Many years back, I went for lunch one day to a small Indian restaurant in the basement of an old house on the quiet part of Pearl Street in Boulder, CO. Basements aren’t the most welcoming environments for dining and buffets have always given me the willies. To compound my sense of foreboding, I was the only diner that early afternoon. I didn’t have high hopes for the meal, but the waiter was attentive and I could hear energetic sizzling in the kitchen accompanied by warm, rich smells of complex spices. Somehow I’d timed my visit to coincide precisely with fresh food coming out of the kitchen directly to the buffet. I’d have the first crack. After I’d loaded my plate, the waiter came around with a cup of chai tea. I’d never had it before and had no idea what to expect. The white cup was filled to the top, the color a deep mocha, the smell intoxicating. I was hooked from my first sip. I’ve tried chai tea in many Indian restaurants and coffee shops since and have sampled the packaged kinds – but the small Indian place in Boulder made the best. (Luckily for me a close second can be had by brewing my own at home using a Tazo Organic Chai Tea bag and soy milk.)
The flavors that comprise a good cup of chai tea continue to engage me. I’ve made chai-flavored pancakes and chai-infused muffins. When I was thinking about creating a dried fruit compote to accompany breakfast one morning, I decided to create one using a couple of chai tea bags and enhancing them with the proper spices. The result is this simple compote that is delicious on waffles, pancakes, French toast or on top of non-dairy yogurt.
Chai Tea-Infused Cherry & Apricot Compote
Makes ~1 1/2 cups
1 cup dried tart cherries
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
3 cardamom pods
1/2 stick cinnamon
1 star anise
3 whole cloves
1 cup strongly brewed chai tea
1/4 cup unsweetened apple juice
1 tbsp. maple syrup
In a small saucepan, combine all of the ingredients and bring mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently until the liquid has reduced to about one half. Turn off the heat and remove the cinnamon stick and other spices. In a mini-prep or blender, puree about one-third of the mixture and then stir back into the original mixture.