Tea in Burma is a crazy big deal. Tea shops in Burma act sort of like coffee shops do here: places where people can mingle and mix and be. Big Buddha was very particular about the way I made his tea, but I’ll talk more about that on another day.
According to this nifty site, the Burmese not only drink their tea, but eat the fermented leaves, use them as flavorings, and chew them for a stimulant effect. Talk about being all MacGyver about it.
Laphet Thoke, or tea-leaf salad, is considered by many to the Burma’s national dish. Since I’m all about national dishes, I had to make it. Plus, I ate some last fall at Burma Superstar in San Francisco and knew it was worth the effort. Though I don’t remember ever eating it as a kid, Mama Buddha said that Auntie May used to make it all the time. I imagine she brought the fermented tea leaves back from her travels back to the motherland since I’ve discovered in my shopping adventures that fermented tea leaves are near impossible to find (I’m guessing anywhere outside Burma in general, not just Chicago).
Not having a trip to Burma penciled in for the near future, and having failed in my attempts to secure tea leaves of any sort at the Asian grocer or elsewhere, I feared I’d have to chalk this national dish up as a loss. I tried one last ditch effort place to find them, and it was there that I had success.
Teavana is a specialty tea shop that just happens to be close to my job. I’d never been in before- I’m not really a tea snob, and personally prefer good ole Tetley’s British Blend black tea. However, I figured if ANYONE had a whole tea leaves, I’d be them. I was not disappointed, and as I was flipping through one of the cookbooks in the store, the very salad I was planning to make was actually in the book- pointing me to the exact type of green tea that would make my recipe work.
Do you believe in fate? Deep question, and I really don’t, but if I did, I’d say that this tea and me were meant to be.
Like all of the dishes I’ve made so far whilst in Burma, this salad is not just leaves, but rather a hodgepodge of various random ingredients, textures and flavors, all of which meld perfectly to give a salad much more exciting than your average Cobb. The dressing is simple and to the point and actually optional. With all else that’s going on, you probably wouldn’t even miss it if you chose to leave it out.
Recipe from Burma: Rivers of Flavor
¾ cup organic, green tea leaves
2 TB toasted sesame seeds
2-3 TB roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
2-3 TB roasted soybeans
½ cup thinly sliced tomato wedges or halved grape tomatoes
2 TB dried shrimp, soaked in water for 10 minutes and then drained (optional)
1 cup shredded kale, steamed to soften
1-2 TB garlic oil** (directions below)
1-2 TB fresh lime juice
1 tsp fish sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1. About 6 hours before you’re ready to serve the salad, place the tea leaves in warm water and mash with your hands a little. Drain and squeeze out. Repeat, then add cold water and let stand for one hour (or as long as overnight). Drain, squeeze thoroughly to remove excess water and discard any tough bits. Chop finely.
2. Toss the rest of the ingredients together.
sesame seeds, soybeans, peanuts and dried shrimp
3. Mix together the dressing ingredients. Cover the salad with the dressing. Eat and be happy.
** To make the about 1/3 cup garlic oil: Add 1/3 cup thickly sliced garlic to about ½ cup peanut oil over medium high heat. Fry until golden, about five minutes. Remove the garlic and viola! You have garlic oil. Store for future use.**