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Tea: Out of the Cup, Onto the Dinner Table

When I first suggested pairing my husband's beloved beef with green tea — instead of the usual Stubbs barbecue sauce — for our annual spring cookout, he was nervous.

Why tea? More than just a refreshing beverage, tea is also a terrific cooking ingredient. After all, the ancient Chinese spiked their fires with green tea for smoked duck and stuffed their fish with oolong.

As tea's health profile has risen, it has increasingly found its way onto dinner plates as well as in tea cups. Green tea is mellow enough to work well with spicy flavors like ginger and garlic; citrus teas give a lift to heavier flavors like chocolate. Green tea cakes and chai cookies are now staples at bakeries, and restaurants are putting tea in marinades and rubs.

So I put tea on the menu for our cookout.

Since my husband was leery, I pulled out the big gun: Kobe beef. I used a green tea-rubbed Kobe beef recipe courtesy of Tim Elliott, chef at Mie-N-Yu Restaurant in Washington, D.C.

The green tea's earthiness, mingling with the rub's garlic and ginger tang, offsets the sweetness of the beef. For an even stronger, more biting effect, substitute black tea. You can prepare the tea rub a couple of hours in advance and forget about it until grill-time.

Of course, sharing plate-space with Kobe beef is like accompanying George Clooney to the Oscars: It's easy to get overshadowed.

This rub, however, stands up to the challenge, as does Elliott's side dish. He marries East and West in this meal, serving the beef with an edamame and corn succotash. My husband again resisted — until I assured him that the recipe also called for maple pepper bacon, which gives it a smoky heartiness.

This is an impressive party dish, though not an economical one. Black Angus beef works well too and is gentler on your wallet.

Sitting down to a cup of tea is a universal gesture of comfort, friendship and celebration. The same effect is possible when sitting down to a meal made with tea. And if there's resistance from those you feed, try to soften them with a slab of Kobe beef.

Read last week's Kitchen Window: Cretan cuisine.

Get more recipe ideas from the Kitchen Window archive.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kara Baskin