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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tibetan Style Chai Tea

+ SPUDS on TastyKitchen.com:

Did it rain where you were yesterday? It did here, and it poured.

I can't say I minded much, though. A rainy, sleepy Saturday was exactly what I needed. The Friday finale at work wasn't as bright and uplifting as I had hoped it would be. Responsibilities are piling up, as they seem to do in the government, with much grumbling and nit-picking while the clock ticks. I did some grumbling too, but it came in the form of despondent sighing and much cleaning of messy desk drawers instead of outright apathy. I wonder, does that make me more or less disgruntled than my co-workers?

Regardless, I didn't step out of the house once all Saturday. I even skipped stretch class and only got gussied up in my sweat pants and t-shirt because we had a visitor a little after lunchtime. It was the sort of Saturday when you watch an entire season of your favorite Showtime drama, order sushi for takeout (and have your very thoughtful boyfriend pick it up) and drink three or four cups of tea just because cradling something warm and aromatic is the perfect, if not picturesque, way to spend your cozy day off. It is also the type of Saturday a bandita like me spends trolling food blogs. I've been a closet Tasty-Kitchen follower for some time, but on Saturday I made it official. See that badge on the right-hand side of the page? Give that a click. SPUDS is very excited to, finally, be a part of it. We even think the Pioneer Woman herself gave our recipe a peek - if even if it was just to make sure we weren't posting any lewd advertisements instead of a delicious, easy cake recipe. But that counts, right?

Even before the weather changed - Friday was a beautiful, breezy sixty-something with sun - I had it in my mind to make this chai for the weekend. I got the recipe form a yoga instructor who, in turn, got it from a fellow yogini who begged it from a very zen and generous soul in the Himalayas. I'm awfully glad that they did. I have always been in love with chai - it is probably my favorite thing on the lunch buffet at Indian restaurants. The warm, milky sweetness and aromatic spices make it the perfect accompaniment to anything from a bad book review to a wedge of cake. I've wanted to make it at home since I started spending a fortune on watered down versions at cafes the country over. But, I've never found a recipe I quite liked or that didn't seem like it would cost a fortune to make. There is a trick to making good chai at home: not going broke on the ingredients.

In the past I have always been leery of "difficult" international recipes because of the pricey ingredients. After all, most chain grocery stores have limited stores of expensive exotic spices likes cardamom seeds. Take cinnamon sticks, for example. In our local Safeway a regular jar (5-6 sticks) was $5.99. But, if you go to your local Indian or Asian grocery you can buy double the product for about half the price. If you stop to think about it, this makes perfect sense. Chai tea, for example, is something every family makes. Therefor, any grocer with a savy business sense would keep these popular ingredients well-stocked and reasonably priced. Isn't it the same way with spaghetti sauce? And since most bigger cities have one or two International markets you're bound to find what you're looking for. So the next time you're trying your hand at making Miso or paella or even this chai tea (highly recommended) stop in at your local international market before heading to your normal grocer to pick up the more exotic items called for in your dish. Your wallet will be very glad you did.

Before I go off on a tangent about how delicious, and easy, this recipe is let me talk a moment about the ingredients. I used a Darjeeling tea; although, the recipe mentioned Orange Pekoe as an alternative. A cup of Darjeeling without any accompaniment might be a little too strong for most casual tea drinkers, but paired with the barely sweet milk and warm spice it provides the perfectly balanced tea flavor. Therefor, I highly recommend it. Dried spices like powdered ginger should not be substituted. For me, the fresh ginger is the real star of this chai because it provides a spiciness that is incomparable to the powdered version. Fresh ginger is sold, almost universally, in the produce section of your grocery store. You can peel the root or leave the peel on in which case I would wash it to remove any dirt. You can even freeze it if you're afraid you won't find a stir-fry or quick bread to use it in before it goes bad. But, once you start using it you really will have a hard time putting it down. Lastly, the milk. I used a skim milk because that is what we had available, but feel free to use a whole milk or even a soy milk if you're into that. Regardless of whether your version is non-fat, "skinny" or soy it beats the stuff in that green and white paper cup - you have my word on that.

Notes: This tea is so soothing and warming it is bound to dismiss the rigors of even the most vigorous of days at your desk. I reduced the amount of sugar used from the original recipe because I am not one for overly sweet tea. But, feel free to add a few teaspoons more if you like -the original recipe calls for 1/2 cup. Let the milk cool before storing in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Warm gently before enjoying.

Tibetan-Style Chai Tea pictured here with a Maple Snack cake. Also try Cinnamon Raisin Biscotti.

Tibetan-Style Chai Tea
A (slight) variation on a recipe from Lacy

5 cups water
3-4" piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and cut into coins
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
3 cinnamon sticks
4 Darjeeling tea bags
4 cups milk, warmed
1/4 cup sugar

1. Bring the water, ginger, cardamom seeds, cinnamon sticks and tea bags to a boil in a large pot.
2. Reduce the temperature and let the mixture simmer for 7-10 minutes. The longer you let it simmer the stronger the tea flavor will be.
3. Warm the milk in the microwave, 30 seconds to one minute. Remove the tea bags from the pot.
4. Add the milk and sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat up and bring the tea mixture to a boil.
5. Reduce the heat and let the chai tea simmer for another 5 minutes. Strain the spices out and serve warm.

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