Tea has broken free from the teapot and transformed into one of the most versatile ingredients in town.

If you just think the drink's only fit for a brew, you've not been reading your tea leaves lately. With so many varieties available, there's now a myriad of ways to enjoy it in delicious dishes.

Tea expert, Tonia George reveals a refreshingly different host of savoury and sweet recipes using teas in her new Tea Cookbook. She says: "Cooking with tea might sound a little novel at first, but the edible leaves of the tea bush - Camellia sinensis - should be approached in the same way as any other dried herb.

"Sugar syrups infused with the perfumed leaves of jasmine tea, milky custards enhanced by the gentle spicing of Indian chai, and tarte au citron with the added fragrant earthiness of Assam all take on a special quality."

Choose from her recipes for Tea-smoked Trout with Beans and Pancetta and Mussels in Ginger and Lemon Tea Broth for a dinner party or perhaps Green Tea, Tofu, Noodle and Cress soup when you need a dose of healthy eating.

A Mint Tea Couscous with Roast Squash, Halloumi, Dates and Pistachios is so simple that it could be ideal for feeding a family if you're in a rush.

And there are naughty-but-nice treats like Earl Grey Chocolate Truffle, desserts using tea and a variety of drinks.

Tonia explains: "You'll find that tea cookery is about delicate understatement, not provocative flavour. The flavour should tap you on the shoulder, not crash into you."

Her top 'tea' choice for a main course is Tea and Salt Crusted Chicken with Green Herb Dressing which she says, "isn't as salty as you might imagine and the tea flavour just adds a warm smokiness to the dish."

Follow that with her delicious Pears Poached in Camomile Tea and Spices.

So instead of thinking of it as the cup that cheers think of it as the cup that feeds!


Serves 4 Using a salt overcoat to keep fish beautifully moist is an age-old Mediterranean trick. Happily, it also works well with chicken, which is normally prone to dry out.

The salt creates a crust which seals in the flavour and moisture and by the end of cooking, the crust has dried out and can be removed.


4 whole chicken legs (leg and thigh)

1 lemon, cut into six wedges

300g broad beans, shelled and skinned

Tea and salt crust:

1.5kg coarse rock sea salt

8 tbsp Lapsang Souchong tea leaves

4 egg whites

Green Herb Dressing:

60ml extra virgin olive oil

A few grinds of black pepper

Freshly squeezed juice and zest of one unwaxed lemon

2 tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

1 tbsp snipped fresh chives

1 tbsp capers, rinsed

Preheat the oven to 220C (425F) Gas 7. Line a roasting tin with aluminium foil

To make the tea and salt crust, mix the rock salt and tea leaves in a large bowl. Add half the egg whites and mix well. Gradually add the remaining egg whites until the mixture is wet enough to hold together (add a little water if necessary).

Spread some of the salt mixture on the prepared roasting tin. Put the chicken legs snugly on top, pushing the lemon wedges in between. Pat the rest of the salt around the chicken in a 5-mm thick layer. The chicken legs should be completely encased. You may need to put more on the sides where it tends to fall off.

Bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes. Leave to rest for 10 minutes, then break off the hardened crust and remove any stray bits of salt.

Chop in half so that you end up with the leg and thigh separately.

Simmer the broad beans in boiling water for three to four minutes. To make the green herb dressing, heat the olive oil in a saucepan and season with black pepper. When the oil is starting to boil, remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and zest, parsley, chives and capers. Serve the chicken on top of the broad beans and drizzle with the dressing.


Serves 4-6

Tonia says: "Use firm pears, such as conference, and poach them until they're soft and scoopable. The longer you cook the syrup, the stickier and more concentrated it will be - impatience sometimes gets the better of me but I also don't like mine too thick and sickly."


3 camomile tea bags

6 cloves

4 cardamom pods

1 cinnamon stick

1 vanilla pod, split lengthways

4 chunks of pared unwaxed lemon zest

200g golden caster sugar

6 small conference pears, peeled

Creme fraiche to serve (optional)

Put the tea bags, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, vanilla pod, lemon zest and 400ml water in a deep, medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, add the sugar and heat gently until dissolved. Add the pears so they are sitting snugly - they should be just covered with liquid.

Add more water if necessary.

Cover with a lid and cook over very low heat for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the pears. Transfer the pears to a serving dish and cover to keep warm. Return the pan to the hob over a high heat and boil the syrup vigorously for 20 minutes, or until syrupy. You should be left with about 200ml. Pour over the pears and serve with creme fraiche, if using.