Thursday, June 5, 2008

What's cooking, baby!

Hello, everyone! I just spent an amazing weekend at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas. Judging from what I saw and heard, the tea industry is not only booming, but also unfurling in many different directions. One of the most exciting of these directions is, of course, FOOD. A few months ago, I discussed pairing food with tea, but now there is a proliferation of efforts to actually cook with tea. Presumably, one benefit is the addition of tea’s antioxidant benefits to food. More importantly, though, tea truly enhances taste and flavor.

As I walked among the hundreds of booths and presenters, I saw a large variety of chocolates and candies and cookies with tea mixed directly into the recipe. And it wasn’t a gimmick – I could distinctly taste the tea, and the fusion of flavors was interesting and delicious. (I’ll tell you about the green tea liqueurs later!)

The World Tea Expo also featured a series of “Cooking with Tea” demonstrations, featuring some of the top chefs in the country. Many of the chefs incorporated masala chai into their dessert recipes. This is not entirely surprising -- after all, masala chai is usually recommended as a dessert tea pairing based upon its distinctive spiciness. A suggested technique of Michael Minor, Executive Chef of the Border Grill Las Vegas was creating a reduction from masala chai. He boiled about four cups of masala chai over medium heat until it became a syrupy one-cup reduction sauce. Thereafter, he mixed the sauce into vanilla ice cream and re-froze it. This fusion of vanilla ice cream and masala chai was then added to an amazing bread pudding. I can definitely vouch for this dish!

Michael Minor also used the same technique to create a lemon myrtle tea reduction to pour over Hawaiian Opah Ceviche. For us vegetarians, the appropriate substitute for ceviche is tofu. Another interesting tea concoction was a strawberry soup created by Claude Cevasco, Chef Instructor at Le Cordon Bleu.

Now, this was all very fun and interesting to watch, but in the end, I’m no gourmet chef. This prompted me, when I returned home, to look for recipes and tips on cooking with tea for mere mortals like me. I did find a useful article written by Caroline Bloomfield that suggested that tea can be substituted for water during the cooking process. For example, tea can be boiled and used to steam vegetables and rice. It can be used to soak lentils and beans. Or, it can be added directly to soups and sauces and marinades. Ms. Bloomfield also suggested substituting tea (particularly chamomile or mint tea) for water in baked goods to produce a subtle and delicate layer of flavor. Obviously, the endless variations of tea flavors will allow a tea lover/cook to experiment and play forever.

Intrigued? Good. Let’s get cooking, baby! And let me know how it turns out.