Thursday, July 24, 2008


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
Sea salt
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.


cmoore said...

A ritual worth waking early for...

Well said.

Nora B. said...

Beautiful, Lucy.

Tea is soothing for me as well, but it's usually my afternoon treat. In the mornings, I need the chest pounding coffee to stir me into action.

The balls remind me of an sweet dessert from my childhood....can't remember the name though. Brewing grains and rice in tea is such a fantastic idea. I've also soaked dried fruits in tea that are then added to cakes or bread.

have a nice weekend! We have a wet one here.


Laurie Constantino said...

Rooibos is delicious, so I'm very curious to try your little sweets. As always, your pictures are lovely, which makes you a great pick for judging Click.

Johanna said...

yes the pictures are lovely and the post was full of surprises when I realised you were using tea for those sweet little balls rather than just talking about drinking!

I don't like tannin in tea but a friend gave me rooibos which is a lovely refreshing drink for me - love the idea of having it chilled in summer - must remember to try it.

Lucy said...

Cmoore, it is...

Nora - dried fruit soaked in tea is one of those really wise, old fashioned things. Love it!

Thanks, Laurie! I hope to do bee and jai proud. Not sweet, these, very much a salty, savoury dish with all that tamari and garlic going on. They could be made sweet with some tweaking, though.

Johanna, thank you...I was considering calling the post 'a study in brown''s a very brown piece. Rooibos chilled is wonderful in summer - glad you're a fan. You'll love it iced.

Ricki said...

I already love rooibos--cannot WAIT to try it iced with mint (yay! another way to use my mint!).

How brilliant to cook the millet and rice in the tea--this sounds incredibly delicious. And, as always, your photos are stellar. Perfect choice, bee and jai! :)

shula said...


Oh Lucy,

You are SO clever.

Another Outspoken Female said...

Well that post certainly pulled an unexpected twist out of the bag :) I'd forgotten the joy of umeboshi in bancha tea. Oh I feel a macrobiotic phase coming on!

PS is it my imagination or are the word verifications getting longer and weirder?

Simona said...

I love all the photos. The top one made me stop in wonder for a good while. I like roiboos a lot. I never thought of using it as cooking liquid. I will definitely try.

Wendy said...

That first image - I thought it was a beautifully decorated dish when I saw it on your flickr page! Lovely. Just lovely.

An intriguing recipe too. Will be trying this out very soon.

Callipygia said...

Rooibus is a favorite of mine and what a great idea to infuse its flavor into grains. These sesame nibbles do look like truffles, macrobiotic ones.

kale for sale said...

It must be that morning tea that makes you so clever. Wish I were closer to share a cup.

Anh said...

Nice to meet you in person today Lucy. :)

And this is such an exquisite dish. Like Nora, I was thinking it must be some kind of sweet dishes but it is not (I guess we have the Asian connection there!). Something for me to try I am sure.

Sophie said...

A lovely idea Lucy. Your mornings sound so much more calm and measured than mine!

As you say, lots of possibilities here. I like the idea of a floating them in a soup to add a bit more substance to the meal

Anonymous said...

Great idea. I'd probably eat these plain, but I love your idea of putting them in soup. I'm jealous of your calm and relaxing mornings-- I find myself frantically trying to get out of the house on time...

Lisa said...

I do enjoy rooibos, though I admit that I can't imagine a morning without two cups of strong coffee. Lovely recipe Lucy. Very inspired.

Neen said...

What a fascinating post. I love how calming tea is, and I love the flavor of Rooibos, but I'd never thought to cook with tea! How interesting. And I love your first photo, by the way.

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous click! I love all of the ingredients, but never never never would have thought of putting them together.

Lucy said...

Ricki, I thought of you with your mint! Have you made a mint pesto? It's beautiful with tomatoes.

Shula, thanks, darls.

AOF, I reckon that the verications really ARE getting out of control! Umeboshi in bancha, you say? Yum!

Simona, yes it's good, very good, for light rice and grain based dishes. With the added bonus of not involving you making a stock - phew.

Thank you Wendy - it's one of those images that makes one think twice. My mum loves it, but, like you, found it a little ponderous!

Calli, Macrobiotic truffles...delicious little bites. A lecturer once told me that teas, particularly herbal ones, can replace some stocks. I though her a genius. Nettle tea is also super-delish.

Katrina, so do I. Wish you were closer, that is. One never know.

Anh, you are such a delight! It was wonderful to meet you - BOTH of you - on Saturday and I will be in touch for another outing. Perhaps we could do some kitchen work together at some stage!

Sophie, I do have to get up extra early some morning to get any sense of calm!! This is a very simple idea, but the simple ones are the ones that I always come back to. I must say that these are rather good with adzuki beans.

Cookinpanda, plain, this is grand. I cannot thank Lisa enough for the introduction. Greens are all you need - there's plenty of protein in the combination of grains and tahini.

Lisa, and there you are! Thank you, once again, for sharing the recipe. I used to be a 6 cups of strong coffee a day girl, but one day, I just couldn't do it any more. The odd espresso now..I do still love that black stuff.

Thank you Neen - get brewing, I say!

Vegeyum, you'll like this, I'd venture to say. Simple, but bold enough to hold interest. You know, my dog loves it, too?

Kyle @ Yumoh said...

I've long been an avid rooibos drinker, but never thought to take it that step further into cooking - thanks for the inspiration!

Utterly lovely images... this is a recipe I will surely be trying with the amaranth I bought from the Co-op the other day.

Rosa said...

Like you, I prefer to start my day with tea (Kusmi Tea's Detox is my favorite at the moment). I weaned myself off coffee a year or so ago and love waking up feeling, well, awake! I had no idea you could cook grains in rooibos...

bee said...

you are so breathtakingly creative!!! i have some gunpowder green tea now pleading for some grain action. thanks for a lovely click!

::::wifemothermaniac:::: said...

oh my, must try cooking millet in tea, how cool!

Sue said...

What a beautifully written post, thank you for lots of new ideas.

Kyle @ Yumoh said...

oh god, YUM!!! I just tried this recipe and it is delicious!!! What an unusual flavour and texture, so delightful to find an entirely new set of flavours so pleasing to the palate. Thanks, Lucy!!

Lucy said...

Kyle, I'm so pleased you liked it! Hooray! Isn't the amaranth amazing with those flavours? Such a simple idea...for a while, I was obsessing over complex recipes, but it's the simple ones, done well, that elicit the best reponses (from the testers around here as well as blog readers). Thank you!

Rosa, you feel it too? Coffee is wonderful in its own way, but draining of my energy. Must look into the detox tea you mention.

Blushing, bee! Thank you - get creative with that gunpowder green, I say. Something sweet, perhaps?

wifemothermaniac (brilliant name), do give it a try. Millet will never be the same!

Thank you, Sue, I hope you enjoy playing with your tea.

Julia said...

What a great idea cooking grains in tea! I'll certainly try that.

Dandelion is my tea of choice.

grocer said...

In a moment of madness the other day I added brown rice green tea to hot water to get some noodles going in lieu of not having any (not frozen) stock at hand. It was a bloody great idea!

what a coincidence.

Lucy said...

Julia, I haven't had dandelion in a very long time...thanks for the reminder!

Grocer - sounds good to me. Great minds think alike, no? ;-)

Ana said...

Happy, happy birthday Lucy! :) ...Hope it's a great one with good food, good books and lots of laughter...Ana xxx

Holler said...

I just don't like tea, I just don't get it! It just tastes like dirty water to me. I do want to like it, but it hasn't happened so far :( I do love your photos though and I am once again contemplating what is lacking in my tea break :)

Lucy said...

Ana, you know, it's just not quite the same without you here!!! Thank you. I feel old today (had half a bottle of wine and a cocktail over lunch yesterday)! Will you send me an email? My system crashed a few months ago and I lost everything...miss ya, I do.

Holler, you are so funny! I don't know why I started drinking tea over coffee, though I think it has something to do with giving up smoking...tea and cigarettes are not so closely aligned as coffee and a smoke!

Deepika said...

Saw your photo on the CLICK event image gallery. It is very very beautiful. I had never heard of rooibos.