Monday, January 20, 2014

Holy Basil Shortbread: an offering of love

I contribute recipes to the blog of my friends' tea company, Arbor TeasThis unusual shortbread cookie, which incorporates their new Tulsi tea, has a unique effect in kindling friendships since you'll want to share it with the people around you.
Holy basil (or Tulsi, which is sanskrit for “the incomparable one”) is an aromatic herb that, depending on the variety, grows either with green (Sri or Lakshmi tulasi) or purplish leaves (Krishna tulasi). This perennial shrub is traditionally cultivated for religious uses and as a medicinal in Ayurvedic practices. Tulsi is integral to the worship of the Hindu god Vishnu and his avatars Krishna, Rama, Hanuman, Balarama, and Garuda. This sacred plant is considered by some to be an incarnation of Lakshmi, Vishnu’s wife. Thus, a ceremonial offering of the leaves at the feet of Vishnu embodies an offering of love to the deity. A tea made from steeping the herb is also traditionally given to the dying to raise their departing souls to heaven.

In ayurvedic traditions, holy basil is considered a rasayana, which translates from sanskrit to “path of essence”, a kind of "elixir of life" that is believed to promote longevity. Taken as an herbal tea, dried powder, fresh leaf, or mixed with ghee (clarified butter), it is used as an adaptogen, promoting a healthy response to stressors. It also is thought to remedy common colds, headaches, stomach problems, and even heart problems due to its purported anti-inflammatory, antihyperlipidemic, antibacterial, and cardioprotective effects.

Because it is sacred, most Vaishnavite Hindus do not encourage the use of holy basil in culinary preparations (although Tulsi leaves offered to Lord Vishnu may be eaten raw by themselves). Even uprooting or cutting a branch from a living Tulsi plant is considered to be quite offensive, according to Hare Krishna followers. That being said, if you’re not adverse to the inauspicious, incorporating holy basil into recipes can impart a complexity of aroma and taste. Tulsi leaves are comprised of a long list of beneficial phytonutrients that lend both healing and aromatic (flavor) attributes. These include oleanolic acid (birch), ursolic acid (apple peels), rosmarinic acid (rosemary), eugenol (clove), carvacrol (oregano), linalool (floral spice), and β-caryophyllene (black pepper spice). Here I use Arbor Tea’s Organic Holy Basil Tulsi (which is the Krishna purple-leaved variety) in a special shortbread recipe. The dried Tulsi leaves are toasted to intensify the flavor of the essential oils before being mixed into the butter-laden dough. Once baked, a layer of tempered chocolate is poured over the cooling shortbread, creating an incomparable cookie meant to be offered devotedly to your beloved.

Holy Basil Shortbread

  • ¼ cup plus 1 TBS sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Arbor Tea’s Organic Holy Basil Tulsi loose leaf tea
  • 1¼ cups flour
  • ¼  cup powdered sugar
  • ¼  teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 2 teaspoons milk
  • ½  cup unsalted butter
  • 8 oz chocolate, chopped into pieces for tempering

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Lightly butter shortbread mold and sprinkle with 1 TBS of sugar.
  2. Heat a small pan over medium heat. When pan is hot, add tulsi leaves, and shake pan to distribute tea into a single layer. Toast for about 2 minutes, until tea is fragrant but not darkened. Depending on your leaves, this may happen much more quickly; watch it carefully. When leaves are fragrant, transfer them to a bowl and let cool for a couple minutes.
  1. Combine the remaining sugar and toasted tulsi leaves in the bowl of a food processor and pulse for about 2 minutes, until smooth. Add the powdered sugar, flour, and salt to the bowl and pulse a few times to combine. Then add the milk, vanilla, and butter and pulse several times more, until a dough forms.
  2. Turn dough onto into shortbread mold and press into an even thickness. Use a fork to prick the dough all over.
  3. Bake the shortbread until it is a light golden brown, about 35 minutes.
  4. Melt chocolate and bring to proper temper (see instructions below). Pour on top of baked shortbread and allow to cool completely before cutting into squares. 

    Makes 9 2”x 2” cookies.

Tempering chocolate

  1. Set ⅓ of the chocolate aside. This will be the “seed” chocolate needed in the second step. Place the remaining chocolate in a clean, dry bowl over a simmering double boiler. Insert a thermometer and heat the chocolate to 115°F. Do not allow the temperature to rise over 120°F, which will burn the chocolate making it unusable.
  2. Once the chocolate melts to 115°F, remove the bowl from the heat (don’t allow condensation to enter the bowl, which can cause seizing if water comes into contact with chocolate). Add the remaining ⅓ seed chocolate. Stir very vigorously until the thermometer reads 80°F. As the chocolate cools it will change in thickness and texture.
  3. Once it reaches 80°F, place the bowl back over the simmering double broiler briefly and rewarm to 88-91°F. Remove any seed chocolate that remains and pour over the shortbread. Allow to cool.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Burmese Tea Leaf Salad ... Lahpet Thoke (pronounced “la-pay toe”)

I contribute recipes to the blog of my friends' tea company, Arbor TeasHere I share the process of fermenting tea leaves to create a very special salad that is highly important in the culture of Burma. 

If you lived in Myanmar and a friend popped in to visit, this is the snack you’d serve. Laphet, which means “green tea”, and thoke, which means “salad”, is an eclectic mix of flavors and textures that includes soft, astringent tea leaves, crisp, roasted peanuts and other crunchy beans, toasted sesame seeds, fried garlic and, if you like, dried shrimp and chopped tomato. It’s meant to be served with all the ingredients in separate piles so that guests can pick out a combination to their own preference each time they grab a handful. While nowadays the salad is typically served as a final course at the end of a meal, historically lahpet was an ancient symbolic peace offering that was exchanged and consumed after settling a dispute between warring kingdoms. Letting each person customize his or her salad toppings, sounds like a perfectly democratic way to stop an argument! That way everyone is at least somewhat satisfied in the end. 

Lahpet is so important to the culture that when tea leaves are harvested, the best of the crop is set aside for fermenting, while the rest is dried and processed for drinking tea. The freshly harvested tea leaves are briefly steamed, then packed into bamboo vats and set in pits, pressed by heavy weights to encourage fermentation. Packages of prepared laphet thoke ingredients—the tea leaves and all the other mix ins—are readily sold in Burma. Finding fermented tea leaves outside Burma and northern Thailand, however, isn’t very easy, save for a few online companies. The other option is to try fermenting the leaves yourself. Since most likely you won’t have access to fresh tea leaves, dried green tea leaves make a perfectly acceptable substitute. In this recipe I used Arbor Teas’ organic Makaibari Estate Darjeeling Green Tea. It has lemony, vegetal and earthy qualities that align well with the other ingredients in the salad. If you’d like to play around with flavors, Arbor Teas also offers an organic Darjeeling 1st Flush Black Tea from the same estate. Although the leaves are oxidized during processing, they retain many of the green tea characteristics in their flavor profile, tasting very dry and citrusy. Also, because the leaves were harvested when young, they are smaller and potentially easier to chew. And if price point is not your first concern, the organic Makaibari Estate Silver Tips White Tea, which offers a very delicate floral complexity, might be even more similar to “fresh leaves” since it is barely manipulated during the manufacture process. 

Burmese Tea Leaf Salad

(Adapted from Burma: Rivers of Flavor) 

Serves 6 as a snack 

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 

Fermenting the tea leaves 

Pour 4 cups of hot water over the dried tea leaves, stir, and let soak until the leaves have expanded and are quite soft, about 10 minutes. Then drain, pick through the leaves, and discard any tough bits. Squeeze out any remaining liquid from the tea leaves as thoroughly as possible. Next place the tea leaves in lukewarm water and mash with your hands a little. Drain and squeeze out extra liquid. Repeat this rinse once more, then add cold water and let stand for 1 hour (or as long as overnight). This longer soak helps to remove the strongest, tart and bitter edge of the tea. Drain, squeeze thoroughly to remove excess water, and discard any remaining tough bits. Chop the leaves finely and mix together with about 1 cup finely chopped kale, 1 loosely packed cup mixed chopped cilantro and scallion greens, 2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger, 1 tablespoon of garlic paste, a generous pinch of salt, and the juice of 1 lime. For an extra kick include 2 minced green chilies. Cover the dish tightly and allow it to ferment, untouched, for two days in a dark, cool space, like a pantry. After two days, place the container in the refrigerator. It's now ready to serve! 

Serving the salad 

When ready to serve, set a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the sesame seeds and let them heat, shaking the skillet from time to time to ensure that they aren’t scorching. You will start to smell them toasting after a few minutes. Keep stirring so they don’t scorch, and cook for another minute or two, until they are golden. Transfer to a dinner plate and let cool completely. Next, heat the peanut oil over medium-high heat, add the sliced garlic, reduce the heat to medium and fry until just golden, about 5 minutes. Lift the garlic out of the oil with a slotted utensil and set aside on a plate to crisp up. Save the oil, now flavored with garlic, to use in the final dressing. Serve the salad unmixed, arranging small piles of all the ingredients on a platter. Toss the fermented tea leaves with the reserved garlic oil, a few splashes of fish sauce, and fresh squeezed lime juice to give an extra sour note. Add a generous pinch of salt, mix again, taste and adjust other seasonings if needed. Place the leaves in a neat pile in the center of the other crunchy mix-ins.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Warming Matcha Smoothie & Thai-Tea Cream Biscuits

I contribute recipes to the blog of my friends' tea company, Arbor Teas. Here are two breakfast recipes that use their teas to begin your morning on a good note.  

I agree. A warm smoothie doesn’t sound all that appetizing to me either. But after a long, chilly winter of drinking cold smoothies, a hot one actually makes a lot of sense. Think drinkable oatmeal, fortified with energy and nutrients, including Arbor Teas' organic matcha green tea. Matcha provides a welcome dose of antioxidants, L-theanine--an amino acid proven to promote relaxation, chlorophyll--a powerful detoxifier, Vitamins C and A, selenium, zinc, chromium, and magnesium. All of this makes for a healthy, natural energy boost and a delicious start to your day.

Warming Matcha Smoothie

Makes about 2½ cups
1 very ripe banana
1¼ cups almond milk, steaming hot
4 TBS old fashioned oats
2 TBS blueberries, fresh or frozen
½ TBS coconut butter (try making your own)
½ TBS whey powder
¾ tsp organic matcha green tea, or more to taste
1 Medjool Date, seed removed

Blend all ingredients together at once, until smooth.
Enjoy straightaway.

Also, you might like to pair it with these...

Thai-Tea Cream Biscuits

You may call this a scone, but I prefer cream biscuit. It’s on the softer (less dense) side of the biscuit-to-scone continuum, especially if you take care to use the gentlest mixing possible. The lovely Thai mango scone I had as part of an impressively creative full-service tea at Craftsman & Wolves, a contemporary pâtisserie in San Francisco’s Mission District, inspired this attempt at replication. In addition to mango, I added Arbor Teas’ Organic Thai Iced Tea, unsteeped. Since it’s a mix of black tea, vanilla bean, cardamom, and anise seeds, when used dry in baking, the spices in the Thai tea toast in the oven, elevating their flavor quite favorably. I especially liked the subtle, fragrant black licorice taste from the anise. Green curry adds an usual twist that plays nicely against both the toasted spices and the slight sweetness of the biscuit.

makes about 8-10 biscuits

2¼ cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon (15 grams) baking powder
¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (5 grams) organic loose Thai tea leaves
½ teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons (85 grams) cold, unsalted butter
½ cup chopped mango (dried, fresh or frozen)
½ cup (50 grams) shredded coconut
1 tablespoon (19 grams) green curry paste
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In bowl of a food processor, briefly pulse flour, baking powder,sugar, Thai tea, and salt to even distribute. Add the butter to the flour mixture, and pulse several more times until the mixture resembles a crumbly texture with tiny pea-sized bits of butter. Next add the mango and coconut, and pulse to distribute. Dump this dry mixture into a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the green curry paste into the heavy cream to create a slurry, then gently fold this into the dry mix with the spatula.  Lightly knead the dough just once or twice in the bowl, to bind all the ingredients in  one large mass. It’s important that the dough is not overworked, so don't worry about getting it completely mixed. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface. Using your hands, gently press the dough out to a ¾-inch thickness. Cut 2½-inch circles with a floured biscuit cutter or the top edge of a drinking glass. Place the biscuits on the baking sheet,leaving a couple inches between each. Reroll the scraps of dough as necessary.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until bronzed at the edges. Cool in pan for a minute, then transfer to a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Matcha Evergreens

I contribute recipes to the blog of my friends' tea company, Arbor Teas. Here is a recipe that uses one of their teas in a festive holiday cookie.  

Besides flavor, one of the best uses for matcha powder in baking is to take advantage of its deep green hue as a natural food colorant. Green-tinged cookies cutout in the shape of trees make a unique addition to a cookie plate with a woodland or festive holiday theme. Arbor Teas offers an organic cooking grade matcha green tea powder that is specially blended to retain its flavor and aroma when mixed with other ingredients. Its slightly bitter flavor tastes particularly nice when paired with  sweetened pistachio paste. Pistachio paste can be a hard-to-find ingredient that might not be shelved in your local grocery. Luckily you can find it online at any well-stocked baking store, or you can try your hand at making it yourself with either this recipe or that one.


Pistachio Sanding Sugar Sprinkles

¼ cup shelled pistachios 
¼ cup coarse sanding sugar

In the bowl of a food processor, coarsely chop pistachios into small pieces. Be careful not to grind into a powder. Stir in sanding sugar and set aside.

Matcha-Pistachio Cutout Cookies

⅔ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon pistachio paste
¼ cup confectioners' sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup all-purpose flour
⅛ teaspoon salt
¼ cup finely chopped pistachios
1 large egg white, lightly beaten

1. Combine butter, pistachio paste, confectioners' sugar, and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Beat mixture until light and fluffy, using an electric mixer at medium speed.
2. Sift together flour, matcha powder and salt in a medium bowl, then stir in the chopped pistachios. Slowly add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating on low speed until combined.
3. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
4. Preheat oven to 350º F.
5. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to a ⅛-inch thickness. Using a tree-shaped cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as possible, placing the cutters as close as possible to avoid waste. Place on prepared baking sheets approximately 1 inch apart. 
6. Brush trees with the egg white to moisten. Sprinkle evenly with pistachio-sanding sugar. Lightly press into dough with finger tips.
7. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until edges of cookies are lightly golden.
8. Cool on pan for 1 minute, then remove to wire rack to cool completely.
9. Re-roll scraps to make more.