World recipes Expo Milano 2015

To make lui cha, pound tea leaves, nuts, and seeds in a bowl with a stick.

To make lui cha, pound tea leaves, nuts, and seeds in a bowl with a stick.

My recipe for the popular Hakka pounded tea (lei cha or lui cha) was published on World Recipes for the Expo Milano 2015 website. The original recipe is from The Hakka Cookbook on page 99. This version from Taiwan is often served in Hakka tea houses with sweet condiments. I simplified the recipe for the Expo site.

Since the Expo’s theme–Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life–focuses on food, they have built a global community and collection of recipes that keeps growing. Currently there are more than 125,000 recipes and 57 countries represented. Check it out.

Recipes for Hakka lei cha

Lui cha and garlic riceLast year I wrote about a pounded tea known as lui cha (Hakka) or lei cha (Mandarin). I discovered this dish in Malaysia and Singapore where it has a reputation as a super food that cures all. Basically there are three parts to this healthy savory rice bowl: the herbaceous tea, rice, and toppings for the rice.

Recently, Louisa Lim of The Star Online (headquartered in Malaysia) wrote about eighty-year-old Yong Mow who still makes Hakka lei cha everyday. I am in awe. She must be a super woman. This dish requires lots of muscle and time to pound the tea in the traditional way. With a sturdy stick from a guava tree, she vigorously pounds fresh herbs, tea leaves, sesame seeds, and nuts in a ceramic bowl, adding water to make a creamy green tea. She also cuts and cooks fresh and preserved vegetables for the toppings that go over rice that she has cooked in hot sand until the grains are puffy. This dish is a labor of love.

My recipe for Savory Pound Tea Rice (page 119 in The Hakka Cookbook) is similar to hers, but a lot easier. I cheated. I used a blender. Guess I am a weakling. I tried the mortar and pestle but gave up when I couldn’t achieve a smooth mixture.  If you want follow Hakka tradition, here is a recipe adapted from Yong Mow’s technique for The Star Online.

The article also mentioned The Hakka Cookbook and my recipe for the sweet version of this tea found in Taiwan.

Enjoy the savory or sweet versions of this Hakka specialty. Or for modern new version try this Lei Cha Salad from The Star Online.



What’s cooking for Chinese New Year

Basin Feast (Puhn Choi)Khiung Hee Fat Choy! (Hakka dialect) May you have a prosperous New Year!  Chinese New Year arrives January 31 and families will gather for a special meal over the next two weeks.

Many will eat traditional meals filled with foods that sound like fortuitous words or whose shape or color symbolizes prosperity, unity, wealth, fertility, family harmony, or good fortune. Oranges, mandarins, and kumquats resemble gold. Lettuce signifies prosperity. Whole fish symbolizes prosperity. Spring rolls, with their shape of a gold bar, represents wealth. Shiitake mushrooms, a symbol of longevity, also relate to seizing opportunities. Whole chickens with head, tail, and feet indicate completeness. Green vegetables represent close family ties. You will find many recipes that use symbolic ingredients throughout The Hakka Cookbook. However, if you want to try something new, consider these special dishes I discovered in my travels for the cookbook.

Basin Feast (puhn choi, page 82)

We gasped when the waitress set a huge metal basin filled with a mountain of food before us. We were at Chung Shing Restaurant in In Tai Po, New Territories of Hong Kong, The pan was literally a wash basin layered with a multicourse feast. This one-pan feast is popular for family gatherings such as Chinese New Years and weddings because everyone eats from one dish which symbolizes unity. Guests gather around the basin and literally eat from top to down, working their way through the courses.

Vegetable Tea  (choi cha, page 113)

During the first ten days of Chinese New Year Loy Sye Moi makes Vegetable Tea  (page 113) which is basically an artfully presented healthy vegetable soup. She arranges eight different stir-fried greens in each bowl to create a pretty kaleidoscope of greens. Eight is a lucky number and represents good fortune. Each vegetable contributes a different flavor and texture. She pours a clear broth carefully over the vegetables and garnishes with spoonful of ground peanuts and sesame seeds.

Savory Pounded Tea Rice (lui cha fan, page 119)

A heartier variation of vegetable tea is made by the Ho Po clan, a Hakka subgroup  who serve it for Chinese New Year. This version includes rice and a pounded herbaceous tea. I first tasted this healthy rice bowl in Singapore and later Amy Wong from Malaysia shared her recipe with me. A bevy of vegetables, tofu, and peanuts blanket a bowl of garlic rice. Pour a tea, made from pounding fresh green herbs, dry tea leaves, nuts, and seeds, over the rice and mix together for deliciously wholesome rice bowl. It’s a healthy and energizing way to start the new year.

 Taro Abacus Beads (wu tiuh pan jue, page 125)

In Singapore I encounter Taro Abacus Beads. Their name comes from their shape which resembles the pierced disks on a Chinese abacus, an ancient, low-tech adding machine. Hakkas often cook this dish for Chinese New Years to bring wealth in business. These chewy pasta disks resemble a springy, sticky version of Italian gnocchi. Taro replaces potato and tapioca starch replaces wheat flour typically used in Italian gnocchi. The Hakka version has a nuttier flavor and chewy texture. Stir-fry the boiled taro abacus beads with vegetables or cloak with a mushroom pork sauce.

Whatever you cook, Khiung Hee Fat Choy! May you have a delicious, prosperous, and happy new year!

Savory Pounded Tea in Malaysia

Amy Wong shows the bowl and stick she uses to make pounded tea.

Amy Wong shows the bowl and stick she uses to make pounded tea.

In my last post, I wrote about the sweet Taiwan version of a Hakka specialty, lui cha or pounded tea. It wasn’t my first encounter with this unique tea. I first tasted a savory version in a small café in Singapore where it was called thunder tea or pounded tea. Signs boasted the tea would cure all aliments–lower my cholesterol, ease digestion, boost my immune system, provide antioxidants and fiber, combat flu, and reinvigorate me. The dish consisted of a larger bowl of rice topped with little mounds of stir-fried greens, tofu, preserved radish, peanuts, and pressed tofu. A smaller bowl of a thick bright green tea, which resembled a thin pea soup came alongside. I was instructed to pour the secret green tea over the rice and mix it all together. It was delicious and energizing.Lui cha and garlic rice

A few days later in Kuala Lumpur, I met Amy Wong at her Eiffel Restaurant and Dessert House (now closed). I asked her about the tea. She generously shared her recipe which was published in Famous Cuisine Home Recipes. She pounds a mixture of fresh green herbs such as basil, mint, and cilantro with dried green tea leaves, sesame seeds, and peanuts in a large rough textured bowl with a big stick, then adds boiling water to make a healthful herbaceous tea. She presents the tea with a bowl of garlic rice topped with vegetables, tofu, and nuts. When mixed together, the many elements merge to make a healthy rice bowl that explodes with vitality, flavor, and texture.

Each of many varied ingredients contribute a health benefit, texture, and taste which makes the end result so fabulous. My family loved this dish when I tested it. However with its long ingredient list, it is not quick to make. You can prepare many of the ingredients ahead. And if you can’t find some of the vegetables, adapt to what you have in your local market. In my recipe, I use an electric blender to simplify the preparation.

Here I offer only the tea portion of the recipe so you can compare it with the Taiwan version in the previous post. For a simple tasting, pour it over rice topped with some stir-fried greens, and pressed tofu. To find the complete recipe with the toppings and the garlic rice, see The Hakka Cookbook, page 120.

Herbaceous Pounded Tea from Malaysia

Makes about 5 1/2 cups, 6 to 8 servings

2 cups fresh Thai or Italian basil leaves

2 cups fresh mint leaves

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 tablespoons dried green tea leaves

6 black peppercorns

2/3 cup roasted salted peanuts

3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1 cup cold water

4 cups boiling water

1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste.

1. Coarsely chop basil and mint. Set a 10- to 12-inch frying pan over medium-high heat . When the pan is hot, add the oil and rotate the pan to spread. Add the garlic and stir until soft, about 30 seconds. Add the basil, mint and cilantro; stir-fry just until the herbs turn bright green, about 30 seconds. Remove herbs from the pan.

2. In a blender, finely grind the tea leaves and peppercorns. Add the peanuts and sesame seeds; blend until finely ground. Add the basil mixture and cold water, and blend until smooth.

3. Just before serving, add 1 cup of the boiling water to herb mixture in blender and whirl until smooth, holding blender lid down with a towel. Pour tea into a 2-quart pan. Add the remaining 3 cups boiling water and salt; whisk until blended. Stir over medium heat until hot. Serve hot.



Hakka pounded tea in Taiwan

Ladle tea into bowls, add sweet condiments and puffed rice to taste.

Ladle tea into bowls, add sweet condiments and puffed rice to taste.

Have you ever tasted lui cha (Hakka) or  lei cha (Mandarin), also called pounded tea or thunder tea?  Recently there was a post on a Facebook group site about this Hakka specialty. Someone had  bought an instant mix for Hakka pestle cereal in an Asian supermarket and wondered what it was. I, too, have seen these packets and tried them, wondering if they were similar to the Hakka pounded tea I tasted in Taiwan. The instant version has a similar color and texture but the flavor seems a bit bland. In my recipe for a homemade version, you can taste the tea, smoothed by the richness of the nuts and seeds.

This beverage is is not like regular tea. In Taiwan, lui cha is made by pounding tea leaves, nuts, and seeds in a mortar and pestle, then blending with boiling water to make a  thick, creamy beverage.

To make lui cha, pound tea leaves, nuts, and seeds in a bowl with a stick.

To make lui cha, pound tea leaves, nuts, and seeds.

There are a couple of stories about the origin of this tea. Almost two thousand years ago, as a general prepared to capture Chengdu, his troops were felled by a plague. A Hakka doctor prescribed this unique tea. The soldiers were miraculously cured. Another story claims centuries ago on the mainland, when the Hakka migrated south to Fujian, Jiangxi, and Guangdong provinces, they couldn’t carry much. But tea was light, quenched their thirst, and when they added ingredients from the local area, it filled their stomachs. So the tea gained a reputation for being healthy and filling.

In 1989 in Taiwan, the Beipu Agricultural Department was looking for a regional specialty to attract tourists and keep their Hakka village alive. They interviewed a Hakka woman who told them how to make lui cha. They asked if the tea could be sweetened. She replied that it probably would not hurt. So the sweet Taiwan version was born. Another version is savory, more about that in another post.

In my research for The Hakka Cookbook, I visited a Hakka tea house Kwang Fu Cha Fung in Beipu. I tasted their lui cha, a creamy slightly thick greenish-gray tea served with sweet condiments such as red dates, tapioca pearls, goji berries, and red beans in a syrup to balance the tea tannins. Spoonfuls of puffed rice are also added.

Pound tea, nuts, and seeds to make paste, then add boiling water.

My brother tries to pound tea, nuts, and seeds to make a paste. It’s hard work.

The chef demonstrated how to make it, placing dried tea leaves, seeds, and nuts in a large rough textured bowl and pounding the ingredients with a big stick. Then he gave us a turn at pounding the tea. You need muscles to do this. After our pitiful attempts of pounding the mixture, one of his puny assistants took over and like a human food processor, turned the tea-nut-seed mixture into an oily paste in seconds. He stirred boiling water into the paste, then ladled the steaming tea into small bowls. We spooned the sweet condiments and puffed rice into our bowls. With the tea, we nibbled morsels of mochi-like pounded sweet rice dusted with ground peanuts. It was a delicious and unique Hakka tea ceremony.

In essence, this nutritious tea is basically a health drink. With a blender, it is rather easy to make and far superior in taste to the instant packets from Taiwan. The sweet condiments take more time to make. If you just want a simple health drink, make just the tea portion and skip the condiments in syrup. Instead just add some dried fruit like raisins, goji berries, candied ginger, or even sugar to add a bit of sweetness and balance the tea tannins. You can even save any leftover tea, cover and chill, then reheat a cup in the microwave for a quick pick-me-up for the next day.

Beipu Pounded Tea

This is an abbreviated and simplified version from the Pounded Tea with Sweets recipe on page 101 of The Hakka Cookbook.

Makes 6 to 8 servings
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
3 tablespoons raw or roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
1/4 cup white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon black or more white sesame seeds
2 tablespoons dried green tea leaves
3 cups boiling water
Sweet condiments: raisins, goji berries, chopped crystallized ginger, or raw sugar, to taste
Puffed rice cereal, to taste (optional)

1. In a 10-inch frying pan over low heat, stir the pumpkin seeds, peanuts, pine nuts, and walnuts until the nuts begin to lightly brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Add the white and black sesame seeds and stir until white sesame seeds turn golden, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Cool about 5 minutes.

2. In a blender, combine the tea and nut mixture. Whirl until finely ground. Add 1 cup of the boiling water. With a potholder firmly holding down the blender lid, blend on low speed, then increase to high and whirl until smooth. Pour the mixture into a 2- to 3-quart pan. Pour another 1 cup boiling water into the blender jar, whirl to remove any remaining residue, and add to pan. Pour remaining boiing water into the pan. Stir over low heat until hot and thick, 2 to 4 minutes. Ladle tea into cups or small bowls. Add sweet condiments and puffed rice to taste.