Monday, September 6, 2010

Hibiscus Leaf Tea Granita

Happy Labor Day!!

This recipe is my attempt at clinging onto summer just a little bit longer. I'm not ready for autumn, much less winter, yet.

This year marked the 30th anniversary for the Taste of Chicago, a quintessential summer event here. This year, they did things a little differently. There were fewer vendors, and the layout changed from previous years. Instead of the vendors going right up the middle of the street, they now are only on the sides of the road, leaving a much more open area in the middle for walking, eating and scoping out your next bite. One of the perks of working in downtown Chicago is that a group of us hit the taste for lunch one day. We get there right as it opens, usually mid-week, so that we avoid the lunch/weekend-rush that the Taste is infamous for.

If you are not from Chicago, I can see going to the Taste and getting an Italian sausage, deep dish pizza slice or a ‘garden dog,’ but for me, I use the Taste as an excuse to sample anything I have not tried before. Last year I had shark and curried goat. This year I had my first ever fresh pierogies, a jibarito sandwich and something called bissap sorbet. The sorbet was described as a hibiscus leaf tea sorbet served with a dollop of whipped cream. It was such a refreshing, light dessert in the hot, humid weather and left me feeling satisfied without feeling too guilty (hey, at least it wasn’t a slice of cheesecake!) I left the Taste thinking that I would buy a quart of that if I could, it was a perfect summer treat.

As luck would have it, that weekend my family and I went to Chicago’s Chinatown, and we stumbled upon a store that sold nothing but tea. As we were shopping around for green teas (they had some there that retailed for 124 dollars a pound!), the cashier came by with samples of some of their other tea varieties. One was hibiscus tea. As soon as I tasted it, I grabbed a box, paid for it, and left with a plan to recreate the sorbet from the Taste.

Because I do not have an ice cream maker, I decided to make a granita instead. It’s a little more coarse than sorbet, but finer than Italian ice, so I figured that would be a good compromise. It took forever for the granita to freeze. There is patience required in waiting for the hot water to cool enough to put in the freezer, and then you have to babysit it for as long as necessary, scraping the sides of the bowl down so you get granita and not a giant pyrex-bowl-shaped popsicle.

While it did take forever, the results were definitely worth it. It is light, refreshing and practically guilt-free. I used a 1/2 cup of sugar in mine, which is the only ingredient other than the tea in this recipe. The four cups of water yields probably a good 8-10 servings (we’ve already finished six and still have quite a bit left). One serving has a maximum of approximately one tablespoon of sugar, or 15 calories. It can’t get much better than that. Ok, well if you want the twenty-five calories you get from the additional two tablespoons of cool whip, still not a diet-buster.

Hibiscus Tea Granita

3 Hibiscus leaf tea bags
½ c sugar
4 c water, divided (2 cups can be cool/room temperature)

Put two cups of water and sugar in pot over medium heat. Heat, while stirring, until sugar dissolves into water. Drop in tea bags and let steep for 5-7 minutes, or until a dark raspberry color. Add in the additional two cups of water and let sit for a few more minutes. Remove tea bags and let sit on counter until room temperature. Place mixture in freezer and let sit for 1.5-2 hours. Scrape down sides with a fork. Let sit in freezer again for another hour to hour and a half. Scrape down sides. Repeat process until liquid is all frozen. Serve plain or with a small dollop of cool whip or whipped cream.

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