We are in the thick of winter, and the air is filled with anticipation and festivity. The year is coming to an end, but before that, there’s much celebrating to do. Indulging in extravagant food and drink is the norm in December. While there are the classics that cannot be missed, there are ways to change things up. One way to add zing to your holiday table is to put that ubiquitous ingredient in your pantry, tea, to good use. You will be hard-pressed to find a more versatile ingredient than tea, that will work spectacularly well with drinks and foods – both savoury and sweet.

As a marinade

Tea has a strong, yet non-intrusive flavour that makes it an excellent addition to marinades. You can use this for marinating fish, meats or even tofu. This time of year, a roast chicken is a crowd pleaser, so the next time you’re having friends over for a roast dinner, consider steeping some spice-infused black tea in your marinade to make it extra special.

If you’re cooking for vegetarians, swap the chicken for tofu, but use a similar marinade. Roast vegetables that have been tossed with a honey-butter sauce with just a hint of tea will make for an excellent side.

In cakes and cookies

This is the easiest way to get started on your baking-with-tea journey. And there is no better season for this than the holidays. A tea cake that has been dressed up with a whipped cream frosting gets an edge when infused with an unusual tea or tisane. Choose one that will provide a burst of flavour, like a blueberry and aronia green tea. Cookies that are typically associated with Christmas, like gingerbread, get a sophisticated twist when tea is added with the usual spices. Meringues infused with mint-flavoured green tea will also make for a beautiful addition to any party.

Steeped in broth for soups and risotto

If there is one food group that is the star of the winter months, it is soup. As any soup connoisseur will tell you, the secret to a good soup is an exceptional broth. The more flavours that are layered into a broth, the more complex-flavoured and delicious the soup will be. For an Asian soup, steep the broth with a citrus tisane that will provide a burst of flavour and a hint of sweetness. Similarly, the key to a good risotto also lies in using a well-made broth. For a risotto, however, a subtler tea would be the best choice. A white tea that has delicate floral notes will work wonderfully to elevate a rich creamy risotto.

The possibilities of cooking and baking with tea are endless. Once you start thinking of tea as an ingredient to add depth and complexity to a dish, you’ll find yourself reaching for your tea collection when you’re in the kitchen whipping up something delicious — not just when you’re in the mood for a cup of tea.