1/2 cup loose green tea leaves
1 lemon, 1/2 juiced and 1/2 sliced into wedges for serving
12 cloves garlic, (8 sliced)
1/2 jalapeño pepper, diced and divided into two
1 tbsp. minced ginger
1 bunch green onions, diced and divided into two
1 large head of romaine lettuce, roughly chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1/4 cup sesame seeds, roasted (I used white and black)
1/2 cup green lentils (I used brown)
1 cup peanut oil (for frying)
Let’s begin with the fermented tea leaves. Note that you will have to do this step at least two days in advance, so plan ahead. The tea leaves are the heart and soul of this salad, so give this step a little extra attention.
Begin by sorting through your tea leaves and removing any twigs or stems so that you’re just left with the leaves. Pour hot, not quite boiling, water over the leaves and let them steep for 10 minutes. Drain the leaves and then soak them in cold water for 1 hour. Drain the leaves again in a fine mesh strainer, pressing down to remove as much liquid as possible.
Transfer your leaves to a food processor or blender with the juice of 1/2 a lemon, 4 cloves of garlic, half of your diced jalapeño pepper, half the green onions, and the 1 tbsp. of ginger. Blend until you have a thick, smooth pesto-like sauce. Transfer to an airtight container and store in a cool, dark
place like a pantry for 2 days. Refrigerate after two days.
Wait two days…Finally, it’s salad day!
Start by boiling your lentils as per the package directions. (Instead I used two kinds of lentils, French puy and brown lentils, soaked for 4 hours, drained well on paper towels.) Heat the peanut oil in a deep saucepan over high heat for frying. Carefully place your lentils in the hot oil – it should sizzle immediately, and bubble up a bit. Slowly stir the lentils for 4-5 minutes as they fry until they are nice and crispy, but not burnt. The best method to remove tiny lentils from the hot oil is to pour them through a strainer fitted over a metal or glass bowl. (The French lentils, after cooling, needed to be crisper, so I simply put them back in the pan and fried for a few more minutes.)
Next, fry your remaining 8 cloves of garlic in the same oil over medium heat. Just like the lentils, fry until golden and crispy, stirring often to ensure that it doesn’t burn. Remove garlic slices from the oil and set aside onto a bed of paper towels to cool and dry.
Time to assemble this masterpiece. Using a large shallow bowl or serving plate, build the base of your salad with the chopped romaine. Begin to add your toppings in individual clumps around the outer edge of the plate – the halved grape tomatoes, sesame seeds, roasted peanuts, fried garlic, diced green onions, diced jalapeños, lemon wedges, and the crunchy fried lentils. Next, add a generous scoop of your fermented tea leaves right in the middle of the salad – this is your centerpiece.
To complete the salad, squeeze the lemon wedges all over, and then using two forks, carefully begin to spread the tea leaves outwards, and then pull the other ingredients inwards, tossing until fully mixed.
Notes: Since the tea leaves must be prepared two days in advance, if you want to continue with other prep at the same time you can. The lentils can be fried, garlic fried and sesame seeds toasted, and then stored in glass jars. Then the day of all you need to do is assemble the parts.
The tea leaves will be more than you need for this salad. You can cut the recipe in half easily.
Notes and Instructions
Slightly adapted from Jason Faber at http://www.raiseatoast.ca/burmese-tea-leaf-salad-recipe-burma-superstar-san-francisco/
Photo credit: Jason Faber