Everything you wanted to know about cooking with chai

Sweet, creamy, and full of warm spices, chai is a pure comfort pick-me-up and I try to savor a cup whenever possible. You may be wondering why I'm saying "chai" and not "chai tea" as you may assume I would, so let me share some chai knowledge with you. Chai is the Hindi word for "tea," therefore saying "chai tea" would be redundant. And, if you really want to sound like a tea connoisseur, you could use the phrase "masala chai" which, when translated, means "tea with spices." According to The Tea Detective, masala chai must contain the following four ingredients to be authentic: strong black tea, milk and sweetener of your choosing, and spices including cardamom, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, and fennel.

As with most Eastern and ayurvedic remedies, chai can also aide in improving digestion, enhance the immune system, fight inflammation and has antioxidant properties. Now that you know the benefits of chai, read on to learn how you can incorporate the tea as well as it's flavor profiles into your everyday cooking.

Chai-spiced baked good are delicious

Baked goods and chai spices are a no-brainer. The same aromatics, like cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger are staples in the pantries of bakers everywhere. For a ramped-up version on a classic pound cake, this recipe is just what you need. Sweetened with both honey and brown sugar, the flavor really pops with the addition of clove and coriander.

Looking to spice up breakfast? Baked by an Introvert combines the savory notes of chai with the juicy deliciousness of pear in their chai pear scones. Topped with a cinnamon-spiked glaze, they're the perfect breakfast treat.

Even paleo and gluten-free eaters need their chai fix and the paleo chai spiced cookies from Texanerin hit all the right notes. They may be grain-free, gluten-free and dairy-free but they're certainly not taste-free! And these masala chai shortbread cookies from Serious Eats bring a whole new dimension to your cookie jar. What I love about these cookies is that they not only contain the aromatic spices, but also tea for a true chai flavor profile.

You can make chai concentrate

Sometimes you just can't make a fresh batch of chai at the drop of the hat and that's where this chai concentrate from The Prairie Homestead comes in. The recipe makes one quart of concentrate, enough to last a few weeks in the refrigerator (If it sticks around that long!). In my opinion the best part of this recipe is that it gives you the flexibility to enjoy your beverage hot or cold — just add milk!

You can make a dry mix, too

I won't lie and say this recipe for a chai tea mix is authentic, it even breaks the naming rule, but, it is authentically American. If you stored it in a little rectangular tin, you'd swear you were in an international beverage commercial from the 1980s. For this quick and dirty recipe, traditional chai spices are combined with dry milk, instant tea and powdered creamer for a shelf-stable mix ready for a quick fix whenever the mood strikes you.

Chai flavors work in savory recipes

Although the flavor components of chai lend themselves to sweet dishes, the aromatic flavors can also be utilized in main dishes. How about curried pork with chai rice? Brown rice is spiced with orange and chai, and served with curry powder-dusted pork chops. It's an unexpected choice with maximum flavor.

Chicken breasts are the blank canvas of the kitchen and nothing brings them to life more than Food & Wine's recipe for chai-spiced chicken breasts. Finished with lime and cilantro and pair it with a crisp Chardonnay to really impress.

Lamb may not be a go-to for you but after trying these lamb chops with chai-spiced strawberry rhubarb compote, it just might be. The sauce would be equally delicious on other meats or even veggies.

Chai ice cream makes an unforgettable dessert

I scream you scream, we all scream for chai ice cream. And not just ice cream, but chai ice cream sandwiches which are just a decadent excuse to eat ice cream with your hands. Jeran of Oleander + Palm created a very basic ice cream base and spiced it up with chai mix from Trader Joe's. To create the sandwiches, she used the ginger thin cookies (also at TJ's) for a simply stunning treat that you can make even in the sweltering heat of summer.

Can't handle dairy? No fear here. Beth at Tasty Yummies has created a chai-spiced coconut fig popsicle. Tea and spices are simmered in coconut milk to create the base and slices of fresh figs take these pops over the top. The best part? Not only are they handheld, but they're also vegan!

Tea-smoked almonds are surprisingly flavorful

The first, and only, time I had tea-smoked almonds was when I took a cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education. We enjoyed them as a precursor to dinner and I couldn't get over how much flavor the almonds had absorbed. Using the knowledge I learned in their class, Andrea Tutunjian and Cara Tannenbaum coauthored In a Nutshell and share their recipe for tea-smoked almonds. They take a little bit of skill, but are so worth the trouble that you'll be making another batch in no time.

Chai-spiced rice pudding is a must-try

Kheer is the name for rice pudding found in India where it is often served at weddings. Tipu's Chai, a company from Montana, has created a recipe incorporating their chai into the traditional recipe for kheer. Studded with golden raisins and chopped almonds or pistachios this delicacy can be served warm, and is equally delicious cold.

There are tea variations

Although it has some similarities to a traditional chai infusion, this recipe for Kashmiri pink tea from My Tamarind Kitchen is anything but ordinary. Also known as "noon tea" or "salt chai" the first thing you'll notice about it is its shocking pink color and adornment of ground pistachios and almonds. It starts with Kashmiri tea or green tea leaves, cardamom and milk, but there's no sugar. As the name suggests, this tea is seasoned with salt and is guaranteed to keep you warm during a cold winter, be it in Chicago or Kasmir.

Another variation on traditional chai is a recipe for mugi-chai from La Fuji Mama. For this version, the traditional black tea is swapped for a Japanese roasted barley tea, called mugicha, and achieves the same comforting properties as the original.

Chai lattes are great alternative to tea

It's only fitting that in a list of chai recipes, I include chai lattes, the quintessential beverage of any coffee or tea house. It's the drink you order when it's too late for coffee, and you want to be a little fancy. No need to wait in line hoping a barista makes it right, go ahead and make your own. This recipe from Bal Arneson includes cloves and two different types of cardamom pods for a true depth of flavor.

Finally, why not fight inflammation while enjoying your next chai latte? Tori Avey's recipe starts with a chai concentrate containing turmeric, as well as coriander and black pepper that she finishes with coconut (or regular) milk in an immersion blender for maximum frothiness.