These Burmese tea leaf salad rolls are just about as unseasonal and un-Christmas-y as the current weather in the tri-state area (60 degrees and rainy). But cravings don’t exactly follow a holiday calendar, or any rules of logic in general.
I first discovered tea leaf salad in San Francisco at Burma Superstar, and since then I’ve been determined to recreate it on my own. Burma Superstar is one of a few restaurants in the Bay Area that serve Burmese food; on weekends, the lines snake down the street because it (infuriatingly) doesn’t take reservations. Places like this fall dangerously close to being overhyped, but having no real benchmark to compare their dishes to, I loved everything there. The tea leaf salad was one of the highlights, with a spectrum of flavors and textures completely unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. Tart but fragrant fermented tea leaves and savory dried shrimp were assertive against a backdrop of crisp romaine; cherry tomatoes brought in color and sweetness; crispy fried garlic, roasted split peas, and peanuts were incredibly satisfying to crunch on. Rarely does a salad appetizer hit you with this kind of intensity.
You can buy tea leaf salad kits online, and I’m sure they’re pretty decent – fermented, salted, and roasted ingredients travel well, and the less exotic ingredients are easily bought fresh. But the DIY version is quite easy and will leave you with extra tea leaves for those days you want to elevate your salads ASAP!
I’m off to Spain in a few hours – excited to return a few pounds heavier and with lots of recipe inspiration for 2016!
Burmese Tea Leaf Salad Rolls (makes 6-8, serves 2)
Ingredients: Fermented Tea Leaves
- 20 oz green tea leaves
- 1 cup water
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger
- 2 scallions
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 tbsp peanut oil
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp fish sauce
Bring water to a boil and add the tea leaves and vinegar. Lower the heat slightly and let simmer for 5 minutes. Bring the pot off the heat and let steep for another 5 minutes. Then drain the tea leaves into a lidded jar using a fine strainer, squeezing out all the excess moisture.
Crush and dice the garlic, ginger, and scallions finely. Food processor can be used if desired. Add in the lemon juice, peanut oil, sesame oil, and fish sauce and mix well. Pour this paste into the jar with the tea leaves and mix to combine. Set the jar aside in a cool dark place for 2 days, then refrigerate for up to a few months.
Ingredients: Salad rolls
- 4 cups shredded romaine lettuce
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 3 tbsp of dried shrimp
- 4 tbsp of roasted peanuts
- 3 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
- 4 tbsp of fried/roasted split peas or chickpeas
- 5 tbsp of fermented tea leaves
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- Peanut oil
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 6-8 dried rice paper wraps
Crisp up and fry the garlic: Heat peanut oil over medium high heat. When bubbles begin to form around a chopstick inserted, the oil is hot enough. Add the garlic slices and fry until lightly golden and a little crispy (very quick - less than a minute). If you burn the garlic, it will turn very bitter. Remove from oil and use paper towels to drain of the moisture. Reserve 2 tbsp of the garlicky oil.
Make the dressing: mix 2 tbsp of the garlicky oil, lime juice, and fish sauce; set aside.
Mix the salad: Traditionally, Burmese tea leaf salad is served as in the large 3rd picture block above. You can serve it this way, or make the wraps! If making wraps, just mix together all the salad ingredients (including crispy fried garlic) and drizzle with desired amount of dressing.
Assembly: Rehydrate rice paper wraps one at a time in a large bowl of lukewarm water. Dip in water around 5 times, until it is 85% rehydrated (you want a little firmness to remain otherwise it'll get soggy as it sits). Add the salad mix to the center of the wraps and roll up burrito-style.