Annelies Zijderveld was working in marketing for San Rafael-based Mighty Leaf Tea Co. when she realized that tea was much more than a beverage.
One afternoon, while working on a description for a shade-grown Japanese green tea called Gyokuro, Zijderveld pinched a few of the dry, blue green leaves between her fingers and popped them into her mouth.
“It was so unbelievably nutty,” says Zijderveld, who lives in San Francisco and writes a blog called the Food Poet. She decided to bake the tea into butter cookies.
After spinning the leaves through a spice grinder, Zijderveld folded the flecks of tea into cookie dough. The tea-infused treats were a hit at a charity bake sale, so Zijderveld continued her experiments by sprinkling green-tea leaves into granola and dunking lychee-and-fennel spring rolls into black-tea dipping sauce.
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“I became obsessed with pushing the boundaries of how tea could be used in new ways,” says Zijderveld, the author of a new cookbook called “Steeped: Recipes Infused With Tea” (Andrews McMeel, $21.99, 144 pages). The book features more than 60 plant-based recipes that include brewed tea or tea leaves as ingredients. Standouts include masala chai pumpkin bread, Earl Grey soba noodle salad and chamomile risotto.
“Each tea brings its own personality to a dish,” Zijderveld says.
People have been cooking with tea for as long as they’ve been drinking it – around 5,000 years – but the popularity of tea-infused recipes will likely grow along with the country’s thirst for the beverage. Last year Americans consumed more than 80 billion servings of tea, according to the Tea Association of the U.S.A., and tea sales are expected to double in the next five years.
In Kansas City, Mo., Tea Market owner Stacie Robertson recommends swapping tea for water when cooking rice or couscous. She likes jasmine tea with basmati rice and chai – a blend of black tea, Indian spices and herbs – with couscous.
“It’s also fun to make a spice rub with tea,” Robertson says.
She adds lapsang souchong, a Chinese tea dried over smoldering wood, to add smoky flavor to salmon.
Lapsang souchong is the star of several recipes in “Steeped,” including a sweet and smoky butternut squash hash and tomato soup topped with Parmesan-thyme crisps. Zijderveld calls lapsang souchong a “campfire in a cup.”
“A little goes a long way,” she says.
Wes Gartner, chef-owner at Voltaire in Kansas City’s West Bottoms, has been known to smoke Chinese black tea to flavor ribs in the summer. The smoldering tea leaves infuse the ribs with herbacious flavor that’s “much more subtle than wood smoke,” Gartner says.
He also uses Thai tea-infused milk to make tres leches cake. The caffeinated dessert is layered with tart lemon curd.
Not all tea works well in recipes: Zijderveld says white and oolong tea are best for drinking, because their subtle flavors are easily overshadowed by other ingredients.
The recipes in “Steeped” are all about harmony: Chamomile’s floral, honey notes amp up the sweetness of corn chowder, Earl Grey’s citrus kick lightens up creamy chocolate custard, and green tea aioli adds bright flavor (and a stripe of vivid green color) to hearty black bean burgers.
“Tea is not a diva,” Zijderveld says. “It’s part of the chorus.”
Earl Grey soba noodle salad
Serves 6 to 8
The bright citrus flavor of Earl Grey tea amps up the fresh flavor of this soba noodle salad, which is perfect for a picnic. From “Steeped: Recipes Infused With Tea.”
For the Earl Grey dressing:
1/3 cup brewed Earl Grey tea, cooled
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
21/2 teaspoons maple syrup
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
2 small cloves garlic, minced
11/2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
2 teaspoons grapeseed, safflower or other neutral oil
1 teaspoon Sriracha
For the soba noodle salad:
1 teaspoon safflower, grapeseed, or other neutral-flavored oil
1 small red onion, thinly sliced (3/4 cup)
2 carrots, peeled into ribbons (2 cups)
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into matchsticks
1/4 head purple cabbage, thinly sliced and separated into ribbons (2 cups)
3 oranges, cut into segments with pith removed (11/2 cups)
1/2 bunch fresh curly parsley leaves, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
8 ounces soba noodles
To make the dressing: Whisk together the tea, sesame oil, maple syrup, salt, vinegar, garlic, ginger, oil and sriracha.
To make the noodles: Drizzle the safflower (or other neutral-flavored) oil into a medium pan, set over low heat, swirling to coat. Sauté the onion until caramelized, 10 minutes. Toss the onion, carrot, bell pepper, cabbage, oranges, parsley and sesame seeds in a large bowl.
Put a 2-quart saucepan two-thirds full of water over medium heat. When it’s boiling, add the noodles and cook according to the package instructions. Drain and run them under cold water to cool. Add the noodles to the salad. Dress and toss to coat.
Per serving, based on 6: 236 calories (14 percent from fat), 4 g total fat (trace sat. fat), 0 chol., 47 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein, 579 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber.
Smoky tomato soup with Parmesan thyme crisps
Serves 4 to 6
Lapsang souchong, a Chinese tea dried over smoldering wood, lends smoky flavor to tomato soup made with roasted red bell pepper. Recipe from “Steeped: Recipes Infused With Tea.”
For the Parmesan thyme crisps:
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves (from 2 sprigs)
For the tomato soup:
1 tablespoon safflower, grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 medium white onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
1 medium red bell pepper, peeled, roasted and finely chopped (1 cup)
3 cups brewed lapsang souchong tea (made with 2 bags or 1 tablespoon loose)
1 cup water
One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes (such as San Marzano), with the liquid
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
To make the crisps: Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Line a 13-by-9-by-1-inch sheet pan with parchment paper. Sprinkle shredded Parmesan in a thin, even layer on the pan. Polka dot the cheese with the thyme leaves. Bake for 18 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown and baked through. Cool for about 10 minutes and snap into segments.
To make the soup: Place an 8-quart stockpot over medium-low heat for 1 minute. Swirl in the oil to coat. Saute the onion, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the bell pepper and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the tea, water and the liquid from the tomatoes. With your hands, break up the tomatoes over the pot and drop them in.
Stir in the salt, red pepper flakes and thyme. Turn the heat up to medium and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Allow soup to cool slightly, then puree in or blend until almost smooth with some chunks using a blender, immersion blender or food processor fitted with a metal blade. Serve with Parmesan thyme crisps.
Per serving, based on 4: 150 calories (37 percent from fat), 7 g total fat (2 g saturated), 7 mg cholesterol, 19 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 1,074 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber.
Ginger-mango green tea smoothie
The floral flavor of jasmine green tea shines in this healthy breakfast smoothie, which is loaded with vitamin-rich mango and spinach. From “Steeped: Recipes Infused With Tea.”
1 cup brewed jasmine green tea, cooled (made with 1 bag or 1 teaspoon loose)
21/4 cups sliced fresh or frozen mango
2 cups firmly packed spinach
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
Pinch of kosher salt
2 teaspoons raw honey
2 ice cubes
Put tea, mango, spinach, ginger, turmeric, salt, honey and ice in a blender. Blend until smooth. Add more ice cubes if you prefer it frostier. Sweeten to taste.
Per serving: 154 calories (4 percent from fat), 1 g total fat (trace saturated), 0 chol., 39 g carb., 2 g protein, 88 mg sodium, 5 g fiber.