It’s time for another Recipe Redux! This month’s challenge was “cooking with tea.” And boy, was it a challenge!
I love to drink tea, and have since a very young age. My Opa ALWAYS drinks tea, and in my family, tea is a cure-all potion. Stomach ache? Drink tea. Headache? Drink tea. Foot ache? Drink tea. Ok, you get the point. We were taught that tea is a beneficial, tasty, and versatile drink, and because of Opa’s love for tea, I now drink many kinds multiple times a day! From fruit-flavored, to green, to herbal, to black. I love it all, and have successfully gotten even my boyfriend to enjoy the warm beverage!
When I found out that the challenge for this month required that we cook with tea, I was pretty excited – the options are endless! But in an effort to be creative and really shine in the kitchen, I wanted to do something different, rather than just bake with tea. I’ve made oatmeal with tea, in place of water or milk. But what recipe could I develop that would really set it apart? The answer: tea risotto. Yep.
Risotto is traditionally made with butter, onion, rice, wine, broth and cheese. Pretty easy, despite the generally large amount of time and effort that goes into the dish. That’s also a fairly unhealthy combination, especially if you indulge in this frequently. Rice is high-carb, wine is…well alcohol, and the broth and cheese are really high in sodium. SO: to cook with tea, and to make a healthful dish, I decided to experiment and replace the broth with freshly-steeped antioxidant-rich black tea.
Aside from upping the antioxidants, using tea instead of broth drastically reduces the sodium count. Even low-sodium vegetable broth still has a fair amount of salt in it. And while sodium IS necessary in a balanced diet, Americans often get far too much of the stuff, and reducing it is a step in the right direction. Of course, we ARE still using cheese. But that can even be made better by using high-quality cheese. My friends Mitch and Matt at the local cheese shop and tap room were kind enough to provide the cheese for this experiment: award-winning SarVecchio Parmesan (being a Wisconsinite has its perks!). Improve the flavor of your end product and use good cheese, please! It’s worth it, and much better than the kind that comes in a shaker bottle, filled with chemicals.
You didn’t think I’d ditch the wine, though, did you? Instead of the traditional red wine, which is usually used in risotto, I wanted to make sure the black tea didn’t become overpowered. So, I opted for a white zinfandel (at the suggestion of my boyfriend). The sweetness of the white zin played well with the hearty black tea – a combination that makes this light enough for a spring dinner.
Alright, enough of the healthy talk. Quality ingredients + patience + love = this delicious dish, which I suggest you test out for yourself!
Black Tea Risotto
Serves 4-6 as a side dish
- 6 tsp loose black tea
- 5 C water, to boil
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1.5 C risotto rice
- 1/2 C white zinfandel wine
- sea salt and fresh black pepper
- 1/2 C high-quality shaved/shredded Parmesan cheese
Bring 5 cups of water to an almost-boil. Steep black tea for 4 minutes. Remove tea leaves and set aside. If you don’t have a large teapot, then simply steep the tea in a stainless steal bowl, and separate the tea leaves using a fine-mesh strainer.
Heat olive oil over medium-high in a large saute pan. Cook the diced onion for 5 minutes. Once the onions start to brown, add the rice and the wine. Stir and continue to cook until the liquid has been absorbed. Sprinkle in some salt and pepper. TIP: my friend Anna told me that her Italian family has a trick: let therice brown in the pan a couple minutes before adding the wine. The end result is supposed to be even better!
Pour in one cup of tea, stir, and let it cook off before adding more tea. Continue to do this, cup by cup, until all tea is used up and the rice absorbs the liquid.
Remove from heat when the rice looks moist and a bit sticky. Stir in the Parmesan cheese until completely melted.
Serve hot and sprinkle with extra freshly cracked pepper and leftover parmesan cheese. Enjoy!
Feeling bold? Why not try this with other varieties of tea? Green tea might do well, if paired with a light white wine. You could even test this with other flavors of Parmesan. Sartori makes a raspberry kind, and even a basil & olive oil kind! Play around with this, make it your own, and impress your friends and family – without giving them a sodium overload.
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