NZ Woman's Weekly

Cooking with tea

Obviously when you’re entertaining with tea you can just have a tea party with different flavours and lots of cakes, but I’d like to suggest an original way to enjoy tea – cook with it, and even grow it so you can make your own cuppa.

I was recently in Darjeeling, north-east India where they have ideal conditions for growing tea – high altitude and a tropical climate. While in the mountains, I ate beautiful meals inspired by and cooked with tea.

We love smoked food in New Zealand so I know you’ll like this idea – smoked chicken breasts over a mixture of Darjeeling tea and uncooked rice in your smoker. If you don’t have a smoker, you can use a wok with a cake rack inside.

Slow smoke the chicken on a low temperature for about an hour – you don’t want to cook the chicken, just infuse it with the tea flavours. Then you cook the meat by sauteing, skin-side down, until browned. Slice on the cross and serve. You can make a sauce for it by boiling together Darjeeling tea, spices of your choice, honey and lemon juice until the sauce is reduced.

Once reduced, strain and beat in a little butter to thicken it and make it shiny. You can grow tea easily in New Zealand. A tea tree (camellia sinensis) will grow into a big tree if you let it, but you hardly ever see this as tea plantations keep the trees pruned to a low bush size.

This is partially because it’s easier to harvest by hand and also to keep the  avour intense, as you only pick the top two leaves and bud on the branch. Another delicious recipe I learned while in Darjeeling was to deep fry fresh tea leaves in tempura batter to accompany the chicken.

A tea tree is just a camellia tree, so that’s where you get your fresh leaves from. You could serve all this with Japanese green tea noodles (cha soba).

Tempura tea leaves

  • 2 cups tempura flour
  • Iced sparkling water
  • Bunch of fresh tea leaves – two tips and a bud
  • Litre of vegetable oil
  • Paper towels

1. Place the tempura flour in a bowl and add enough water to make a thin batter. Mix with chopsticks and don’t over-mix – it’s okay to have a few lumps.

2. Heat the oil to about 160ºC and have paper towels ready on a plate.

3. Make sure the tea leaves are dry then dip them quickly in the batter and deep fry until golden. This won’t take long.

4. Drain the tempura on paper towels.

Issue 1541

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