One of the best pieces of cooking advice anyone ever gave me was “Never cook with water if there’s some other liquid you can use instead.” The person who told me this was a mighty good cook, so I took her advice to heart.
Over the years I’ve experimented with numerous “water substitutes.” Broth, wine, alcoholic beverages, vegetable and fruit juices, milks both dairy and non, and in moments of sheer abandon even soda pops found their way into my cooking and baking. Some of these were, of course, more successful than others.
In the late 1990s I read The Book of Green Tea by Diana Rosen, and shortly thereafter Rosen’s collaborative Cooking with Tea with chef Robert Wemischner. I was inspired! Tea became the go-to liquid for all of my soups, sauces, smoothies, desserts, baked goods, even main dishes. It still is.
I like to fix grains with tea (basmati rice with jasmine tea is a favourite) and hot oatmeal. Green tea miso soup is heavenly. I toss spent green tea leaves into stir-fries as a spinach-y green. Tea goes into the bread machine and cake batter, and into desserts like blanc mange, substituting tea for half of the milk.
In short, whenever a recipe calls for water, I try to replace it with a tea that will complement the dish.
If you’d like to start cooking with tea, here are a few general guidelines. Many teas become bitter if cooked too long, so add them to your dish towards the end of the cooking time. You can cook with tea leaves, whole or ground, although I generally prefer cooking with made (liquid) tea. For most recipes I replace about half the water with tea; for some dishes, including most grains, I use all tea. Normally I prefer cooking and baking with strong tea, made with double the amount of leaf you’d normally use – not by steeping extra time, which makes tea bitter. And when choosing a cooking tea, consider that if a tea pairs well with a food, it will probably work as an ingredient in that dish.
Here’s a favourite tea recipe – actually the first tea recipe I ever developed. I originally made the soup with Liquid Smoke®, which reminded me of smoky Lapsang Souchong. So I figured hey, let’s try it with tea. See if you don’t agree that it turned out delicious!
Easy Black Bean Soup
About 4 servings
2 teaspoons sunflower oil or light olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and scored
1 cup boiling water
1 can (about 15 ounces) black beans, not drained
1 can (about 14 ounces) diced tomatoes, not drained
1/3 cup white rice
salt and ground cayenne pepper to taste
2 cups strong prepared Lapsang Souchong tea (use twice as much tea leaf as usual)
Heat oil in a two-quart pot over medium heat. Sauté the onion until soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic; sauté for about a minute. Stir in the water, beans with liquid, tomatoes with liquid, and the rice. Raise heat and bring to a boil, then lower the heat. Cover and simmer for about 1/2 hour, until the rice is soft. Stir in the tea, then season with salt and cayenne. Heat through. Let cool slightly, then pour the soup – including the garlic – into a blender. Blend until puréed but with some flecks of bean. Do this in two batches if necessary. Serve garnished with sour cream, chopped fresh parsley, or both. Enjoy with crusty bread.
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