This morning the weather cannot decide if it wants to be hot and sunny, cool and rainy or the pinnacle of atmospheric ambiguity – sunny and showering. I am just as restless. I made a shopping list, then decided the last thing I wanted to do was face the grocery store. Got dressed to do yoga, then plunked down on the couch. Flipped through a magazine, then tossed it aside. Began dismantling our Christmas tree, then got distracted by re-reading the cards we received.
I can’t even decide what to drink. Do I want a cup of hot tea? Or, do I want a glass of iced tea?
I better make BOTH.
The flowers of the hibiscus plant* are used in countries all around the world – from the Middle East, to North and West Africa, to the Caribbean, to Central America – to make a tangy, well-sweetened, ruby-colored tea that can be served either hot or cold. The tea is typically prepared by steeping the flowers (fresh or dried) in hot water, and then straining them out. Lots of sugar is added, and the tea is often infused with flavors that complement its cranberry-like taste, including lemon, mint, ginger, vanilla, pineapple and orange essence.
In Egypt and Sudan, the word for both the hibiscus flower and hibiscus tea is “karkaday” (or “karkade”). Legend has it that karakday was a favored beverage among the Pharaohs. Hibiscus flowers are known as “bissap” in
Hibiscus flowers can also be stewed to fill tarts and pies, or used to make jellies and jams. The excellent cookbook The Soul of a New Cuisine flavors then freezes hibiscus-steeped water to create a lovely, mint-garnished granité. In fact, given my current state of indecisiveness, it’s amazing that I could select tea as my preferred use of the ingredient! There are two recipes below – one for a cold Senegalese-style spritzer with vanilla accents, and one for a hot tea made with ginger and lemon.
Once you have settled down with your tea, please take a moment to check out the vast array of nominees in the 2006 Food Blog Awards. If you, like me, are having trouble making choices today, then you will be absolutely incapacitated by your voting options. Some stellar blogs have been nominated, and Field to Feast is up against tough competition in the Best Food Blog – Rural category. To check out the other nominees and cast your vote (before EST on January 9!), please click here.
1 vanilla bean (you can use 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract as a substitute)
2/3 cup sugar
2 2/3 cups water
1 cup dried hibiscus flowers, lightly rinsed
Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrap the seeds into a small saucepan. Toss in the bean, and add the sugar and water. Stir. Bring to a boil, and then remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the hibiscus flowers and cover. Let the tea steep for 10 minutes.
Strain the liquid using a fine sieve, and then place the liquid in the refrigerator to chill. When you are ready to drink your beverage, fill four glasses with ice cubes and divide the liquid between them – each glass should be about 1/3-1/2 full. Top up with soda water and serve.
Hot Hibiscus Tea
Serves 2 (using mugs) or 3 (using teacups)
2 cups of water
½ cup dried hibiscus flowers, lightly rinsed
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Lemon slices, for garnish
Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan, take it off of the heat and add the hibiscus flowers. Cover the pan, and steep the tea for 10 minutes. Strain the tea using a fine sieve into a small bowl. Add the sugar, ginger and lemon juice and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Serve hot, with lemon slices.
*Technically it is the hibiscus calyx, not the flower, which is used to make tea. Also, to be precise, only one variety of hibiscus is used for culinary purposes - Hibiscus Sabdariffa, which is commonly known as roselle or red sorrel in English.