I fell in love with rooibos tea on our honeymoon in South Africa. Woody, herbal, and sweet, it has become my tea of choice for sipping (when I must, that is — I was just agreeing with my good friend Brenda about not being too keen on hot beverages). But one of my favorite things about rooibos is its immunity to over-steeping. I tend to be heavy-handed when seasoning food, and am no different when it comes to steeping tea. I try to eke out every last drop of flavor from the leaves, but end up turning my tea into a sour, bitter, over-steeped cup of sludge. But rooibos is so forgiving.
Rooibos also complements just about anything. …Especially pears.
I used Seckel pears in this recipe, but only because I had them. Boscs or ripe D’Anjous would be wonderful as well, because they have thin skin. Red pears and thicker-skinned varieties might not fare as well. The pears soak up the tea syrup, but they also get very lightly candied. The cooking softens them to be eaten with a spoon. The tea alone is aromatic, but adding fennel makes this an even more pleasurable dish to cook — your whole kitchen will smell like vanilla, cardamom, and flowers.
To serve, drizzle some remaining syrup and fennel over each pear. If using larger pears (e.g. Bosc), one pear per serving is plenty. But if you have little Seckels, use two pears to make a full serving — or, use just one pear for a light dessert sampler.
Seckel Pears Poached in Rooibos Tea with Candied Fennel
Makes 4-8 servings
- 1 lb Seckel pears (about 8-10 very small pears)
- 1 small bulb fennel
- 1 T loose-leaf rooibos tea
- 4 C water
- 3/4 C granulated sugar
- Rinse pears and fennel bulb. Using a toothpick or corn-on-the-cob holders, pierce the pears 10-15 times, to create conduits for the tea to infuse into the pears. Remove outer layers of fennel, then slice bulb into ~4 mm thick slices. Set pears and fennel aside.
- Fill a tea ball or tea infuser with the rooibos. Bring water to boil in a medium stockpot. Remove from heat and steep tea for 10 minutes — this long steeping time produces a more intense, rather than over-steeped, flavor. Remove tea ball.
- Add sugar to tea, and place over medium heat. Stir to dissolve sugar.
- Place pears and fennel into tea. Cook over medium heat until pears are spoon-soft, about 10-15 minutes (15-20 for larger pears). Use slotted spoon to remove the pears, and set them aside.
- Continue to cook fennel and tea, raising heat to high. Bring to a hard boil. After about 5 minutes, remove fennel using slotted spoon, and set aside. Continue to boil the tea until it has reduced to about 3/4 C of thick syrup, about 10-15 minutes.
- Serve warm with tea syrup drizzled over pears and fennel.