Photos by Pornchai Mittongtare

Although drinking tea is wildly popular in America(and around the world), you'll gain additional health benefits from the versatile leaf by using it in all manner of cooking. Hearty black teas add a full-bodied element to soups, noodle bowls, and poached fish or chicken, and combine happily with pungent flavors, such as garlic and hot chili paste. Oolongs match well with seafood and naturally sweet vegetables, like bok choy or pumpkin. Green and white teas lend themselves to delicate broths, and the stewed leaves serve as a vegetable in rice dishes, stir-fries, and dumplings. And, when simmered with aromatic spices, any tea creates a flavorful poaching liquid for fruits, including pears, persimmons, and plums. This season, try incorporating healthy, tasty teas into your cooking with these recipes—and don't forget to enjoy a cup or two along the way.

Tea tip
To add tea flavor and health benefits when cooking, simply use brewed tea in any dish calling for water.

Shrimp and Corn Assam Soup
Serves 8 / Assam tea provides a flavorful, fat-free broth on which to build the other flavors in the soup. Serving tip: Serve this spicy dish with bowls of fragrant rice.

4 tablespoons loose-leaf Assam black tea
2 tablespoons whole white peppercorns
2 tablespoons whole green cardamom pods, crushed
4 hard cinnamon sticks, each 4 inches long
1 3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
12 cups water
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons low-sodium fish sauce
4 green onions, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
3 ears fresh corn, husked
3 medium, slender zucchini
1 pound raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/4 pound green or yellow wax beans, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1. Make a cheesecloth bundle with tea leaves, peppercorns, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, and ginger. Bring 12 cups water to boil in a large stockpot. Remove from heat and add cheesecloth bundle; let steep for 4 minutes. Remove cheesecloth bundle and discard. Add soy sauce, fish sauce, green onions, and crushed red pepper flakes; adjust seasoning to taste.

2. Steam corn for 5 minutes; remove from heat. Cut each ear into 1 1/2-inch rounds. Cut each zucchini lengthwise into four quarters; cut each quarter into 1/2-inch pieces using a diagonal cut.

3. Return tea liquid to a simmer and add corn; simmer for 5 minutes. Add shrimp and simmer for 5 minutes, then add beans and simmer for 3 minutes. Add zucchini and simmer for 2 minutes, until crisp-tender. Serve.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 109 calories
% fat calories: 11
Fat: 1g
Saturated Fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 86mg
Protein: 14g
Carbohydrate: 11g
Fiber: 2g
Sodium: 886mg


Scallops in Oolong-Peach Sauce
Serves 4 / This recipe was inspired by seafood dishes we encountered in Fujian, China, the source of fragrant oolong tea and many orchard fruits. Ingredient tips: The combination of oolong and fresh peaches is magical, but be sure to use fully ripe peaches (or substitute canned and drained peaches). If you don't have peaches, Bosc pears make an equally delicious sauce.

1 cup long-grain brown rice
1 1/4 cups water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
12-16 ounces sea scallops, sliced horizontally in half
8 ounces thin green beans, lightly steamed to crisp-tender
Freshly ground black pepper

Oolong-Peach Sauce (Makes 1 1/2 cups)
3 tablespoons loose-leaf Tieguanyin or Hairy Crab oolong tea
1 1/2 cups water
2 stalks lemongrass, tender portion only, trimmed and split lengthwise
6 green onions, white and light green parts, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 large or 4 small peaches, peeled, quartered, and roughly chopped (about 1 3/4 cups)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper

1. In a heavy saucepan, rinse rice in several changes of cold water. Combine rice with 1 1/4 cups cold water and soak for 30-60 minutes.

2. While rice is soaking, brew tea for the sauce: Place tea leaves in a teapot or heatproof pitcher. Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil; cool for 2 minutes to 185°. Pour over tea leaves, cover, and infuse for 2-3 minutes. Strain tea, let leaves rest for 1-2 minutes, then recombine leaves with brewed tea and steep again for 2-3 minutes. Strain, discarding tea leaves. This double-strength infusion will yield about 1 cup liquid tea.

3. After soaking, bring rice to a boil; stir once, reduce heat, and simmer gently, uncovered, until all water is absorbed (15 minutes maximum). Place a clean, dry tea towel over the top of the pan and cover tightly with a lid. On lowest heat, cook rice for an additional 8 minutes—do not peek—then remove from heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

4. While rice is cooking, combine 1 cup brewed tea, lemongrass, and green onions in a small heavy saucepan and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Remove lemongrass and green onions. Add peach chunks, 1 tablespoon butter, honey, salt, and cayenne pepper. Depending on the peaches' juiciness, simmer 5-10 minutes. The sauce should coat a spoon but not be thick, and peaches should retain their shape. Season to taste.

5. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet. Increase temperature to high and add scallops. Sear for 1-2 minutes per side. On each serving plate, arrange scallops and steamed green beans around a bed of rice. Pour sauce over scallops. Grind fresh black pepper over all.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 351 calories
% fat calories: 20
Fat: 8g
Saturated Fat: 4g
Cholesterol: 43mg
Protein: 20g
Carbohydrate: 51g
Fiber: 5g
Sodium: 235mg


"Tea is a balancing act between flavor and aroma that carries in its essence the singular stamp of the culture that produced it."

—From The Story of Tea (Ten Speed, 2007) by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss

Ochazuke (Fish with Green-Tea Rice)
Serves 4 / In Japan, tea, rice, and fish are favorite comfort foods. This simple country-style dish is a national favorite and considered a satisfying snack. Ingredient tip: Look for shichimi togarashi, a ground blend of chili pepper and other spices, in natural foods and Asian markets. Serving tip: Japanese people enjoy several crunchy toppings sprinkled over ochazuke, such as shredded nori and mixtures of spices, citrus peel, and various seaweeds.

1 cup Japanese short-grain white rice (sushi rice)
1 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce (shoyu)
1 tablespoon mirin
1 teaspoon mild honey
12 ounces salmon fillet
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
4 teaspoons loose-leaf Sencha green tea
4 cups water
Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
Shichimi togarashi, for garnish
Low-sodium soy sauce and flaked nori (seaweed), to taste

1. Rinse and wash rice until water runs clear. Transfer to a strainer and let drain for 10 minutes.

2. Put rice and 1 1/4 cups water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 10-12 minutes. Remove lid and quickly check to see if water is absorbed. If not, continue cooking another 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat and keep covered.

3. While rice is cooking, mix soy sauce, mirin, and honey; brush over fish. Heat oil in a skillet and add fish, skin-side down. Cover and cook until fish is opaque, about 10 minutes. Remove fish from skillet and place on a platter. When cool enough to handle, remove skin and break fish into small pieces.

4. While rice and fish are cooking, place tea in a teapot or heatproof measuring cup. Heat 4 cups water to a boil, then let cool 3-4 minutes, to 175°. Pour water over tea; steep for 2 minutes. Strain tea into another heatproof vessel.

5. To serve, add rice to each serving bowl, top with flaked salmon, and add enough tea to cover rice. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and shichimi togarashi; season to taste with soy sauce and nori flakes. Serve hot.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 345 calories
% fat calories: 24
Fat: 9g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 47mg
Protein: 21g
Carbohydrate: 43g
Fiber: 0g
Sodium: 523mg


Tea-Batiked Eggs
Serves 12 / These beautiful eggs, arranged cut-side down, complement any hors d'oeuvres tray. It's a modern rendition of a classic technique and fills the kitchen with savory aromatics. Prep tip: For best results when peeling, begin with eggs that have been kept in your refrigerator for at least one week.

6 large eggs, at least one week old
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Cold water

Batik Dye
12 points (broken-off tips) of star anise
1 4-inch hard cinnamon stick or 6-inch soft cinnamon stick
12 whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons loose-leaf Assam black tea
2 tablespoons loose-leaf Earl Grey black tea
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 cups cold water

1. Place eggs and 1 teaspoon coarse salt in a saucepan large enough to hold eggs in one layer. Add cold water to cover by several inches. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat and maintain a very low simmer for 20 minutes (do not cover).

2. Drain eggs and rinse under cold water or set in an ice bath to cool completely.

3. Tap each egg with the back of a wooden spoon to create a web of cracks. Place eggs in a heavy pot. Add all Batik Dye ingredients. Bring to a boil quickly, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 2 hours. Add more hot water if needed.

4. Remove pan from heat but keep covered. Let eggs sit in the coloring liquid at room temperature for 6-12 hours.

5. Remove eggs from liquid and store, unpeeled, in the refrigerator. To serve, peel carefully to retain surface pattern. Cut into halves or quarters and arrange cut-side down on a cold platter. Any extra eggs will keep in the fridge, wrapped, for five days.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (1/2 egg):
Calories: 37 calories
% fat calories: 62
Fat: 2g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 106mg
Protein: 3g
Carbohydrate: 0g
Fiber: 0g
Sodium: 62mg


Oolong Rice with Squash and Chestnuts
Serves 6 / Ingredient tip: Multigrain rice mixes, found in Asian grocers, contain colorful combinations of several ingredients, such as white rice, black rice, brown rice, flat barley, mung beans, small red and white beans, buckwheat, and corn. If you can't find it, use a noninstant rice pilaf mixture, often found in bulk bins.

1/2 cup Japanese short-grain white rice (sushi rice)
1/2 cup Japanese multigrain, or rice pilaf mixture
1 tablespoon oolong tea leaves
2 cups water
1/2 small winter squash, such as acorn or Hubbard, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup peeled and cooked chestnut halves, or 1/2 cup walnut halves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage, or 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. Place white rice and multigrain or pilaf in a bowl and wash until water runs clear. Let grains soak in clear water for 10 minutes, then drain and let sit for an additional 10 minutes.

2. Place tea leaves in a teapot or heatproof pitcher. Bring 2 cups water to a boil; let cool for 2 minutes to 185°. Pour water over tea leaves, cover, and infuse for 2-3 minutes.

3. Strain tea into a saucepan. Add grains, squash, chestnuts or walnuts, sage, salt, and pepper. Cover pan and set heat to medium. Cook until steam begins to escape from the lid. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes.

4. Remove pan from heat. Let sit for 5 minutes, covered. Season to taste before serving.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 138 calories
% fat calories: 6
Fat: 1g
Saturated Fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Protein: 3g
Carbohydrate: 29g
Fiber: 2g
Sodium: 201mg


Rice Pudding with Matcha Ambrosia Syrup
Serves 12 / Ingredient tip: Look for powder-fine, vivid green matcha in specialty markets and tea shops. (See "Meet Your Matcha," below.)

Rice Pudding
4 cups reduced-fat, 2-percent milk
1/4 cup packed flaked coconut
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup long-grain white rice

Matcha Ambrosia Syrup (Makes 4 cups)
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons Japanese matcha powder
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup chopped candied pineapple
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

1. To make syrup: Combine sugar and matcha in a saucepan and mix until well blended. Add water and bring to a boil, stirring frequently (watch carefully so it doesn't boil over). Reduce heat to a simmer and let syrup reduce for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and strain through a fine mesh into a heatproof bowl to remove any little clumps of matcha powder. Add chopped fruit, mix well, and set aside to cool.

2. Preheat oven to 350°. In a medium saucepan, combine milk, coconut, sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, salt, and vanilla extract. Mix well and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. Put rice into an ovenproof baking dish and add hot milk mixture. Stir well to blend. Cover and bake for 90 minutes, stirring after 30 and 60 minutes, until liquid is absorbed.

3. Serve rice pudding hot from the oven, topped with matcha ambrosia syrup.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (with 1/4 cup syrup):
Calories: 230 calories
% fat calories: 8
Fat: 2g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 7mg
Protein: 3g
Carbohydrate: 49g
Fiber: 1g
Sodium: 89mg



When not trekking through Asia searching for handcrafted teas, Mary Lou and Bob Heiss can be found at Cooks Shop Here, their specialty shop in Northampton, Massachusetts (www.cooksshophere.com). Their two new books, The Story of Tea and Hot Drinks (Ten Speed, 2007), came out this month.