Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Smokin' out tea for dinner

Drinking tea, yes, we love it. Eating tea, that's a different story.

I went a little crazy for the holiday, experimenting on my poor spouse with a full dinner menu of dishes containing tea. Here's what we had, and how it turned out:

Lemon drop cocktails
Recipe from a book simply called Green Tea: a mixture of green tea (chilled), pepper vodka, limoncello, stirred with ice and topped with club soda. Bracing, a nice pick-me-up. Tart lemons, sweet syrup, a little astringency from the tea and, hey!, a little spice around the corner.

Earl Grey-smoked pork loin
Adapted from a recipe out of Naturally Peninsula: Tea Flavours, a nearly ridiculous collection of beyond-gourmet recipes that no home cook would ever bother with. But you can extract some of its bones for more satisfying fare. This recipe joins the pork with a morel sauce, a lentil tapanade and some fried leeks for garnish, all of which I ignored. I just wanted the tea-smoked meat: soak Earl Grey leaves for about 10 minutes and drain, mix with orange zest (and I added brown rice per some previous smoking experience), then use it to smoke a 2-lb. pork loin. I butterflied the loin before smoking. Afterward, I seared it in a skillet and finished it in a 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes. The Earl Grey smoke was quite acrid, but the flavor it imparted into the meat was delicious and quite unusual — tangy and sweet, in a vaguely mesquitey kinda way. I'll try this again, for sure.

The blackened tea leaves after smokin'.

Strawberry-avocado salsa
Instead of the other savory flavors paired in the Peninsula cookbook, I opted instead to wed the salty, smoky pork with a recipe from Cooking Light: cup o' chopped strawberries, 1/2 cup chopped avocado, some chopped red onion, 1 chopped jalapeno, cilantro, lime rind and juice, stirred together with a 1/4 teaspoon sugar. A perfect complement to the smoky meat, spooned right over each slice. I mixed mine up a little too early, though, and it started to get mushy already. Assign this to those prep cooks you married into service.

Baked potatoes with green tea garnish
Another adapted recipe from another tea book, from Steeped in Tea: Grill (45 mins.) or bake (1-1.5 hours) 2-4 baking potatoes wrapped in foil. Slice 'em in half, scoop out the cores (as if making potato skins. Mash what you scooped out with butter, sprinkle with Gyokuro green tea leaves and place the mixture back into the potato halves. Instead of actual leaves, I used some matcha powder. Careful, a little goes a long way. Made a nice green mixture for the potato skins and added a fresh, green flavor to the starchy taters.

Spring pea salad
Here's hoping fresh mint leaves qualifies for a tea menu. This recipe from Real Simple is just a mixture of fresh peas (blanched), mint leaves, a sliced shallot or two, capers, lemon zest, olive oil, salt and pepper — and crumbled goat cheese mixed in at the end. Not cool, not hot, serve at room temp. Damn tasty, but maybe too rich alongside these other dishes.

Ice cream with Sencha crumble
Another recipe carved out of a much bigger, sillier orchestration in the Peninsula book: stir together half a stick of butter, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup cake flour, some almond powder (I crushed some slivers) and a small pinch or two of green tea powder. Spread the mixture on a greased baking sheet, slip into a 325 oven for about 15 minutes. While still warm, sprinkle with another pinch of tea powder and a little powdered sugar. Let it cool down and break it into pieces. I slapped slabs of this on top of some quality vanilla and, oh mamma, it was great!

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