“Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage.”
– Catherine Douzel
Buenos Aires – I have no idea who this Catherine Douzel is – according to Google, the above quote appears 1,020 times on the internet, but I can’t find any information about her – perhaps it’s one of those misspellings (of a similar name) that just got picked up and requoted all over the ‘net. Regardless, I like the quote as much as 1,020 others do. And, I can’t believe that I haven’t written up last weekend’s trio of tea dinners – I actually thought I had – this is what happens when you get overly busy with things you hadn’t planned on…. The idea of the dinner, inspired by being the anniversary of the completely irrelevant Teapot Dome Scandal, was to use teas and herbal infusions as a primary component of each dish. All the teas were blends that I sampled through and picked up from Inés Berton at Tealosophy, arguably one of the best tea shops in the world.
The tea for the first course was a blend called Spring Mint – a blend of mint leaves, wild strawberries, and a touch of other red fruits from Patagonia. I infused vinegar with this tea for a day and then used it to make a simple vinaigrette with olive oil, dijon mustard, honey, and garlic. The vinaigrette was tossed with fresh peas that I’d blanched and shocked, red onions that had been quickly sauteed in olive oil, spinach leaves, pistachios, and feta cheese.
For our soup course, I wanted to offer a simple soup that showcased the Calm tea blend of lemon verbena, chamomille and rosehips – so I made a large pot full of the tea and then used that as the “stock” for a potato soup – simply simmering them in the tea until soft, adding in leeks and onions that I’d sauteed in duck fat and smoked salt, and then pureeing the whole thing. The first night was a little chilly, so we served the soup warm, the second two nights we served it chilled.
For those who’ve followed along in the adventures of our Italian cooking class, you’ve seen the whole wheat langanelli, or malformed pasta tossed with sauteed chickpeas, celery and olive oil. This is the same dish, except with the addition of cubes of chicken breast that I’d rubbed with a ground up tea called Indian Market – a blend of black assam tea, coriander, ginger, cardamom, and black pepper.
Of course, a green tea had to come into play, and the Chinese Soul blend of green tea leaves, dried pineapple and peaches, and wildflowers seemed the perfect rub for some salmon fillets, which I baked in the oven and then served atop polenta (more influence from the Italian cooking class creeping in). Drizzled over all of it was a brown butter spiced with szechuan and pink peppercorns, grains of paradise, and sea salt. Definitely my favorite course.
Peaches are in season, and a peach custard tard sprung to mind as I was thinking about what to do with them. The milk used in the custard is flavored with the Rooibos Cream Caramel infusion – rooibos is a tea from Africa that is quite popular these days, and with the addition of caramel to its red fruitiness, made a beautifully flavored custard.
And that, was our tea-infused dinner!