Cooking with Tea: Smoky Tofu Bowl

I had all these grand plans for this blog. I wanted to start from a tea neophyte’s point of view and work my way to where I am now. Then I wanted to do all these research articles to cultivate not only my own tea journey, but those taking it with me as well.

But then life kicked in. I’ve had a lot of after-work projects with strict deadlines due lately, in addition to my ten year marriage anniversary and preparing to go to Seattle for the Northwest Tea Festival. So I have to resort to doing the lower impact posts for right now: teamail, reviews, and things that don’t require a lot of background research. These are already experienced and photographed, so all I have to do is write them up from my notes.

But I will get back on track, most likely after I get back from Seattle and do the write-ups from that trip. The main goal of this blog is supposed to be for starting your own tea journey, but while life is taking over, I’m afraid it’s going to have to be a collection of what is easy to write up for now. Oolong Owl’s sous vide salmon recipe was just recently posted, so I thought I would make this week a theme.

With that in mind, I want to tell you about my experiment in cooking with tea! I acquired some Lapsang Souchong from Petali Teas and some Russian Caravan from Margaret’s Fine Imports. It turns out that I’m not that crazy about drinking smoky teas, but I still wanted to find a way to use the leaves I had left. It turns out that smoky teas are excellent for cooking protein. One of these days, I would like to do a slow-cooked roast with a smoky tea, but I haven’t yet worked up the bravery to do so.

Prepping the Tofu

Tofu

Tofu is a great cheap protein to experiment with. I’ve never worked with any other tofu except for the extra firm, which has the closest texture to meat and seems to be the best for cubing and mixing with other ingredients. It’s packed in water, so prepping it becomes all about drying it out before letting it soak up the tea. Some fancy schmancy people own a tofu press, but I just don’t eat tofu often enough to spend money for it. I instead cut the tofu into smaller bricks, gently squeeze out as much water as I can, wrap them in paper towels, and let them sit in the fridge for a bit.

Infusing the Tea into the Tofu

The next step is infusing the tea into the tofu. Now that the tofu is dry, it should be ready to suck up that tea goodness. I did a particularly strong brew of both teas with a long steeping time: 2 tablespoons per cup of water steeped for 4-5 minutes. I want this tea strong enough to stand up on its own and walk out the door.

After poking a few holes in the tofu with a fork, I put the tofu into bowls and poured the tea over it. If you have one of those chicken flavor injectors, you might want to try injecting some tea directly into the tofu. Then I put lids on and put them in the fridge for a couple of days.

smoky-comparison
Bessie (on the left) is voting for the Lapsang Souchong. Fred (on the right) is voting for the Russian Caravan. Who will win?

Cooking the Tofu

The very first time I tried tofu, it was at a cooking class at work. The recommended baking tofu to give it nice, crispy edges, so I’ve always done that to my tofu. I bake at 350ºF for 45 minutes if I’m doing two packages. I’m not sure how long to bake if you only have one package, but the edges should be a light, crispy brown. Remove from the oven and cut into 1-2 inch cubes.

Making the Meal

Normally, I would place all the tofu into the big pan to start the stir fry dish, but I wanted to compare the flavor differences between the Russian Caravan and Lapsang Souchong. So I put some sesame oil into two small pans and fried them up a little to crisp them up a little more.

After that, it’s throw whatever you want into a big pan and cook it up. I use carrots, celery, garlic, onion, black beans, cauliflower, water chestnuts, and Trader Joe’s Frozen Rice Medley. Depending on what else I have in the fridge, I sometimes add fresh spinach, kale, or dark salad mix of some sort. The great part about this dish is that you can add pretty much any vegetables that are about to go bad!

Don’t forget to add your preferred seasonings: salt, pepper, teriyaki or soy sauce, red peppers, whatever…

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Comparing the Tea

So I brewed Petali’s Lapsang Souchong and Margaret’s Russian Caravan side by side to do a little comparing and contrasting. All I can say now is that I want BBQ. I’m seriously thinking about doing a slow cooked carnitas recipe involving one of these teas.

The leaves of both teas offer up a hint as to the flavor: the lapsang is camphor-smelling, while the caravan is sweeter, more like a BBQ sauce.

smoky-comparison-3

Lapsang Souchong

The smoky smell is strong with this one, but as usual, it doesn’t come out as strongly in the flavor. That’s not to say that it isn’t a strong smoky flavor, because it is. The camphor smell is reflected in the flavor of the tea, along with a menthol flavor.

It kind of reminds me of Carmex, which I kind of don’t mind, but after a while, it starts to lessen the experience overall. Perhaps menthol is not the flavor for me.

After I swallow, it leaves a little tickle in the back of the throat like I just inhaled a little too much smoke at the campfire. I imagine some people might find that unpleasant, but I think it makes the experience more authentic.

Russian Caravan

I lack the vocabulary to describe the difference in the smoky flavor. It’s just different. Maybe a different kind of wood was used for the smoking? It’s still very prevalent, but definitely not as strong as the Lapsang. There’s no camphor flavor or menthol, for which I am grateful.

The flavor of the tea is sweeter, which reflects the smell. There’s a bit more astringency to the tea itself, and it’s leaving a bit of dryness on the back of the palate. It’s like having a BBQ party instead of a campfire.

Tofu Comparison

I found that the difference in the tofu flavors was subtle, but ultimately reflected the differences in the tea brews. The teas lended a nice, smoky flavor to the tofu, with the Lapsang giving a camphor smoke taste, and the Russian Caravan supplying more of a BBQ pit taste. Personally, I preferred the Russian Caravan.

I’ll definitely be keeping these around to be cooking with some meat!

Happy teaing!

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