Garlic and Green Tea Ginger Stir Fry
4 bags of green tea, created with 4 cups of water
1 cup jasmine rice
1 packet of extra strong tofu
1 yellow or purple onion
1 red pepper
3 stalks of broccoli
cup soy sauce
cup of rice vinegar
cup + 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons brown sugar (honey or agave nectar also work well)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Prepare the vegetables: Cut the onion, cut the pepper into strips, cut the carrot into sticks, cut the broccoli into sized pieces and mushrooms.
Prepare the sauce: Combine cup of prepared green tea, soy sauce, vinegar, cup of vegetable oil, garlic, ginger, brown sugar and cornstarch in a bowl.
Cook the rice according to the instructions on the package, replacing the water with three cups of green tea. Add a teaspoon of salt, if desired.
Cut the tofu into bite-sized cubes and heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Coffee tofu cubes on both sides and set aside on a plate lined with paper towels.
In the same pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil and add the onions and carrots and cook for two minutes. Add the red pepper, broccoli and mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly, for an additional five minutes. Vegetables should be barely soft.
Beat the sauce and toss over the vegetables. Add the fried tofu to the pan and cook all, stirring constantly, for another two to three minutes until the vegetables are soft and the sauce has thickened slightly.
Serve on top of the jasmine rice infused with green tea. Makes six medium or four large rations.
Recipe inspired by Jamie of Love Bakes Cakes Good and adapted by Esther Oertel.
Esther Oertel is a passionate home writer and cook from a family of chefs. She grew up in a restaurant, where she started creating recipes at an early age. Shes taught culinary lessons at a variety of places in Lake County and previously wrote the Veggie Girl column for Lake County News. I recently sell giving culinary courses at Sur La Table in Santa Rosa. She lives in Middletown.