Thursday, October 25, 2012

Easy steps to brewing your own veggie teas

Dehydration is the most important step of the tea-making process. Above, roasted lotus roots [JoongAng Ilbo]
Lotus roots and white radishes are most commonly eaten in Korea as side dishes. But they can also be dried and brewed. Cho Hee-suk, a traditional Korean food researcher, lays out a few recipes and tips on how to make your own unique teas at home out of ingredients typically used in traditional Korean meals.

“Almost all edible things can be made into a decent cup of tea,” says the 54-year-old food researcher who serves as an adviser for the exhibition titled “Becoming One with Tea,” which runs through the end of this month at the Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation.

“The weather is perfect for drying vegetables. The sunlight around this time of year is strong enough to dry them in two or three days. You have to dry them before the mercury drops below zero.”

Since October is part of the root vegetable harvest season, Cho has prepared lotus roots and white radishes, both widely used for typical Korean side dishes .

Of the many types of lotus roots, Cho says white lotus roots that later bloom into white flowers are most suitable for teas. The white roots are more aromatic, she says.

In order to prepare lotus root tea, wash a lotus root with running water and slice the vegetable into pieces about three millimeters (0.1 inch) thick. Rinse the sliced lotus root with cold water and add a bit of salt and vinegar.

When a small amount of salt and vinegar are added to the cold water, the combination prevents the lotus root from browning and adds flavor to the tea.

The next step is finding the perfect place for dehydration, which is the most important step of the tea-making process. A well-ventilated place like a balcony is ideal, but using electric fans or electric food dehydrators are also okay when there is no suitable place for drying.

Clockwise from above: Buckwheat tea, lotus root tea and radish tea

When the lotus roots are completely dried, roast the vegetables with a heated pan without cooking oil until the lotus roots turn slightly brown. When the roasting process is done, cool down the lotus roots by placing them on wicker trays. Air-tight containers are needed for storage.

While the tea-making process is a bit complicated, the brewing is as simple as it gets. Brew three or four pieces of lotus root in hot water for three minutes.

Keeping leftover lotus roots after emptying a cuppa is one way to fully use the root vegetable, Cho says.

Her suggestion is to put the leftover lotus roots into a rice cooker because they are a great source of fiber. Lotus roots are known to prevent anemia and high blood pressure as well.

The same process can be applied when making radish tea.

Peel the radish first and then slice it into thin, square shapes. Put the thinly sliced pieces onto wicker trays and dry them. The roasting process is also the same. Roast the dried radish with a heated pan without cooking oil. Radish has a strong, tangy flavor, so just one or two pieces are enough for the tea.

Since radish helps with digestion, the tea can be especially useful for those with indigestion.

Other than lotus roots and radish, balloon flower roots and burdock roots, also widely used as side dishes in Korea, are suitable tea ingredients. Fruits and grains also become fine tea options.

Buckwheat tea is available at grocery stores, but homemade buckwheat tea is much richer, Cho says. The process is similar to those of the lotus root and radish teas.

“Grain tea is good to drink early in the morning because it calms down your stomach,” says Cho.

Traditional Korean food researcher Cho Hee-suk roasts dried lotus roots without cooking oil.   
Making tea with peaches, mulberries and Japanese apricots is also easy to follow. Mix fruits and sugar until bubbles appear from the mixture. Cho says bubbles are a sign of fermentation beginning.

It takes about three months for Japanese apricots and one month for peaches and mulberries to be fully fermented. The next step is scooping fruits and keeping the rest of the liquids refrigerated.

These fruit tea contains a significant amount of enzymes and are better when served with cold water. By doing so, you can minimize the destruction of the enzymes.

The exhibition dedicated to tea and the artwork inspired by it is currently being held at the Arumjigi center, located in Insa-dong, central Seoul. The Arumjigi Culture Keepers Foundation is a nonprofit organization devoted to protecting and preserving Korea’s traditional culture and beauty.

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