Tea: Out of the Cup, Onto the Dinner Table Not just for sipping anymore, tea is an easy and exciting way to flavor a variety of dishes. And just as sitting down to a cup of tea is a universal gesture of comfort and friendship, so is sitting down to a meal made with tea.
NPR logo Tea: Out of the Cup, Onto the Dinner Table

Tea: Out of the Cup, Onto the Dinner Table

Teas are not just for sipping. Loose or in bags, tea leaves can flavor a variety of dishes. iStockphoto hide caption

toggle caption

Teas are not just for sipping. Loose or in bags, tea leaves can flavor a variety of dishes.


Bitter Is Not Better

One tip for cooking with tea: Avoid overbrewing. Just as you wouldn't allow your meat to idle on the grill, don't abandon tea leaves in room-temperature water. Twenty minutes is recommended. If using warm water (180 degrees is best), steep for three to four minutes.

About the Author

Kara Baskin is an assistant editor at The New Republic magazine and development editor at the Gail Ross Literary Agency in Washington, D.C.

When I first suggested pairing my husband's beloved beef with green tea — instead of the usual Stubbs barbecue sauce — for our annual spring cookout, he was nervous.

Why tea? More than just a refreshing beverage, tea is also a terrific cooking ingredient. After all, the ancient Chinese spiked their fires with green tea for smoked duck and stuffed their fish with oolong.

As tea's health profile has risen, it has increasingly found its way onto dinner plates as well as in tea cups. Green tea is mellow enough to work well with spicy flavors like ginger and garlic; citrus teas give a lift to heavier flavors like chocolate. Green tea cakes and chai cookies are now staples at bakeries, and restaurants are putting tea in marinades and rubs.

So I put tea on the menu for our cookout.

Since my husband was leery, I pulled out the big gun: Kobe beef. I used a green tea-rubbed Kobe beef recipe courtesy of Tim Elliott, chef at Mie-N-Yu Restaurant in Washington, D.C.

The green tea's earthiness, mingling with the rub's garlic and ginger tang, offsets the sweetness of the beef. For an even stronger, more biting effect, substitute black tea. You can prepare the tea rub a couple of hours in advance and forget about it until grill-time.

Of course, sharing plate-space with Kobe beef is like accompanying George Clooney to the Oscars: It's easy to get overshadowed.

This rub, however, stands up to the challenge, as does Elliott's side dish. He marries East and West in this meal, serving the beef with an edamame and corn succotash. My husband again resisted — until I assured him that the recipe also called for maple pepper bacon, which gives it a smoky heartiness.

This is an impressive party dish, though not an economical one. Black Angus beef works well too and is gentler on your wallet.

Sitting down to a cup of tea is a universal gesture of comfort, friendship and celebration. The same effect is possible when sitting down to a meal made with tea. And if there's resistance from those you feed, try to soften them with a slab of Kobe beef.

Read last week's Kitchen Window: Cretan cuisine.

Get more recipe ideas from the Kitchen Window archive.

Green Tea-Rubbed Kobe Beef and Edamame Succotash

Heather Shaw
Green Tea Rubbed Kobe Beef and Edamame Succotash
Heather Shaw

Recipe courtesy of Tim Elliott, chef of Mie-N-Yu Restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Makes 2 servings (8 ounces each)

1 pound Kobe beef tenderloin, fat and silver skin removed (it's not necessary to use Kobe; any good cut of beef will do)

1/2 cup sea salt

1/4 cup green tea powder (available at Asian markets)

2 teaspoons orange zest

2 teaspoons lemon zest

2 teaspoons lime zest

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons minced ginger

2 each lemongrass stalks, white part only, minced

To make the rub, mix the sea salt, green tea, orange zest, lemon zest, lime zest, garlic, ginger and lemongrass together. This can be done ahead of time.

Cut the beef into two, 8-ounce portions and apply a generous amount of rub to each piece. Let stand for 15-20 minutes at room temperature.

Grill over high heat on a lightly oiled grill for 4 minutes per side or until desired degree of doneness. Remove beef from heat and allow it to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Edamame Succotash

This recipe is also from Mie-N-Yu's Elliott.

Makes 2 servings

1/4 cup maple pepper bacon (or other bacon), diced

1/2 large onion, diced

2 tablespoon minced garlic

1 cup fresh corn off cob (frozen can be used if fresh is not available)

2 cups edamame beans, blanched

1/4 cup red pepper, chopped into small dice

1/4 cup chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste

In a round braising pan, cook the bacon until crispy. Add the onions and saute until clear. Add the garlic, corn and edamame. Saute until the corn becomes soft and aromatic.

Add peppers and chicken stock, saute a few minutes more, and season with salt and pepper.

Oolong Boiled Shrimp

Add some oolong tea leaves to the water you boil shrimp in for a rich contrast to their sweet taste. Oolong tea leaves are large and easy to remove. This recipe is adapted from Eat Tea by Joanna Pruess with John Harney (The Lyons Press 2001).

Makes 3 to 4 first-course servings

4 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small clove garlic, minced

A few dashes of soy sauce

Kosher or coarse sea salt

1 tablespoon oolong tea leaves

1 pound small shrimp, peeled just before cooking

1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions, including green parts

Melt butter in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat, add the garlic and soy sauce and set aside.

Fill a large, deep skillet with water. Add salt and tea leaves and bring to a full boil. Add the shrimp, turn off the heat and let sit until shrimp are pale pink and just opaque. The shrimp cook within minutes.

Drain, transfer to a bowl. Pick off tea leaves, if desired. Toss with the garlic-soy butter and scallions.