It is rightly said that in Burma, people not only drink their tea but eat it too. The people have so much love for tea, and that itself reflects in this recipe we want to share with you today.

While there are so many interesting and authentic dishes in Burmese cuisine, this dish certainly deserves its own place. This special salad using tea leaves is a traditional delicacy in Burmese cuisine. 

There are two main ways to use it: fresh or fermented. The fresh tea leaves are sold as they are to make tea, and the fermented tea leaves are steamed and fermented for many months, so the bitterness is reduced. The traditional method of fermentation involves steaming the leaves, packing them into clay pots and pressing the leaves with something heavy. This process mellows down the flavour and improves the aftertaste of tea leaves. 

Photo: Tina Witherspoon

In Burma, fermented tea leaves are called ‘laphet’, and the tea leaf salad is called lahpet thoke. The word ‘thoke’ means salad. It consists of pickled tea leaves, roasted peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, fried garlic, dried shrimp, chopped tomato and beans. There are also many other ingredients, as you shall see in the recipe below. The leaves are fermented for two weeks or more, so that the flavour is enhanced. The ingredients are not mixed with each other, but rather kept separated in piles. This way, the guest can choose which toppings he or she would like to combine. 

It is not possible to find fermented tea leaves very easily outside Burma. But we don’t have to carry out the fermentation process the traditional way. In this recipe, we shall be using dried tea leaves instead of fermented tea leaves. We can steam the dried tea leaves. We’ll share the steps below. This process must be carried out two days in advance.

Here’s the recipe for the Burmese tea leaf salad -

INGREDIENTS

- 1 cup dried green tea leaves 

- 1/4 cup green onions, chopped

- 1/2 cup cabbage, chopped 

- 1-2 green chillis, chopped

- 1 tablespoon garlic paste

- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

- 1 tablespoon ginger paste

- 1 tablespoon lemon juice 

- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, crushed 

- 2 tablespoons peanuts, chopped 

- 3 tablespoons soybeans, crushed 

- 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

- 2 tablespoons dried shrimp (optional) 

- 1 teaspoon fish sauce

- A pinch of salt  

METHOD

- Pour 3 cups of hot water on the dried tea leaves. 

- After 10 minutes, drain the water. 

- Make sure that all the water has been removed. 

- Place the tea leaves in lukewarm water. Drain. 

- Repeat the rinsing and draining out process thrice. 

- Now put the leaves in cold water for 1 night. 

- The next morning, remove excess water.

- In a jar, add the leaves and mix with cabbage, cilantro, green onions, chillis, ginger, garlic, salt and lemon juice. 

- Cover the jar tightly. 

- Store it in a dark place for one more day. 

- Use these tea leaves in the salad the next day. 

- To make the salad, dry-roast sesame seeds in a skillet until they turn golden. 

- Also dry-roast other ingredients such as peanuts, soybeans and pumpkin seeds. 

- To arrange the salad, place the fermented tea leaves on one side and top with fish sauce. 

- Then arrange the other ingredients in small piles along the leaves. 

- Adjust salt if needed. 

- Serve.

We hope that you’ll enjoy this recipe!