Want to try some antioxidant packed herbal tea galouti kebabs? How about sinking your sweet tooth into strawberry tea rasmalai? The unpretentious tea leaves that are inarguably the country’s most popular beverage are increasingly being used to perk up Indian delicacies. Fermented with fruits and herbs, they lend a rejuvenating flavour and aroma to food. “Think of tea like an aromatic vegetable stock. In Tibet, you’d find people enjoying salted tea like a soup. Japanese use brewed tea to make rice delicacies. A lot of European recipes also use flavoured tea in brûlées and smoothies,” says chef Mohinder Khariya of Kothi Mem. The concept was not that prevalent in India but now chefs have realised that tea work wonders in enhancing a dish, adds the chef.
A tealicious spin
Chefs are also teaming up tea with seafood. Chef Inder Dev of Fortune Select Excalibur, says, “Sea food doesn’t have a distinct taste of its own and pairs well with teas that have a fruity aroma.” The chef uses chamomile tea extract in the tandoori marinade for prawns before chargrilling them. Chef Mukul Agarwal of Hiton, Janakpuri says teas such as cinnamon spiced tea, Moroccan mint, lime, orange, ginger, and almond pair well with Indian dishes. “Indian dishes are spicy and oily. Tea balances the dish, making it lighter so that the gravy glides over your tongue,” says the chef who has given a tealicious twist to roghan josh by replacing cinnamon and ratan jot (a Kashmiri herb) with Ceylon cinnamon spiced tea.
Chef Rajesh Variyach, Radisso MBD, Noida, says tea gives excellent results when used for smoking kebabs. One can also try smoking daal with black tea. "Once the daal is boiled, take a small katori, light some coal in it, pour a little ghee or butter on it and sprinkle tea leaves. Put the katori in the daal container and cover the lid for a few minutes. Your daal gets a nice smoky flavour," says Variach.
Mango tea rasgulla, anyone?
Indian deserts such as kalakand, gulab jamun, rasgullas and rasmalai get a trendy twist with infusion of teas such as hibiscus, mango, vanilla, peach and strawberry. “While making Indian sweets, tea is used while boiling the milk which lends a unique taste,” says Agarwal. “White and yellow tea leaves team up well with desserts. You can mix them up in dough while making cookies to liven up their taste and give a crunchy texture,” says Salam Sonia Devi, tea sommelier, Hilton.
No easy feat
Cooking with tea is a delicate process and demands precision. A lot of gastronomic discoveries are a result of chef’s experimentation. “That’s how a chef knows basa fish kebabs gives you a gastronomic high when teamed with peppermint tea, chicken stew tastes great with cardamom tea and lassi would taste nothing like what you’ve tasted before when married with rose hip tea,” says chef Debraj Halder.