I grew up living with 22 people in Yangon. Yes, living with twenty-freaking-two people under the same roof definitely made me feel like I was at a thanksgiving dinner, inundated with laughs, chatter, screams and shouts, every day. Who needs privacy and alone time when you are adapted to go through the everyday routine of fighting with your brother for an extra-inch on a shared wooden bed? Thus, I attribute my loud and sometimes obnoxious personality and tendency to cut off people’s conversation to my family members. At the same time, the ability of these 22 people to love me unapologetically not only sways me to do the same to those around me but also turns me into a 5’ 7” Asian guy with 6’-blonde-white-guy self-esteem.
One of my absolute favorite chunks of the day while growing up in Yangon was from 7pm to 9pm, also the noisiest 2 hours of the day. The dinner was just finished, and all of us would sit in the main living room, patiently waiting for a one-a-day-episode of foreign drama series (You see, I was even in the training for self-discipline to actually wait for pleasure. Kids these days with Netflix will never understand this). My eldest aunt would make a big pile of pickled tealeaves salad or laphet thote (sometimes, with more rice) for an after-dinner snack. The salad, despite eaten after a meal, is extremely bold – it has sharp sourness from pickling and lime, spiciness from pounded chili, pungent saltiness from fish sauce, simultaneous mellow and crunchy note from fried garlic pieces. It felt like there is a San Francisco pride parade running around in my mouth. Despite just having eaten, all of us would congregate around the salad bowl, and devour in a flash. Waiting in the line? No way, get out of here.
Here in the United States, sometimes I have this almost-pregnancy craving for pickled tea leaves. But, because it is really hard to get a hold of fresh as well as pickled tea leaves, I scoured through cook books with an extreme optimism to make pickled tea leaves from dried counter parts. The recipe from Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid comes as a good compromise. As I unveiled the bowl after 4-day of pickling process, the instantaneous whip of assertive tealeaves hit my nostrils. I smiled silently, knowing that I was on the right track to the memory lane. I excused myself from people to savor nostalgia, but I quickly realize that I really don’t miss my nightly-fight with my brother for an inch of bed space.
- 1 cup of dried green tea leaves (I used this brand)
- 1 cup of finely chopped cabbage
- 1 cup of finely chopped cilantro and scallions
- 2 tablespoons of pounded ginger
- 2 tablespoons of pounded garlic
- ½ tablespoon of pounded Thai chili (optional)
- Zest of 2 lime
- Juice of 1 ½ lime
- I first soaked the dried green tea leaves in hot water for ten minutes until the leaves became fully bloomed.
- I then discarded the liquid, added lukewarm water until I generously covered all the tealeaves, and pressed on the leaves thoroughly in an attempt to squeeze out bitter juices. I repeated this step two more times.
- I discarded the liquid again. This time, I added cold water, and let the leaves soak for at least 2 hours (or overnight).
- I drained out excess liquid thoroughly by squeezing the leaves one handful at a time. Then, I finely chopped the leaves. You are encouraged to use food processor until the leaves turn into almost jade-green paste. But, I broke my food processor, so I went manual.
- I used a mortar and pestle to pound my ginger and garlic cloves, until they turn into a chunky paste.
- Then, I mixed the drained tealeaves with chopped cabbage, cilantro, scallions, along with pounded ginger and garlic. Also, I have to say I added pounded Thai chili to satisfy my spicy palate. Of course, this step is optional.
- Finally, I sprinkled over lime zest and poured in lime juice, followed by a generous mixing.
- I placed the mixture in a big metal bowl and double-wrap with kitchen plastic to calm my paranoia, and allowed it to pickle for four days.
- After waiting eagerly for 4 days, I finished off the pickling by adding 1 cup of vegetable oil. This step, although admittedly excessive, is necessary to prevent the tealeaves from molding and more importantly, to add the indulgent smooth texture to the leaves.
How to assemble
- About ¾ cup of pickled tea
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
- 3 tablespoons of roasted peanuts
- 1 tablespoons of fried garlic (store-bought or home-made)
- 1 tablespoon of fried yellow split peas or crunchy chickpeas
- ½ cup of thin tomato wedges
- 2 tablespoon of dried shrimp soaked in water for 10 minutes and drained (optional)
- 1 cup of shredded green cabbage
- 1 tablespoon of fresh lime juice (adjust to your own taste)
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of fish sauce
- Drizzle of garlic oil
- Mix everything together thoroughly.
- Drizzle with garlic oil in the end to finish.