Think Chinese tea eggs and you have an idea of how this recipe was born. I've always been fascinated with the idea of cooking with tea. In China, tea is used to smoke meat, Japanese matcha finds its way into a variety of desserts, and a fascinating fermented tea leaf salad is made in Myanmar.
This recipe applies the concept of using tea as a seasoning and follows the traditional Chinese method of simmering eggs in a brew of black tea with soy sauce and whole spices. I used potatoes in place of eggs and an herbal tea instead of black tea.
The type of potato to use here matters quite a bit. We want waxy potatoes that have a low starch, high moisture content, giving them a creamy yet firm flesh, and hold their shape after cooking. Some examples of waxy potatoes are Carola, Inca Gold, and Red Bliss.
I personally like using new potatoes for this recipe because they tend to be small and round, resembling eggs, and I think that helps with a more even absorption of flavors in the simmer. These are basically potatoes that have been harvested young before their sugar has fully converted into starch so they are sweeter and have a waxy texture with thin skin. The skin can be left on but I find peeling it removes the barrier between the potato and the seasoning in the tea water.
A naturally caffeine-free herbal tea native to South Africa also known as "red tea," rooibos has sweet, nutty, woody, and grassy flavors with a slight smoky quality that pairs really well with the spices in the brew. I adopted the same whole spices typically used to make Chinese tea eggs and threw in cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves, whole peppercorns, and dried orange peel along with soy sauce, resulting in an aromatic concoction that perfumes the air with the news of impending deliciousness.
With some whole grains and a generous bunch of leafy greens added to the potatoes, it makes for a robust one-plate meal (or bowl, if you like), both in terms of flavor and substance. My choice of greens for this is baby spinach but any salad greens will be just as good. Green onions however deliver a distinct bite and I encourage their inclusion. I like the chewy nuttiness of earthy red rice with the potatoes but I can't imagine other whole grains like wheat berries and quinoa not being at home on the same plate. If you want to reduce carbs, go with the dependable cauliflower rice. Enjoy!
Spiced Rooibos Tea Potato with Red Rice and Baby Spinach
This recipe features tea as a seasoning and follows the traditional method to make Chinese tea eggs but instead uses potatoes and caffeine-free rooibos tea. The potatoes are then combined with red rice and baby spinach for a hearty one-plate meal. Serves 3 to 4.
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons loose-leaf rooibos tea or 4 tea bags
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
2 small pieces of dried orange peel (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
12 small waxy potatoes the size of eggs (about 2lbs/900g), scrubbed* (see notes below)
2 cups cooked red rice
A large handful of baby spinach or salad greens
4 green onions, chopped, green part only
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a large pot, bring 4 to 5 cups of water to boil over high heat. Add soy sauce, rooibos tea, cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves, whole peppercorns, dried orange peel, salt, and sugar. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the potatoes and bring the water to a boil again over high heat. Add more hot water if necessary to make sure the potatoes are covered. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until potatoes are cooked and a knife can pierce through easily, about 15 to 20 minutes depending on the type of potato used. Do not overcook the potatoes.
Transfer the potatoes to a colander and drain. Reserve some of the spiced tea water. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them into 1-inch cubes.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the potatoes with the red rice, baby spinach or salad greens, and chopped green onions and toss gently to mix. Taste for saltiness and drizzle with 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of the spiced tea water. Add more if necessary. Divide into serving plates and sprinkle with ground black pepper to serve.
Waxy potatoes like Red Bliss have a low starch, high moisture content with a creamy yet firm flesh that hold their shape after cooking. For this recipe, I like to use new potatoes, which are potatoes that have been harvested young and are small and round with thin skin. You can leave the skin on but I find peeling it helps with better absorption of flavors from the tea water.