Sipping a steamy cup of tea is a surefire way to warm up all winter. But tea is also a creative way to amp up your cooking. Tea adds grassy, herbal, sweet or even smoky notes to the foods we love most. If you don’t have loose-leaf tea on hand, rip open a few tea bags.
From buttery cookies to stir-fry, grains or spice rubs, here are seven creative ways to cook with tea:1
SWAP STOCK FOR TEA
When cooking grains — like rice, barley, buckwheat or quinoa — use a lightly brewed tea instead of (or in addition to) stock. The subtle flavor enhances whatever you’re cooking, and it will completely change the way you think of grains.2
STEP UP STIR-FRIES
Nutty-roasty genmaicha (a mixture of green tea, puffed rice and corn) is an exceptional seasoning wherever rice enters your meal plan. When doing a stir-fry, add the tea leaves to a hot pan. They’ll unfurl and toast, then they’ll pick up a golden, roasty flavor that pairs beautifully with seared greens, root veggies, meats and, of course, rice. You can try this technique with any full-bodied tea (leave the lighter, herbal or fruity teas for lighter, fruitier purposes).
WORK IT INTO PASTA
As if homemade pasta wasn’t special enough, take it over the top by adding green tea powder to the flour mix or by steeping the cooking water with tea. Doing so imbues a pretty pale green hue and an herbaceous flavor that’s ideal in noodle soups. If you’re not into making pasta from scratch, scope out the selection of green tea noodles at your Asian supermarket, ethnic food outlet or well-stocked grocery store.
RUB IT IN
Add ground tea leaves to your usual spice mix or rub ingredients like salt, brown sugar, garlic and spices. It’s an unexpected kick that brings interest to quick-cooking meats like flank or skirt steak, as well as low-and-slow cooked cuts like pork shoulder and ribs.5
While often overlooked, infusing milk or cream is remarkably simple. Using loose-leaf tea to infuse your dairy is a sneaky smart way to add new flavor and fragrance to favorite dishes — just don’t forget to strain the leaves. Earthy and grassy sencha or black tea adds a savory note to cream sauce for pastas or rice, while herbal teas (such as chamomile, lavender, rose) are perfect for making pudding, crème brûlés and sweet ice creams.
Just add any sweet or savory agent to the milk or cream, then slowly bring it to simmer. Allow the mixture to cool completely and then strain out the infused solids and your milk or cream is ready to use in pudding, sauces, ice cream and beyond.6
BLEND IT INTO BUTTER
This is an easy and awesome way to start experimenting with tea. To make tea butter, let unsalted butter sit at room temperature until very soft and pliable. Mix together the butter with tea leaves (either whole or ground.) If you use ground leaves, the color of the butter changes completely; while using whole leaves adds streaky abstract designs. Shape the mixed butter into a log and wrap well in plastic wrap. Store in the fridge to firm back up, or keep it soft and spread it on freshly baked bread, toast or biscuits (maybe, to be enjoyed with more tea).7
BAKE IT INTO COOKIES OR CAKES
English tea time is nothing without shortbread, so what about putting the tea in the cookie? The buttery, sweet notes of shortbread or sugar cookies are the perfect place to complement flavors with tea, standing in for vanilla. You can use matcha powder added to the flour mixture or any other loose-leaf tea that’s been ground into a powder. Don’t stop with cookies, this matcha green tea cake is flavored with tea. Matcha powder goes into the flour before it’s added to the sugar and butter.