THE NIBBLE BLOG: Products, Recipes & Trends In Specialty Foods
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TIP OF THE DAY: Celebrate The First National Tea Day

Tea Plantation
[1] A tea estate in China. While China is the world’s largest tea-producing nation, it keeps most of what it grows for its own consumption.(photo courtesy The Meaning Of Tea).

[2] The top three leaves of the bush, called “two leaves and a bud,” are the only leaves used in premium tea (photo courtesy Tea USA).

Glasses Of Black Tea
[3] Depending on where it’s grown, the same Camellia sinensis plant yields teas with different flavors, aromas, and colors (photo courtesy National Honey Board).


January 12th is the first-ever National Hot Tea Day, declared by the Tea Council of the USA, a trade association.

Tea is the second most-consumed beverage in the world, after water. So have a cup as you read this:

Black, green or white, all tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant (photos #1 and #2), a warm-weather evergreen. There’s one slight exception and one larger one:

  • In the Assam region of northeast India, the local variation, Camellia assamica was found to produce a finer leaf tea in that environment.
  • Herbal teas, discussed in the fifth bullet below.
    Whether tea is black, oolong, green or white depends on how the fresh leaves of the tea plant are processed after they are plucked; most importantly, their level of contact with oxygen.

    During oxidation, the tea leaves undergo natural chemical reactions that result in distinctive color and taste characteristics.

  • Black tea is allowed to oxidize for two to four hours.
  • Green tea is not oxidized at all—the leaves are steamed, rolled and dried.
  • Oolong tea falls somewhere between green and black teas, in that the leaves are only partially oxidized.
  • White tea is not oxidized at all, and in fact, is plucked in the spring before the leaf buds even unfurl.
  • Herbal teas do not come from the tea plant Camellia sinensis, but are an infusion of various leaves, roots, bark, seeds or flowers of other plants. While they lack the caffeine of tea, they also are not associated with any of the potential health benefits of traditional teas.
    Tea is grown in thousands of tea gardens or estates around the world.

    Along with wine grapes, coffee, cacao beans and other agricultural products, local soil and climate result in corresponding flavor, aroma and color variations (photo #3).

    As with coffee, each tea takes its name from the area in which it’s grown, and the areas in turn are known for their distinctive and uniquely flavored teas.

    Tea is also divided by grades, determined by leaf size. Smaller sized leaves are used in tea bags while the larger sized leaves can be found in packaged loose tea.

    While China is the world’s largest tea-producing nation, it keeps most of what it grows for its own consumption.

    The second largest consuming nation, India, is the largest exporter, followed by Sri Lanka, Kenya, Indonesia, Japan and Taiwan.

    The largest importing nations are the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Russia, the United States and The Netherlands.

    As with all foods, you can buy the average, the sublime, or something in-between. If you love a good cup of tea—or a tall frosty glass of iced tea—you’ll appreciate the difference between fine, “gourmet” tea made from top quality whole leaves and mass-marketed tea bags produced from bits and pieces.

    A tip: When you buy higher-priced teas, first taste them plain, without milk or sweetener. The finest teas should be drunk black (plain) to appreciate their nuanced flavors and aromas.

    FINAL TIP: Don’t toss the leftover tea in the pot—pour it into ice cube trays. Tea ice cubes won’t dilute your iced tea. (Our favorite ice cube tray is the ISI Orka Ice Cube Tray—read our review to see why.)

  • A Year Of Tea Party Ideas
  • Brewing The Perfect Cup Of Tea
  • The History Of Tea
  • How To Avoid Cloudy Iced Tea
  • How To Brew Iced Tea
  • How To Plan An Iced Tea Party
  • Pairing Tea With Food
  • Tea Facts
  • Tea Glossary: Tea Types & Terminology


    RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR: Water In The East Village, New York City

    No matter how many great restaurants we eat at this year, we’re willing to state, at the beginning of January, that Water is our “restaurant of the year.”

    Unless you can’t imagine dinner without some kind of flesh, Water should be on your list for culinary excitement. It’s Japanese vegan cuisine.

    Created by restaurateur and bar impresario Ravi DeRossi, who specializes in vegetarian and vegan cuisine, along with the masterful Chef Steve Pereyda, Fire & Water has hung its sign at 111 East 7th Street. It’s just one door down from another DeRossi restaurant, Ladybird.

    Fire & Water is a dual concept. Fire is a vegan dim sum restaurant, Water is vegan Japanese (Fire is opening soon, and we hope to be the first in line).

    There is one tasting menu with two seatings nightly, Tuesday through Sunday, at 6:30 and 8:30. The menu is $65, with wine and saké available. We had a sake-and-wine pairing with each course and recommend it.

    What’s on the menu? It doesn’t matter: Every bite is memorably exquisite. We hadn’t even left the table when we hungered to return for more.

    No matter how innocuous a dish sounds—seaweed salad, tempura pumpkin—each bite is sublime. Familiar foods like soba noodles and tofu are the best you can imagine, handmade by Chef Pereyda.

    The dishes are so packed with vibrant flavor and texture, that you can’t possibly miss fish and meat.

    Our eight-course tasting menu (photo #1), enjoyed over two hours:

  • Seaweed Salad with Salt Roasted Beets, Clementine, Wasabi Dressing
  • Celery Root with Yuba, Black Garlic, Mitsuba
  • Fresh Chilled Tofu with Brussels Sprouts, Hazelnuts, Fig Ponzu
  • Soba Noodles with Shishito, Yuzu, Shiso
  • Clear Ginger Broth with Salsify, Fried Tofu
  • Mushroom Chirashi with Leeks, Shio Kombu, Fresh Wasabi (photo #2)
  • Tempura Pumpkin with Sweet Sesame, Broccoli Rabe
  • Ginger chocolate Cake, Sesame Ice Cream, Miso Caramel

    Omakase Fire & Water NYC
    [1] The first seven courses (dessert comes later).

    Mushroom Chirashi
    [2] If we had to pick a favorite—and it’s tough—it would be the Mushroom Chirashi, a revelation (both photos courtesy Fire & Water).

    There is an extensive saké list created by sommelier David Yi-Hsian Dong, and wines that also pair well with the cuisine.

    This is an intimate dining experience. The space is small; dinner is served at an L-shaped bar of seven seats, where you get to watch Chef Pereyda gracefully preparing your food.

    There’s a table tucked into the front window that can accommodate four people, but you don’t get to see the food prep—an enjoyable part of the dinner.

    The decor is thoughtful and lovely. The bar is a slab of a beautiful tree, its natural crevices looking like water flowing through the wood. We wanted to take home the wallpapers in both the dining room and the restroom.

    The only downside: After this restaurant is “on the map,” we’ll have to wait months for a seat.

    Reserve online at, or call 646.767.0476



    TIP OF THE DAY: Indian Spice Blends

    [1] Amchoor, an ingredient of chaat masala. A fruity spice powder made from dried unripe green mangoes, it adds citrusy notes (photo courtesy La Boite NYC).

    [2] Asafoetida, the dried gum of the taproot of an herb, is ground into a powder (photo courtesy Jain Dry Fruits).

    Indian Black Rock Salt
    [3] Black rock salt, another ingredient in chaat masala (photo courtesy Nutty Yogi).

    Madras Curry Powder
    [4] Madras curry powder. The yellow color comes from turmeric. Here’s a recipe to mix your own, from Sel et Sucre.

    Malaysian Curry Powder
    [5] Malaysian curry powder. Here’s a recipe from Kevin Is Cooking.

    Panch Phoron - Indian Five Spice
    [6] Panch phoron, Indian Five Spice. Here’s a recipe to mix your own, from Veg Recipes Of India.


    Do you know the difference between garam masala and chaat masala? Madras curry powder and Malaysian curry powder?

    We were cowed by what we didn’t know about Indian spice blends. Thanks to Raw Spice Bar for the following clarification.

    While every cook or company can use a different blend, or different proportions of ingredients, here’s an overview.

    Chaat Masala is the go-to spice blend for most Indian snacks, street foods, roasted and fried food and salads. Its tangy flavor profile comes from key notes of amchoor, asafoetida and black salt.

    Raw Spice Bar’s blend includes ajwain (a.k.a. ajowan caraway, carom), asafoetida (from the taproot of a perennial herb), black peppercorns, black salt, cumin, dried mint, ginger, paprika, red chiles, toasted amchoor (green mango powder) and toasted coriander.

    Says Raw Spice Bar: Punctuate any vegetarian dish (especially chickpeas—which are bursting with protein and fiber), or use as a topping on eggs, salads, curries or fresh fruits. Check out these recipes.

    A staple of North Indian cooking, garam masala is made with more than 15 spices. The blend is popularly used in chicken tikka masala, curries, dals and vegetables.

    Whole spices are toasted and then ground: bay leaves, black cardamom, black cumin, black peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, ginger, green cardamom, nutmeg and star anise.

    Check out these recipes from Raw Spice Bar and Yummly.

    Madras curry powder and Malaysian curry powder have similar ingredients. The main differentiator is that Madras curry powder has more heat.

    The base is turmeric, with cassia and fenugreek for an earthy sweetness. Red Kashmiri chiles provide heat.

    Additional ingredients include black peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds and green cardamom.

    Use Madras curry powder dahls, slow cooked lentils and vegetable curries. For Western fusion, add it to curried egg salad, potato salad or tuna salad. Here are recipes.

    Malaysian curry powder is an earthier, milder version of a Madras curry powder, with a turmeric base.

    A base of turmeric includes black peppercorns, chiles, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, green cardamom and fennel seeds.

    It’s frequently used in slow-cooked stews, stir-fries and vegetable curries. As with Madras curry, add make curried egg, potato or tuna salad/

    Here are some recipes.

    Masala chai spices are brewed in black tea; milk is added for an aromatic, palate-seductive hot beverage.

    Base ingredients include black peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, green cardamom, nutmeg, star anise, fennel & cloves. Other ingredients such as allspice can be added.

    In addition to chai lattes, add masala chai to cookies, muffins and puddings. Check out these recipes.

    Our panch phoran, which means “five spices,” contains five toasted spices: black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek and nigella.

    The spices are typically added to oil or ghee over medium heat, the spices toasted until they pop.

    The blend is perfect for tossing into—or sprinkling atop—dals, roasted potatoes or vegetables.

    Try these recipes.

    Tandoori masala is the core flavor base of Northern India’s popular tandoori-style dishes. made with 12+ spices.

    The blend can be made of 12 or more spices. Raw Spice Bar’s blend includes black peppercorns, cayenne chiles, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, green cardamom, Kashmiri chiles, nutmeg, paprika and turmeric.

    The spice blend is Use to marinate chicken, meat, seafood or vegetables in a yogurt spice mix; the food is then cooked tandoori-style, charred over high heat.

    Try one of these recipes.


    You don’t have to make Indian recipes to use Indian spices. We live in a world of fusion food.

    Add the spices to cottage cheese and yogurt, dips, grains, potatoes, salads and soups. Shake them on homemade potato or vegetable chips and popcorn.

    Everything is yours for the spicing.
    FOOD 101: MASALA

    Masala is an Indian term for a spice mix in certain proportions; the word derives from the Arabic masalih).

    A masala can be either a combination of dried (usually dry-roasted) spices, or a paste made from a mixture of spices and other ingredients (often garlic, ginger, onions, chilli paste and tomato).



    RECIPE: Portobello ‘Steak’ & Salad

    In keeping with the trends to more plant-based meals, this tasty recipe uses the “meatiest” mushrooms, portobellos.

    (Is it portobello, portabella or portobella? Here’s the scoop.)

    When cremini mushrooms (photo #3) are allowed to continue growing, they grow up into more complex-flavored portabellas, meaty in both taste and appearance (photo #2).

    Portabellas can be from 3 to 10 inches in diameter. Like meat, they even release juices when cooked. Vegetarians enjoy them grilled in lieu of beef, and they make wonderful grilled vegetable sandwiches.

    Portobellos are brown, with a slightly firmer texture than white mushrooms. They can be served whole or sliced, stuffed, or as “burgers” or “sliced steak,” as in the recipe below.

    For a simple yet delectable starter, serve sliced grilled portobello drizzled with a balsamic reduction. The mushrooms are cultivated and available year-round.

    You can have your plant-based steak and eat it, too, with this portobello “steak” recipe (photo #1).

    This recipe was created by Lindsey Baruch, a Los Angeles-based food photographer and recipe developer. She used Califia’s Go Coconuts coconut milk, a blend of coconut milk and coconut water, in the recipe.

    “The taste and texture of a portobello “steak” is life-changing,” says Lindsey, “and can be marinated to any flavor. This recipe is easy with room to make it your own.”

    The mushrooms are joined by a refreshing green salad of watercress, mint and cucumbers.
    Ingredients For The Mushrooms

  • 4-5 portabella mushrooms (photo #2)
  • 1/4 cup Califia Go Coconuts coconut milk (photo #4)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce (or to taste)
  • 2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon chili flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil for skillet
    Ingredients For the Salad

  • 2 Persian cucumbers
  • 5-6 thinly sliced radish
  • Bundle of watercress
  • Bundle of mint
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

    1. MAKE a marinade of the coconut milk, soy sauce, hot sauce, toasted sesame seeds, vinegar, chili flakes, salt and pepper. Marinate the mushrooms for 1 hour. While they’re marinating…

    2. PREPARE the salad. Slice the cucumbers and radishes and combine with with the mint and watercress. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper and toss right before serving.

    3. HEAT a skillet with a drizzle of oil. Cook the portobellos until charred and crispy on the outside and cooked through on the inside (you can eat them “rare” if you prefer). Let them rest for 5 minutes and slice as you would a steak (see photo #1).

    4. SERVE with the salad, and a glass of red or white wine.


    Portabella 'Steak' & Salad
    [1] It may look like sliced steak, but they’re the vegetable equivalent: portobello mushrooms (photo courtesy Lindsey Baruch | A Life With Peace).

    Portabella Mushrooms
    [2] Portabella mushrooms (photo courtesy Sweet Peas And Saffron, which stuffs them with lasagna ingredients—here’s the recipe).

    Cremini Mushrooms
    [3] Cremini mushrooms (photo courtesy Good Eggs).

    Califia Go Coconuts Coconut Milk
    [4] Califia’s Go Coconuts coconut milk (photo courtesy Milk And Eggs).




    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Califia Farms

    Califia Unsweetened Almond Milk
    [1] Exceptional-quality almond milk is available in original unsweetened plus 10 flavors (both photos courtesy Califia Farms).

    Califia Vanilla Better Half
    [2] In additions to coffee creamers, there are three flavors of “half and half.”

    Butternut Squash Soup
    [3] Enjoy creamy foods guilt-free (here’s the recipe for this Thai butternut squash soup).


    There are many quality brands of dairy-free creamers made from nuts and plants. One that we have a weakness for is Califia Farms.

    The California-based brand has bent over backwards to create a dairy-free line of products that offers just about everything in plant-based versions. There are:

  • Nut milks, primarily almond milks with some coconut milks
  • Coffee creamers and “half and half”
    In addition, there are:

  • Cold brew coffees
  • Probiotic dairy free yogurts and citrus juices
    The line is extensive. For example, in three products alone:

  • Almond milk in original unsweetened plus 10 flavors
  • Coffee creamers in original unsweetened plus 3 flavors
  • Better Half (half and half) in original sweetened, original unsweetened and vanilla
    There are also seasonal flavors (mint cocoa, pumpkin, etc.).

    In fact, there are so many products that you have to head to and see them for yourself.

    The reason the products are so good are the nuts. The better the almonds, for example, the better the almond milk.

    And the curvy bottles always make us smile.

    The products are all non-GMO. Everything is made with natural ingredients, with a focus on reduced sugar in products that typically contain them, and with unsweetened products. The line is carrageeenan-free* and certified kosher by OU.

    Many Americans seek to add more plant-based products to their diets.

  • More healthful. No cholesterol, saturated fat or lactose; rich in calcium, vitamins D, E and A; and far fewer calories than dairy milks. Nut milks also have 50% more protein than dairy milks.
  • Concern for animal welfare. No cows in feedlots here.
  • Concern for sustainability. Plant-based foods require less water and far less land pollution than animal-based products.

  • Check out the store locator.
  • Shop direct from shop direct from or your favorite online grocer.
  • No luck? Email with the name and address of the retailer you’d like to carry the products.

    *Some people avoid the thickener and emulsifier carrageenan. While it is a natural ingredient made from red seaweed, some evidence suggests that carrageenan triggers inflammation and gastrointestinal ulcerations. Here’s more information about it. Califia replaced the carrageenan a different natural thickener, locust bean gum, which is extracted from the seeds of the carob tree.



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