It's no secret that tea is good for you. It provides antioxidants [which prevent damage to cell tissues], has less caffeine than coffee, and calms the soul. What easier way to reap its benefits than by adding some to your cuisine, especially during the hectic holidays?
Incorporating tea into your cooking is easy, and you don't have to know a lot to start experimenting. The quickest way to get started is to grab a few teabags and throw them in the water when steaming vegetables, according to Ying Chang Compestine, author of * Cooking With Green Tea * (Avery / Penguin Putnam, 2000). "Infusing vegetables this way adds a delicate flavor to the food. The ones I like to use are Celestial Seasonings Blueberry Tea, or Lemon Ginger Green Tea," she says.
"It's also very easy to use tea as a spice when stir frying," says Ying. When using tea in this way, you add the dry tea leaves to the heated oil as you would any other spice or seasoning. "I have all kinds of tea next to my spice rack. For chicken or fish I use green or white tea. It just depends on what I'm cooking," she adds.
Most people have teabags in their cupboards, but may not have full leaf teas. "Don't worry about getting loose tea or knowing about loose teas," Ying advises. "For most cooking, bag tea is much easier. Just snip the teabag open and use the tea."
"One thing I love to do is cook cook rice with jasmine green tea," says Donna Fellman, Director of the Tea Education Alliance and author of * Tea Here Now * (Inner Ocean Publishing, 2005) for For a heartier, savory meal use oolong [a tea that is considered in between green and black] to make your rice. It's lovely. "
To prepare rice this way, start by making the tea. Donna recommends using loose tea leaves for this recipe. Put a teaspoon or two of leaves per cup of water in a teapot or other vessel. Heat the water to almost boiling and pour over the leaves. Steep about three minutes. Remove the spent leaves and set aside to use again later. Bring the brewed tea to a boil and add the rice. Turn down to a simmer and look forward to the delicate aroma that will soon fill your kitchen.
It's important not to over brew tea whether you intend to use it in a recipe or drink it. Making tea stronger is not a result of longer steeping. "Any kind of tea is going to get bitter if you over brew it," says Lenny Martinelli, Owner and Executive Chef of the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House in Colorado. "When I cook with tea I make the brew stronger by adding more tea to it."
Consider serving chai during holiday meals, which naturally lends itself to the season with its cinnamon and clove.
The adventurous cook can experiment by combining tea leaves with other vegetables as Lenny does in his potstickers [a type of Chinese dumpling]. "I put some green tea leaves in the filling, maybe with some spinach." For a tea-inspired holiday recipe, he creates a chicken rub with spiced black tea, cumin, coriander and cinnamon. "A nice holiday roasted chicken with dried fruit sauce, de-glazing the pan with orange juice and letting the tea and spices come out." He adds, "I think sometimes people expect too much from the tea leaf when they cook with tea. You're not trying to make a full tea flavor. It's important to treat it like an ingredient. Just play with it."
What about dessert?
Teas flavored with jasmine, rose, lemon or fruit are used to make cookies, pudding, ice cream, cake, smoothies and shakes. Try Ying's quick green tea ice cream: Stir 1/2 teaspoon of matcha [Japanese powdered green tea] into 1 cup of softened vanilla ice cream and refreeze it. How easy is that?
In the end there is nothing like taking time out for yourself so that you can enjoy the holidays. "Make sure that while you're busy preparing delightful holiday food that you take time to sit and enjoy a cup of tea," says Donna. "You will get more of tea's health giving and soul nurturing properties. The tea will prepare you to cook in a mindful way and will infuse your food with that calmness, which gets passed along to your family and guests."
Ying Chang Compestine is spokesperson for Celestial Seasonings. More information about her and her books is available at http://www.yingc.com . Donna Fellman and Bodhidharma Tea Company can be reached at 303-402-9576. Lenny Martinelli's cooking classes and other tea events are listed at http://www.boulderteahouse.com .