Most of us start our mornings with it. An afternoon cuppa revs us out of that much needed siesta. And now, thanks to a burgeoning trend sweeping across several Mumbai eateries, we can add another, very unique use of tea — as an important ingredient in savoury dishes. Yes, the humble 'two leaf and a bud' has slowly sneaked its way out of our demitasses and is now finding a place for itself on our plates, platters and even bowls!
It was just a few months ago that Chef Kshama Prabhu had her Eureka moment as far as tea is concerned. Ensconced in her all-Western kitchen at Lower Parel's gastro pub The White Owl — where she is the executive chef — Prabhu was busy looking for a breakthrough. Desirous of recreating that subtle, smoky hit one finds in a delicate reshmi kabab in her chicken roulade, she finally came up with something. "I simply took some black tea and smoked it, while placing the chicken roulade along with it under a domed vessel. The result was just what I wanted — a fragrant, tea-smoked dish with a unique flavour profile," says Prabhu, who then went on to add the dish to The White Owl's specials menu. "I often get requests for the tea-smoked chicken roulade that I'm more than happy to keep making."
It's not just your plain old, garden variety of everyday CTC tea being used to change this so-called flavour profile. From a fragrant jasmine green to a robust Assam, tea in its myriad avatars sees itself jostling for space along with other more commonplace ingredients.
"The kind of tea used in a savoury preparation is very important to the alchemy of the dish so as not to overpower the other less impactful ingredients, which tea has the power of doing," says Kavita Mathur, the co-owner of the city's newest tea lounge, Tea Trails, at the Bandra Kurla Complex. Here, there is a whole menu dedicated to tea-infused dishes — including soups — each using a different kind of tea. So, while the Dilli ke kulche chhole is redolent of Assam tea, the Thai curry is enhanced with the flavour of the Orient thanks to the liberal use of Oolong tea in it. Tea Trails' vegetarian Burmese lettuce, gram and roasted peanut salad, for its part, is not only dusted with Darjeeling green tea, its sesame seed oil-based dressing also has some in it.
Speaking of a Burmese salad, Burma Burma, the all-vegetarian Burmese speciality restaurant in Kala Ghoda, takes another tea-infused route with its tea leaf salad. The Mandalay laphe thoke is a harmonious melange of fermented tea leaves, fried garlic, nuts, sesame seeds, tomatoes and jalapenos, resulting in a crowd pleaser.
Interestingly, besides all-vegetarian salads and soups, this tea-infusion seems to work better in white meat proteins like fish and poultry, with most of the dishes falling into the two aforementioned categories. In its menu's main course section, Tilt All Day in Lower Parel has a green tea-infused Scottish salmon with leeks and asparagus fondue, while the pan-Asian Nom Nom in Bandra has a jasmine green tea-smoked chicken. "In order to infuse the tea flavour, the meat must be white as the flavour of the tea is very delicate. At Nom Nom, we have prepared this dish carefully, ensuring that there is no other flavour overpowering the subtlety of the tea," says its director-cum-chef Dharmesh Karmokar. He adds that it's quite difficult to use tea in food. "It is a challenge because if you over boil the tea, the entire dish turns bitter."
Echoing this is Vikas Seth, the executive chef at another pan-Asian restaurant — Singkong in Khar — that does a lemongrass and ginger green tea-infused poached chicken, served with stir fried Oriental greens and jasmine rice. "Making any healthy dish tasty is very challenging. So, I thought of using an ingredient like tea which is healthy and flavoursome to poach the chicken," says Seth.
Healthy, flavoursome and unique, three words that say it all for this tea invasion on our plates that we sure seem to be lapping... err, gobbling up!