Ingredient SpotLight

January is National Hot Tea Month and I thought it a good time to go over the basics and surprise you with a few tea recipes that you don't drink!

All tea comes from one plant, camellia sinensis. If it doesn't come from this plant, it is not technically tea. Tisanes, or herbal teas as they are better known, come from a variety of plants and therefore are not “tea”. Rooibos, also known as "red tea", is an herb and not tea at all.

Teas are grown in different regions around the world. The most widely recognized are China, Japan and India. When tea leaves are harvested, a natural oxidation begins to occur. This oxidation is environmental, not man made, and is halted by heating the tea leaves. This heating is done by firing or steaming the leaves. Oxidation, or the lack of oxidation, is the basic difference in tea types, i.e. green tea from black tea.

White and green teas are both harvested and then heated immediately making them non-oxidized. They produce a fragrant, vegetal character, and when properly brewed the tea liquor will appear light and clear with a pale green or yellow hue. These delicate teas should never be prepared with boiling water.

Oolong teas are allowed to oxidize for various lengths of time (15– 75 percent oxidation) allowing for a wide range of character and caffeine content; the darker, or more oxidized, the higher the caffeine content. The most commonly consumed oolong teas in the US are the dark varieties, which appear amber in color and are rich and complex in taste. Whether light or dark, oolong teas are delicious and terrific for easing digestion and aid in healing skin disorders like eczema.

Black teas are allowed to fully oxidize giving them a rich, dark appearance, the greatest amount of caffeine and a strong, brisk flavor. All “tea” has healthful benefits; you just need to taste and explore to find the one that most appeals to you. Since there are over 3,000 different teas in the world you are sure to find one that is perfect for you; then, just drink to your health!

However, few people use tea for cooking. So, this month, to mix things up a bit I'm offering three recipes featuring tea in a way that might surprise you. So without further pause, I give you an entree, a side dish and a dessert ... all boasting the flavors brought to us by tea and its cousins, tisanes.

Tea-Smoked Chicken

  • 3-4 lbs. chicken thighs
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 T. grated fresh peeled ginger root
  • 1 T. honey
  • 3/4 c. soy sauce
  • 1/2 c. cream sherry
  • 3/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. loose-leaf black tea
  • Sesame seeds as garnish

Wash the chicken and pat dry. In a blender place the chopped garlic, grated ginger root, honey, soy sauce and sherry and process only 20 seconds. Pour the marinade into a 9"x13" baking pan and coat the chicken. Cover the pan and refrigerate at least two hours, rotating the thighs at least one time.

Line a heavy cast iron or steel roasting pan with heavy-duty aluminum and sprinkle the sugar and tea on the foil. Place a cake or wire rack in the skillet, and arrange the chicken thighs on top. Cover with a lid or more aluminum and turn the burner onto high, cooking the chicken for 30 minutes. Resist the urge to lift off the pan, and keep the chicken covered for 20 more minutes.

To make their appearance browned or crisper, coat with a little sesame oil and put in a preheated 450-degree oven for about five minutes. Serve with sprinkled sesame seeds on top. Great with peanut or mustard sauce.

NOTE: This dish will smoke, so run your exhaust fan while making this dish.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour, plus marinating time

Wild Rice with Tea

  • 1/2 chopped tomato
  • 1 tsp. each: chopped red, yellow and green bell peppers
  • 1 tsp. chopped onion
  • 1 T. butter
  • 2 c. wild rice
  • 1 tsp. black tea leaves
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 c. chicken stock

Sweat the tomato, peppers and onion in butter until tender. Add the wild rice, tea leaves, spices and chicken stock to cover. Bake the mixture in a covered casserole dish in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, fluff and serve.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour

Red Tea Squares

  • 2 ¾ c. whole wheat flour
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 ½ c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. chopped nuts
  • 1 ¼ c. chopped dates
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ c. cooking oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ c. strongly brewed Rooibos Tea (AKA red tea)

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Mix the dry ingredients and sugar.

Add the chopped nuts and dates.

Beat the eggs, cooking oil, vanilla extract, and Rooibos Tea and mix well.

Turn the mixture into a greased square baking tin.

Bake the squares on the center rack for 30 minutes.

Cool and cut into squares.

  • Yields: 16 servings
  • Preparation Time: 40 minutes