Burmese Tea Leaf Salad: A Delightful Mix of Flavors and Textures

If you were in Myanmar and had a friend visit you, what snack would you offer them? The answer is Lahpet Thoke, a traditional Burmese tea leaf salad. Lahpet means “green tea,” and thoke means “salad,” and this dish is a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. Soft, pickled tea leaves, crispy roasted peanuts, crunchy beans, toasted sesame seeds, fried garlic, and, if you prefer, dried shrimp and chopped tomatoes. The beauty of this salad is that each ingredient is served separately, allowing guests to create their own personalized combination with each handful. It’s a perfectly democratic way to settle disputes and ensure everyone is satisfied in the end.

In Burmese culture, Lahpet is highly valued. When tea leaves are harvested, the best ones are set aside for fermenting, while the rest are dried and processed for drinking tea. The freshly harvested leaves are steamed briefly and then packed into bamboo vats. These vats are then placed in pits and pressed with heavy weights to encourage the fermentation process. In Burma, you can easily find packages of prepared Lahpet Thoke ingredients, including the fermented tea leaves. However, finding fermented tea leaves outside of Burma or northern Thailand can be quite challenging. But worry not, you can still make a delicious version of this salad using dried green tea leaves. Arbor Teas’ Organic Makaibari Estate Darjeeling Green Tea is a great substitute. Its lemony, vegetal, and earthy qualities perfectly complement the other ingredients in the salad. For more flavor experimentation, Arbor Teas also offers an Organic Darjeeling 1st Flush Black Tea from the same estate, which has a dry and citrusy taste despite being oxidized during processing.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup organic dried green tea leaves, loosely packed
  • 1 cup kale, green cabbage, or Napa cabbage, finely chopped or shredded
  • ½ cup finely chopped cilantro, loosely packed
  • ½ cup green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garlic paste
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger root
  • 2 green chilies, minced (optional)
  • Juice squeezed fresh from one lime
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1 head garlic, all cloves thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
  • 3 tablespoons roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons roasted soybeans, lightly crushed
  • 3 tablespoons roasted pumpkin seeds
  • ½ cup thin tomato wedges (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons dried shrimp, soaked in water for 10 minutes and drained (optional)
  • Reserved garlic oil (see below)
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • Fresh lime slices
  • Pinch of salt

Directions

Fermenting the Tea Leaves

  1. Pour 4 cups of hot water over the dried tea leaves, stir, and let them soak until they have expanded and become soft, approximately 10 minutes.
  2. Drain the leaves, remove any tough bits, and squeeze out any remaining liquid.
  3. Place the tea leaves in lukewarm water and gently mash them with your hands.
  4. Drain and squeeze out any excess liquid. Repeat this rinsing process once more.
  5. Finally, add cold water and let the leaves soak for 1 hour or overnight. This longer soak helps remove the strongest tart and bitter edge of the tea.
  6. Drain the leaves, squeeze out excess water, and discard any remaining tough bits.
  7. Finely chop the leaves and mix them together with the kale, cilantro, green onions, ginger, garlic paste, salt, and lime juice. For an extra kick, add minced green chilies.
  8. Cover the dish tightly and allow it to ferment for two days in a dark and cool space, such as a pantry.
  9. After two days, place the container in the refrigerator. Your fermented tea leaves are now ready to serve!
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Serving the Salad

  1. Set a wide skillet over medium heat and add the sesame seeds. Toast them until they are golden, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. This will take a few minutes, and you will start to smell their toasting aroma.
  2. Transfer the sesame seeds to a plate and let them cool completely.
  3. Heat the peanut oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sliced garlic and fry until golden, approximately 5 minutes.
  4. Remove the garlic from the oil and set it aside on a plate to crisp up. Save the garlic-flavored oil for the final dressing.
  5. Serve the salad unmixed, arranging small piles of each ingredient on a platter.
  6. Toss the fermented tea leaves with the reserved garlic oil, a few splashes of fish sauce, and fresh lime juice to add an extra sour note. Season with a generous pinch of salt and mix well.
  7. Place the leaves in a neat pile in the center of the other crunchy mix-ins.
  8. Serve with fresh lime slices and enjoy!

Recipe by: Olivia May, Adapted from Burma: Rivers of Flavor

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Burmese Tea Leaf Salad