Sustainable Chai Tea Pudding

Sustainable Cooking by Mary June Thompson, Contributing Writer. (Part III in an online series exclusively for CelebrateKnoxville.com.) One of my favorite things about practicing a sustainable cooking philosophy is how it forces the chef to get creative in the kitchen by finding new and different uses for the odds and ends that are left over from routine cooking. There are many basic ways to get a second life out a lot of food scraps, such as using leftover vegetable pieces to make stock or broth or turning stale bread into croutons for a salad. While both of those things are great uses for leftover bits, this column is meant to inspire both home cooks and professionals alike to think outside the box and have fun in the kitchen while being less wasteful with food.

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When it’s cold outside, one of my favorite things is to brew a cup of hot and spicy chai tea. I am a huge fan of what I call “real” chai – the loose tea blended from dried whole tea leaves and chunks of spices including cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, and black pepper. This type of chai is not inexpensive, but the superior flavor it imparts is worth it. It seems like such a shame that you can only use those expensive tea leaves one time and have to throw them out. Or do you?

My cold weather obsession with brewing chai tea was the inspiration for a new recipe that gets a little extra mileage out of those post-brew leftovers. I let the tea mix cool completely in the tea ball after brewing and then stored the leftovers in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until I collected enough to test my idea. The result of this grand experiment in sustainable cooking was a wonderfully flavorful chai tea pudding, a new twist on a classic comfort food that even the pickiest eater is sure to love. (photos by Mary June Thompson)

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Chai Tea Pudding
Ingredients:
½ cup (once-brewed) loose-leaf chai tea blend
2 cups milk
½ cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 large egg
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Method:
Lightly beat egg with a fork in a medium heat-proof bowl and set aside.
Combine sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Gradually whisk milk into sugar mixture until well blended. Add tea leaves and simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from heat and pour mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a heat-proof bowl. Discard tea leaves.

Return pudding base to saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue to cook for another 7-8 minutes, whisking constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat.

Transfer some of the pudding base, a few drops at a time, into beaten egg, whisking constantly. Continue adding a few drops of pudding base at a time to the egg mixture and whisking until the egg bowl feels warm to the touch. (This is called tempering, and it keeps the egg from scrambling—and ruining the pudding—by gently heating it.) Return saucepan to heat and add egg mixture to pudding base, whisking constantly. Boil for 2-3 more minutes, continuing to whisk constantly, until the pudding is thick and bubbly. Remove pan from heat and stir in the butter, salt, and vanilla extract, whisking until butter is melted and well incorporated. Immediately transfer pudding to serving dish. Press plastic wrap over the entire surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Allow pudding to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate at least 3 hours until well chilled. Garnish with cinnamon, whipped cream, or both, and serve. (Makes 4 servings.)

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Mary June Thompson has been cooking and entertaining for nearly two decades. During this time, her cooking style has expanded and evolved from typical American fare to encompass many different types of cuisines, including Italian, French, Greek, Asian, Mediterranean/North African, and Latin American. Focusing on obtaining the best available ingredients and preparing fresh, healthy dishes with bold flavor defines her cooking style, regardless of cuisine.