Tag Archives: Tea

Smoky tea-braised lentils

In a world of coffee drinkers, Sam and I are tea fanatics. Our cupboards are bursting with tins and boxes, strainers and saucers. We drink black tea in the morning, green tea after dinner, and herbal tea late at night. We even have one of those fancy tea kettles that heats water to different temperatures for different types of tea.

I love cooking with tea–and with one tea in particular–almost as much as drinking it. Lapsang souchong tea is dried over wood fires, giving it a distinctive smoky flavor. Add some leaves or a bag to a pot of soup broth, and you’ve got something deeper and huskier than any non-meat broth I know. My new favorite trick? Cooking black lentils–sometimes called beluga lentils, because they resemble caviar when cooked–in a cauldron of smoky tea, tomatoes, and spices.

The recipe I adapted this from called for simmering everything together at once–lentils, tomatoes, the works. I’ve tried that, and don’t recommend it; the acid in the tomatoes keeps the lentils from softening. Instead, I use the method from my grandmother’s bean and tomato soup. In that recipe, you start simmering the legumes on their own, cook up a saucy tomato mix in a separate pan, then bring everything together towards the end of the cooking time. I added a handful of greens, too, which wilted down and made the whole dish more substantive.

At first taste, you might assume there’s meat in these lentils. It’s a nifty little trick, brought about by the marriage of smoky tea and glutamate-rich tomatoes. You could easily serve this as a standalone vegan meal–I have, and my omnivorous dinner guests loved it. If you eat eggs, these lentils are incredible with a poached or soft-boiled egg on top. And as with so many soups and stews, the flavor gets even better after some time in the fridge or freezer.

smoky tea lentils

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Green tea walnuts

Hey, happy New Year, everybody!

As usual, the end of 2013 rattled right up and then whizzed right by. It feels like none of us got any time to breathe over the holidays. And yet we did–I know we did. The Saturday before Christmas, Sam and I cleared our calendars, strapped on our hiking boots, and hiked up the steepest hill around. It was slow going, and it hurt a lot, and I could feel my lungs and my head clearing as we made our way up. I have a photo on my phone from the summit, 2,800 feet above sea level, on a day as dry and blue as December in California can ever be:

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And I made green tea walnuts, too, on New Year’s, with some of my leftover matcha. The idea wormed its way into my head weeks ago, when I stopped for lunch at the Imperial Tea Court at the Ferry Building. They had a sign advertising green tea walnuts, with a bright red sticker over it saying SOLD OUT. But I knew I had green tea powder on hand, and a single egg white in the freezer, a trusty recipe for spiced nuts to riff on. So it was just a matter of finding a free hour in the chaos of the holiday, and sitting down to make something crunchy and a little sweet.

My go-to spiced nuts recipe seems very much like a Christmas treat; these green tea walnuts, on the other hand, feel like a January thing. They’re slightly sweet, like the others, but also a little bracing, with layers of bitterness from the green tea and the walnuts. The matcha stains the walnuts a subdued forest-green color, just enough to signal what the flavor is. Somehow, eating a handful of these makes me feel like I’m healing myself; because of the bitterness and heft of the walnuts, I can’t just eat these mindlessly. Tasting each one is a deliberate act.

I’ll admit, I had to warm up to these. I’m not usually crazy about walnuts, and the walnut flavor here is deep, so at first it put me off. But the more I eat these, the more I like them. And my friends who love walnuts, loved these; in fact, they were happy to gobble up half the batch before Sam had time to photograph. So here they are, as a New Year’s offering–something nourishing for these post-holiday detox days.

green tea walnuts

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Turmeric ginger tea

Last week I had a nasty little cold. It didn’t last especially long, but it knocked me flat for a good solid two days. Well, not quite flat–I worked from home, and found myself juggling conference calls for hours on end. It’s a bit hard to come across as professional when you’re muting your phone every couple minutes for a coughing fit.

When it comes to colds, I’m very much of the “tough it out” school. I’m leery of medicating myself, so I stick to hot fluids and zinc. But after about my third conference call in a row, with a scraping dry cough that just would not quit, and no chicken broth in the house, I decided it was time for a real restorative. So I hit up the Internet for ideas and went rattling through my kitchen cupboards and fridge, hoping to stumble on a concoction that would at least help me get through the rest of the day.

This tea was actually the second thing I tried (the first, which involved flaxseeds, turned out kind of snotlike and had to be thrown away). The base of the tea is a paste made of honey, turmeric, and ground ginger; it’s pungent stuff, a deep yellow-brown color, the kind of color I could imagine in a very chic trenchcoat. I whisked it all up in a cute little jar, and slipped it onto a pantry shelf with my other boxes and tins of tea. A bare spoonful stirred into some hot water, with a squeeze of lemon and a grinding of pepper, turned out to be just the wake-up call my body needed. Within half an hour, I noticed that my coughs were less frequent and more productive; after several hours, when I started feeling nasty again, I made another mug of tea and went to bed. In the morning I could already feel my chest clearing out.

There’s a lot going on here. Between the anti-inflammatory turmeric (which the black pepper helps the body absorb), the cough-suppressing honey, the stomach-soothing ginger, and the vitamin C-rich lemon, this stuff packs a punch. It definitely tastes like a tonic, but in a pleasant way: earthy and slightly bitter, sharp and spicy, sweet and tangy. A little of the concentrate goes a long way, so even the small amount I made is likely to last through the New Year. I’ll be using this all through the winter to ward off colds–or, at the very least, help soothe myself once they take hold.

turmeric ginger tea

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Green tea chocolate chip cookies

My neighbor Jess is a total badass. By day, she’s an animator at a major motion picture studio; by night, she repairs bicycles and makes pots for her succulent plants out of concrete and old buckets. And as if that wasn’t enough, she’s also a talented baker, with a particular knack for delicate and sophisticated cookies. She makes adorable bite-sized macarons that could make you weep, they’re so perfect. (She showed me how. I tried. I can’t make ’em like she can.)

I will forever be indebted to Jess for two things. First, for introducing me to matcha, or finely ground green tea. I’d heard of matcha before, mostly in the context of making green tea-flavored sweets, but Jess was the one who finally inspired me to go out and buy some. It’s certainly pricey–mine cost $8 an ounce–but a little goes a long way. Traditionally, matcha is whisked into hot water to form a frothy, intensely green tea. I used some of mine this way recently when I was fighting off a cold, and the thick forested punch it gave seemed to knock the bug right out of my system. But really, I bought matcha to use it in cookies, which leads to the second reason I’m indebted to Jess.

A couple months ago, we got together for a lazy Sunday of baking, tea, and chitchat. We made a tomato tart, baked peaches, and then Jess started gathering ingredients for cookies. “Green tea chocolate chip,” she said. “I just use the recipe on the back of the Nestle bag, but I replace two tablespoons of the flour with matcha.” The dough mixed up bright green, almost alien-like; when it baked, the cookies took on an eerie moss-toned color. At first bite, I thought I was just tasting an ordinary  cookie–but then the flavor of the green tea slowly took hold, blossoming grassy and slightly bitter through the rich goo of the chocolate chips. It stunned me. I thought about those cookies for days.

I’ve since made these cookies for myself several times, tinkering a bit to find a balance I like. For me, that includes a dose of whole wheat flour to offset the grassiness with nuttiness, as well as almond extract in place of vanilla. These seem like an ideal Halloween cookie, green and spooky as they are, but with enough subtlety to please adults as well as children.

Thank you, Jess, for bringing these cookies into my life.

green tea chocolate chip cookies multiple

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Instant chai latte

Here’s a little treat I’ve been sitting on for a while: instant chai latte mix.

This makes an incredibly fragrant cup of tea, particularly if you grind the spices yourself. Put in cute glass jars, it makes a terrific gift–the first batch I ever made was a treat for my tea-loving neighbors after they brought their new baby home.

This concentrate is based on a recipe that calls for sweetened condensed milk. I make it with evaporated milk, because I like to sweeten my tea myself. Because sugar is a preservative, the unsweetened concentrate has a much shorter shelf life; I try to use up my chai mix within a month. If you don’t mind a pre-sweetened cup of tea, use sweetened condensed milk–it’ll keep for up to six months.

To make a traditional cup of chai, brew a cup of strong black tea, like Assam, and stir in 2 tsp of this concentrate, plus whatever sweetener you like.  But that’s far from the limit–I could see this working beautifully with green tea, chamomile or mint tea, hot chocolate or coffee.  It can be used with iced tea as well as hot.  And for a real treat, stir a tablespoonful or two into a bowl of oatmeal and top with a drizzle of honey.

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