Throughout this past weekend's snow storm, I could count on a steep to cheerily call me in from the cold. The allure and sentiment of a fireside glow or a favorite sweater hanging within reach can all be captured in a cup of tea. As we linger longer in the kitchen our sense of culinary creativity lets us move beyond a simple steep and imagine special sips. Last fall I had anticipated wintry cravings and cures and crafted a horchata recipe for indulgent days and a restorative spiced hojicha when a road towards wellness was required.
Makes three cups
Horchata, traditional Mexican iced sweetened rice drink, is given a twist and mixed with the warming spices and assam black tea of traditional Indian masala chai tea to create the sweet, layered horchaita. Just think of it as the new mash-up for the chilled season. Raw rice is ground into a coarse crumb and then steeped overnight with a Mexican cinnamon stick and masala chai. Blended until pure, the spiced rice tea is stirred into warm rice milk with sugar. Served hot, this sweet tea infusion is thick and calls for a spoon, although it can be easily sipped. While creamy and rich in texture, it carries a lightness in flavor from the white rice gently spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. While the recipe calls for whole Mexican cinnamon bark, you can easily substitute cinnamon sticks found in grocery stores. Keep in mind that Mexican cinnamon sticks are softer in texture and offer a more subdued spice note that leans more towards vanilla with a floral hint that’s mildly sweet. With the horchaita, the go-to masala chai latte found on every menu is given a non-dairy twist that captures the flavor of delicate rice pudding with a lighter-than-air texture.
• 1/3 cup long grain white rice
• 1½ cups water
• 2 tablespoons masala chai tea
• One 2-inch piece Mexican cinnamon stick (or substitute regular cinnamon stick)
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 1½ cups rice milk
• Ground cinnamon, for serving
Bring water to a boil and steep chai for five minutes. Strain leaves and cool tea until warm. While cooling, grind the rice in a blender so it is in fine pieces (think coarse cornmeal). Pour warm tea over the rice in the blender and add the cinnamon stick. Cover and refrigerate for at least eight hours, but preferably overnight.
Remove the cinnamon stick, then puree the rice and tea until it’s completely smooth. For a truly smooth texture, strain the mixture through cheesecloth, extracting as much liquid as possible (note: if working with high-power blender the cheesecloth may not be needed). Pour the rice and tea mixture into a small pot on the stove and warm over medium heat until hot. Stir in the milk and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a simmer and serve immediately with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a spoon.
Note: Infuse the rice with tea/cinnamon stick and blend with rice milk and sugar ahead of time, then refrigerate in an airtight container. Heat until very hot via stove or hot plate. Be sure to stir well.
Spiced Hojicha Green Tea
Makes two cups
Sweet but with ginger heat, this spiced hojicha green tea infusion is far from shy. Consider this a cold cure that you reach for when you just can’t seem to fight the chill. Tart lemon juice brightens the depth of the smoky hojicha, crafted with roasted Japanese bancha green tea leaves. Warming ginger doesn’t fade with a flash of heat, but instead lingers on your palate and trickles all the way to the back of your throat. Honey is the sweet thread that ties the bold, smoky steep together. For the ultimate get-well sip, a pinch of earthy turmeric will add an orange hue while mixing in an anti-inflammatory dose. Best of all, since hojicha is quite low in caffeine it can be enjoyed well into the evening. Be sure to serve the hojicha infusion while it’s piping hot, when the honey flavor seems perfectly rich, as opposed to a thin, syrupy sweetness when even slightly chilled.
• 3 cups water
• 5 tablespoons Hojicha green tea
• 1/3 cup fresh ginger, sliced
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 3 tablespoons honey
Bring three cups of water to a boil, cool to 185 degrees and steep the tea for four minutes. Strain the leaves. Heat tea in a medium pot over medium-high heat until boiling. Lower to a simmer and add ginger. Simmer for fifteen minutes. Strain the ginger and stir in the lemon juice and honey until dissolved. Serve hot.
Note: Make this tea infusion ahead of time. Infuse the hojicha with ginger, lemon, and honey, refrigerate in an airtight container, and heat to serve.