TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

March 24, 2015

Cooking with tea: Hot and sour sesame noodles

This is one of my favourite tea recipes, and it’s especially nice as a warm-weather lunch or light dinner, or as part of dinner. The recipe was inspired by a dish served at a bistro in a small New Jersey town. I convinced the chef/owner to give me his list of ingredients, and from there I tweaked it around. One key component that I added was tea.

As I tried various teas to see which one worked best, I was surprised to find three very different teas that each complemented the dish in its own way.Hot and Sour Sesame Noodles My first test was with a slightly smoky Georgia tea, because I like a cup of smoky tea with spicy foods. Yummy! When I fixed the dish with rice noodles I tried genmaicha, a user-friendly green tea mixed with toasted rice kernels. Another hit! Then came the day when I really wanted this dish but didn’t feel like steeping up another pot of tea, so in my laziness I used leftover oolong tea. Bingo once again!

My favourite tea for this is oolong, but choose whichever you prefer. For best results use strong tea made with twice as much leaf as usual and steeped for the regular time. If you’re using oolong, make sure it’s not a floral variety (believe me, it’s yucky). A peachy/nutty generic “Formosa oolong” works best.

Now about the other ingredients … You can use almost any kind of noodles or pasta you like; I’ve used wheat, whole wheat, rice, buckwheat – even ramen noodles. Adjust the amount of garlic and cayenne to your own taste. Rice vinegar is available at most supermarkets. The only really exotic ingredient is gomasio, a mixture of salt and sesame seeds sold in natural food stores. If you can’t find it, substitute plain sesame seeds.

The recipe is easily doubled, tripled, or more to serve a crowd, and it’s tea-rrific for picnics or buffets.

Hot and sour sesame noodles
About 4 servings

3/4 pound (12 ounces) noodles, linguine, or pasta
1 teaspoon light oil (peanut, sunflower …)
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup strong tea, cooled
2 Tablespoons maple syrup, agave, honey, or other syrupy sweetener
1 Tablespoon tamari or Kikkoman® soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon crushed cayenne pepper flakes
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Gomasio or sesame seeds
Suggested toppings: cubed tofu, shredded lettuce, shredded carrots, bean sprouts, sliced cucumber, sliced celery, slivered canned water chestnuts, sliced snow peas, slivered scallions, cooked and cooled broccoli florets

Prepare the noodles to al dente tenderness. Rinse with cold water, drain well, and place in a large bowl. Toss the cooked pasta with the light oil; set aside. Mix the tomato paste and vinegar together in a small bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, blending well. Divide pasta into four dishes, top as desired, then spoon on the dressing. Sprinkle each dish lightly with gomasio. Enjoy!

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February 26, 2015

Ramblings: Vegan variation on a scone

Had to take off a few weeks to tend to a very sick kitty. Now that I’m not constantly running to the vet’s office and we’ve got our daily routine of food preparation and tube-feeding organized, days are more relaxed and I can go back to one of my favourite things; namely, writing about tea and tea “stuff.”

afternoon teaDuring the fifteen years (1997 to 2012) when I was editing and publishing TeaGuide Worldwide Tea Directory, it was a rare tea room review we received that did not include a detailed evaluation of the scones that were served: whether they were too small or too large, too hard or too doughy, or happily just right. Scones are arguably the most popular component of a traditional afternoon tea, and tea drinkers do expect them to be just the way we like them!

The first scones were cooked up in Scotland in the early sixteenth century. These were essentially griddle-baked raised oatcakes, formed into large rounds and cut into wedges for serving. Nowadays scone bakers more often use wheat flour and cut the scones into rounds with a biscuit cutter or drop-shape them into rounded mounds.

Recipes for scones generally call for butter and either milk or cream, and are served with clotted cream, butter, and jam. Someone once told me that the whole point of scones is to provide a foundation for holding as much cream and jam as possible!

While this pleases most tea lovers, those of us who follow a purely vegetarian, or vegan, diet – abstaining from all animal-based products – often find ourselves having to pass on eating scones. This, however, is changing, as more people turn to a vegan diet, whether for philosophic or health reasons. Even former President Bill Clinton – once the poster boy for double bacon cheeseburgers – not only joins daughter Chelsea as a vegan, he is very vocal in his support for this cholesterol-free dietary plan. (Please note that this is not a political endorsement, just simply an observation about a well-known American.)

scone1aA growing number of restaurants, including tea rooms, either offer vegan menu choices or will alter dishes to suit. Before you visit a tea venue be sure to either read their menu online to see if it includes vegan dishes, or give them a call to discuss your dietary preferences and see if they will accommodate you. In my own experience, more often than not the answer will be “yes.”

Vegans — or anyone who is watching their cholesterol intake, is lactose intolerant, or is allergic to eggs — can make our own scones by substituting vegetable shortening and non-dairy milk for the dairy products. I prefer using coconut or palm oil shortening (Spectrum Organics makes several varieties that are available in natural food stores and many supermarkets) and plain soy milk, although you can use vegan margarine, light vegetable oil, rice milk, and almond milk.

If you prefer a scone mix, be sure to read the ingredients carefully; many incorporate dairy products. I like the mixes from Victorian House Sconesespecially their oatmeal variety. The VHS website even features mixing instructions for a vegan variation, provided by yours truly. I also like that these scones are baked in the original wedge shape.

The following recipe for scones came to me from my friend ~Sophia. Whether you’re a vegan or not, give it a try – they’re absolutely delicious! And remember: One properly eats a scone just as one eats a dinner roll: break off a bite-sized piece, add “embellishments,” and pop it in your mouth. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat!

~Sophia’s Maple Scones
Makes about a dozen

2-1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
4 Tablespoons vegan shortening, vegan margarine, or light oil such as sunflower
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped fine
3/4 cup plain, unflavoured soy milk
1/3 cup maple syrup (preferably Grade B, which has a richer flavour)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375° F.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment baking paper.
  • Mix together the flour and baking powder.
  • Cut in the shortening, margarine, or oil with a pastry cutter until the texture is crumbly.
  • Stir in the walnuts.
  • Add the milk and maple syrup, stirring until blended to a soft dough.
  • Knead the dough for a minute or so on a lightly floured board until smooth.
  • Pat or roll to a thickness of one-half inch.
  • Dip a large biscuit cutter (or the rim of a ten-ounce drinking glass) into flour, cut out rounds, and place each round onto the parchment. Shape any leftover dough into a round with your hands.
  • Bake for twenty minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with your favourite topping.

I like to accompany these flavourful scones with an assertive tea such as a rich nectar-y Assam. Fortunately, 2014 was an excellent year for Assams, like this tippy Meleng estate tea. If kitty’s health keeps improving I’m hoping to present a round-up of my favourite Assams in the next week or two. Meanwhile, if you decide to fix a batch of these scones, do let me know how you like them.

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All content Copyright 2007-2015 JP Badarau; all rights reserved.

July 29, 2013

Yummy fresh summer soup … made with tea of course!

Fresh cornHere we are again at midsummer. There are so many beautiful fruits and vegetables in our gardens and in the farm markets — the bounty can almost be overwhelming!

If you have a vegetable and herb garden, pick each one just before you’re going to use it so it’s at its freshest and tastiest. Don’t have a garden, or grow only a few kinds of fresh produce? Then pay a visit to your local farmers’ market.

If you’re not sure what to buy first, may I suggest corn? The season for fresh corn runs from about mid-summer to the end of September depending on where you live. Take advantage of its availability while you can, and this soup is good start. No cooking is required, and once you prepare the vegetables you can just toss everything into the food processor.

There are tools designed specifically for removing kernels from an ear of corn, but we find that our method works just fine: break each ear in half, hold upright on a cutting board, and cut straight down with a very sharp knife as close to the cob as possible. Bell peppersI prefer yellow or bi-colour corn for this recipe; I thought white corn was too sweet and less flavourful, but make your own decision.

In this recipe the tea should impart just a subtle flavour so infuse it at regular strength. I used a Japanese sencha and it perfectly complemented the flavourful fresh vegetables

If you’re interested in herbal remedies, don’t throw away the corn silk. Cut off the dark brown ends and preserve the remaining silk by drying or freezing. Herbalists recommend cornsilk, which is very high in sulphur, in infusion form for bladder infections and simple cystitis. (Of course consult your health-care professional before treating any ailment.)

Some folks think eating raw corn is scandalous, tho’ I often prefer raw to cooked so long as the corn is fresh and the sugars haven’t turned to starch. The kernels fairly burst with flavour! After fixing and enjoying this soup, try tossing raw corn kernels into a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers for another delicious way to enjoy summer in a bowl :-).

Fresh corn and pepper soup
About 4 servings

3 cups corn kernels (about four ears), divided
1 cup green tea prepared at regular strength
1 cup cold water
1 Tablespoon tamari soy sauce
1 medium red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cut into chunks
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley, preferably flat-leaf (Italian style)
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Japanese senchaCombine two cups of corn with the water and tamari in a food processor or blender. Process for a minute or so until you get a somewhat chunky purée. Add the bell pepper, herbs, and remaining corn and process for another thirty seconds. Add salt and pepper to taste, then process for another ten seconds or so to blend in the seasonings. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container in the ‘fridge for one to two hours and serve chilled.

Variations:

> Garnish with halved cherry or grape tomatoes, or with a sprinkling of additional parsley, cilantro, or a mixture.
> To make this soup into a light meal, top each bowlful with about 1/4 cup cooked and cooled edamame (green soybeans). You can find these in the freezer section of your supermarket or natural food store, and sometimes they’re available fresh in Japanese groceries. Cook in boiling water or broth for five minutes; if they’re in the pod remove the pods after cooking.
> Spice things up by adding a small jalapeño pepper with the bell pepper. This variation was a big hit!

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