Cooking with tea leaves
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Who says you only need to drink tea? You can gain its multiple health benefits by eating it too. In fact, using tea as an ingredient is a great way to add grassy, herbal, sweet, and even smoky and spicy notes to your cooking repertoire. “Unlike most other foods, the many benefits of tea are not lost in the cooking process,” says Ritika Samaddar, chief dietitian at Max Healthcare in Delhi.
Benefits of tea
Both black and green tea, the unfermented version, are good for health, and deliver anti-oxidants, say experts. Aditi Sharma, chief dietitian, Columbia Asia Hospital, Ghaziabad, says all teas can reduce the risk of heart attack as they help fight free radicals—unstable compounds formed in the body that impair immunity and can cause cancer, heart disease and premature ageing. “The polyphenol content of green teas is very high, and these antioxidants help cut free radical damage in the body and prevent clogging of the arteries. So, they are good for our heart,” she says. Research backs this claim. Drinking at least three cups of green or black tea per day results in a 21% reduction in the risk of ischemic stroke, according to a 2009 study that sought to identify and summarize all human clinical and observational data on tea and strokes.
Tea is good for the mind too, and according to Sharma, can reduce the risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. “Most black teas have caffeine and l-theanine (an amino acid ), which when combined, heighten mental alertness, increase focus and improve memory. Black tea also helps reduce the risk of stroke,” says Samaddar. In fact, a 2011 study published in the Journal Of Medicinal Food demonstrated that tea acts on brain theta waves to improve memory and increase our attention span.
Research also shows that compounds in green tea could help diabetics better process sugars. “Catechins (antioxidants) in green tea help increase the body’s ability to burn fat as fuel, which leads to improved muscle endurance,” Sharma says.
Samaddar says there are simple ways of cooking with tea. She recommends adding green tea powder to homemade pasta to score a pretty pale green colour and herbaceous flavour. When cooking rice, barley, buckwheat, or quinoa, use a lightly brewed tea instead of (or in addition to) stock. Cranberry, peach, mint, and lemon tea all add a dimension of flavour. Definitely try cooking rice with lemon tea. “It can be added to soups and smoothies,” Sharma suggests.
You can also brew your favourite flavour of tea, add some oil, spices and herbs to create a marinade for fish, chicken or cottage cheese. You can even poach eggs in this marinade. “But always cook with freshly brewed tea as it can turn bitter and overly tannic as it sits,” Samaddar cautions.
Myaypeore Pyanbo Laphet/Spicy Peanut, Corn & Tea Leaf Salad
1 cup boiled peanuts with skin
1 cup boiled sweet corn
1/3 cup raw papaya, shredded
1 tomato, seeded and diced
2 tsp green chillies, chopped
1 tsp jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 tsp garlic, chopped
1 lemon cut into wedges
2 tbsp laphet leaf paste
1 tsp toasted white sesame seeds
1/3 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup toasted sunflower seeds
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste
Method: Soak the laphet—fermented Burmese tea leaves—in hot water, add a few drops of vinegar or lime juice and grind to a fine paste. In a bowl, mix the peanuts, sweet corn, papaya, tomatoes, green chillies, jalapeño and garlic. Toss in the tea leaf paste, fresh lime juice and seasoning. Mix the ingredients together until the salad is coated with the dressing. Place the salad in a neat pile in the centre of platter and garnish with the toasted seeds. Serve warm or cold.
Laphet Hatmin Kyaw/Fried Rice with Tea Leaf
2 cup boiled basmati rice
1/3 cup laphet paste
1 tbsp garlic, chopped
1 tsp garlic, fried
1 tsp green chillies, chopped
2 tbsp cooking oil
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
Salt to taste
1/3 cup roasted peanuts
Method: Heat oil in a wok, add garlic and green chillies and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add peanuts and pre-cooked rice, followed by laphet paste. Toss everything in the wok until the rice is evenly coated. Add lime juice and salt, and serve garnished with fried garlic.
Recipes by Ansab Khan, head of culinary operations, Burma Burma Restaurant and Tea Room, Gurugram.