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Since I’m feeling like a bit of a pickled tea leaf evangelist these days, I thought I’d cover this topic in an early post. Start with the quiz if you like, or read the rest of this post first and then loop back to take it.
If you haven’t tried pickled or fermented tea leaves– to eat, that is, not to drink– then do yourself a favor and learn a bit about them. By the end of this post I hope you’ll be able to discuss the cuisine which popularly uses tea leaves, identify the flavor profiles of this unique ingredient, be able to quick-pickle your own tea leaves, and identify opportunities to use this ingredient in your own cooking.
Tea leaves can be used in marvelously versatile ways, when cooking. The use of prepared tea, or of smoking tea to infuse foods, could be posts of their own (in fact, I’m sure I’ll get around to that shortly), but for now let’s stick with tea leaves of the pickled or fermented type. Pickled, they provide a slight pungency, a hint of floral earthiness, but little astringency. Complex flavors dance on your tongue. I’ve integrated them into a sweet tart crust, (more on that below), but they’re traditionally used in savory snacks, salads, and dishes in the country of Myanmar (formerly Burma.)
Myanmar is situated smack dab in the middle of Southeast Asia, bordering India, China, and Thailand. It is primarily here that natively grown tea is fermented and popularly used in a variety of dishes and snacks. The resulting fermented/pickled tea is known as “lahpet.” Tea Leaf Salad is one of the banner uses of this ingredient. At Burma Superstar in San Francisco, they use pickled tea leaves, tomatoes, lettuce, dried shrimp, fried garlic, sesame seeds, peanuts, and split yellow peas to create an addictive, refreshing, savory, and crispy salad; a salad which manages to be simultaneously conventional and altogether unfamiliar, at least to a non-Burmese palate. Speaking of which, if you find yourself in San Francisco, head over to the Inner Richmond and check out this restaurant. Don’t be dismayed by the line of waiting devotees snaking out the front door and on down Clement St. They know how good the Burmese Tea Salad is. And soon, you will, too. http://www.burmasuperstar.com/
Here’s a recipe I developed for quick-pickled tea leaves. Yes, it’s this ridiculously easy. Quick-pickling, the method, just means pouring an acidic liquid, (such as vinegar, or lemon juice– usually hot, though that’s not always necessary), over an ingredient that will be receptive to drawing in that liquid (like, say, cucumbers, or tea leaves.) In this case, your tea leaves will be ready in 20 minutes or so. Although generally green tea leaves are chosen for fermentation in Myanmar, I used black tea in this recipe.
Quick-Pickled Tea Leaves
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
- 4 bags black tea
- 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Cut open tea bags and release tea leaves into small bowl.
- Add lemon juice and stir to coat leaves.
- Leave to sit for at least 20 minutes.
- Squeeze and drain leaves of excess juice.
Are you ready to try pickled tea leaves in a recipe of your own? Ideas include in a marinade, as a wet rub, worked into dough as I’ve done in my recipe, and I’m sure, countless others. (Leave me a comment and let me know what you’ve come up with!) You can quick-pickle as I’ve done in my recipe, or you can pick up some imported, authentic pickles tea leaves. This seems to be a good source: http://www.mumhouse.com/Eng_PickledTea.asp
Here’s the tart in which I used my own quick-pickled leaves: http://indieculinary.com/2011/05/23/hot-toddy-tart-with-a-tea-leaf-crust/