Each day begins with a small, quiet ritual. A pot of tea is brewed and sipped silently, usually over my current reading. Sometimes the tea is green, but mostly it’s black, a strong brew steeped in a chipped ceramic teapot covered in a patchwork of blue and white butterflies; a beaten silver jug of soy its partner. It is a ritual worth waking early for. Coffee in the morning makes my heart pound against my chest in a deeply unpleasant way. Tea, however, soothes as it steeps.
Rooibos tea is grown, exclusively, in its native South African soil. Thriving in scrubby, tufted rows of green, it becomes a deep cedar red once dried. Caffeine-free and low in tannin, it boasts a swathe of health claims but, being something of a skeptic, I cannot vouch for all of them, antioxidant properties aside. What I do know for certain is that it is good. Surprisingly, rooibos is never bitter, no matter how long it is left to brew. Perfect in the summer, served in tall, frosted glasses with sprigs of mint and curled slices of lemon.
Cooking a pot of grains in rooibos will increase the antioxidant qualities, yes, but more importantly, adds a certain, mysterious something to the final dish, not unlike a light, herbal vegetable stock. A whole lot quicker to make, too. This dish of amaranth and brown rice, cooked in a red bath of tea, sits comfortably on the more esoteric side of ‘healthy’ cooking but its virtues are matched perfectly by its creamy, versatile nature. Once made, it has a variety of possibilities, limited only by the cook’s imagination.
Small sesame-coated balls of the mixture floating across the surface a bowl of adzuki bean soup are perfection, but these are also rather good when formed around a half teaspoon of the exquisite Japanese chutney natto miso, or a small piece of salty-sour umeboshi plum. Enough to make you glow from the inside out. A Macrobiotic diet will do that to you. Ah, I wish.
Amaranth and brown rice cooked in rooibos tea – feeds 2
Based on an elegant and minimal, but rather fabulous recipe from the pages of Lisa’s Vegetarian Kitchen. This has a tendency to stick to the bottom of the pan, so gently, gently with the heat. A heat diffuser is essential, I think.
1 ½ cups of strained rooibos tea
¼ cup of amaranth (or hulled millet)
½ cup short-grain brown rice
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons of tahini
1 tablespoon of tamari
½ tablespoon of unsalted butter or pale sesame oil
Palmful of leafy herbs, chopped (parsley or celery leaves are ideal)
Pour the rooibos tea into a small, heavy-based saucepan. Tip in the grains and add a pinch of sea salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover with a tight-fitting lid. A heat diffuser, set between pot and flame, is best. Simmer, lid untouched, for 40-45 minutes. Rest, off the heat, still covered, for 5 minutes.
Stir through the remaining ingredients. Cool, then roll into sticky marbles and, if you like, coat in sesame seeds to float in a bean or lentil soup. Or, shape into larger patties and fry to golden brown in little olive oil or, as we often do, eat, simply as is, with a pile of greens.
July’s edition of Click, a food photography event, highlights coffee and tea, substances so entwined in our daily lives that they, rightly, deserve an event all of their own. The image, right there at the top, is my entry.
Bee and Jai have, very kindly, asked me to sit upon the judging panel this month.
Entries close on the 30th of July.