Posts from the “Food” Category

Happiness at the Farmer’s Market

Posted on April 25, 2016

 

He and me love food. We are always planning our meals and celebrating our cooking skills. Finding good ingredients is the most important part of our cooking pipeline. We wake up on Saturday morning and head to the market with our tote bags. We have a generic list – 2 fruit, 3 veggies, 2 raw veggies, 1 smoothie item, 2 greens and 2 herbs. The act of picking from the choices available is really exciting for me. Especially because I get more picks than him. He lets me do all the choosing. I enjoy this more than any other kind of shopping. 

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IMG_9707*This week’s haul

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1. Which two fruits to pick for the week ? They still have some stone fruit and mangos.

2. Which green comes home with us ? They have 8 new ones that I have never tried.

3. They are selling chicken feet soup. He is making faces at the food truck in disgust.

4. Why are they so eager to give out plastic bags at the market ?

5. I want a picture with that farmer. She has such an interesting face. Will she let me ?

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* My favorite book about food, cooking, ingredients, philosophy, economy and grace

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6. That Vietnamese lady is haggling on the price of the cauliflower. I dont have the guts to do the same.

7. Heirloom tomatoes are back ! I have plans to stir fry beet tops with garlic.

8. Follow the smell of coriander wafting through the air and load up on the herbs.

9. Look for the crooked carrots. The dirtier, the better. You can break it in half and see the rings on the inside. More the rings, more nutritious it is.

10. We go to a conventional grocery store for ginger, lemons, garlic, oil, condiments, rice, frozen berries, Indian vegetables, etc from time to time. Its not nearly as pleasurable as going to the outdoor farmers market.

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We are also working on perfecting our kitchen dance. You know… when two people don’t need words to communicate but are perfectly streamlining the tasks involved in cooking. I chop, he gets the mirepox started, I adjust the heat and add the first of ingredients. He goes over to grind the herbs with pine nuts. We take turns in washing the dishes when there are brief pauses near the stove. And so on …. the kitchen dance. Some days, we listen to instrumental music. Somedays, it’s groovy music. Today, we cook in silence. With the cat purring at our feet. How I love lazy and long Sundays in the kitchen ! 

In search of the Wok

Posted on September 11, 2015

We did not wander far. I found one right under my nose – in China town, San Francisco. This has to be my fourth visit to THE WOK SHOP. I always hang around and eves drop on the conversations. “…. no teflon … no no …. carbon steel ….. cast iron …. gas or electric stove …. if you want to bargain, please leave …. “. It is fascinating to learn from the elder Asians on what they look for in their wok via eves dropping. The seller tries to make a sale by comparing the quality to his woks to his grandfather’s wares in China. This visit was special since The husband came along. And he is one meticulous calculated person. He has been wanting a wok for a while now. He always complains about how hard it is to toss food in the cast iron skillet that we own. He walks into THE WOK STORE, falls in love with a wok, walks out with one in the next 20 minutes. No obsessive internet research, chats with best friend over seas, reading online reviews, …. We trusted the shop keeper when he offered to help. And we did learn a lot in the 20 minutes.

 

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China town is one fascinating place. Some days, it feels authentic and foreign. On somedays, it feels like a theme park for white people. My first visit had me transfixed on all the details. The more I visit, the more it feels fake / put together. Its too touristy with the lanterns and souvenir shops. But the pleasures of what it has to offer is not lost on me. The lanterns do look beautiful. And the cast iron pots make me drool. All the bamboo cutlery is echo friendly enough sans the plastic wrapping. The antiques smell and look rustic. The food – fantastic. The people – busy. The plastic souvenirs – cheap enough. Maybe Harsha and me if we can find an apmt to live out here in the future. All the red brick buildings look gorgeous. Live in SFO and interact with another culture … Sounds good, no ?

 

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This is the Wok Shop, a 40 year old family run imports store. They have all kinds of cookware. And the accessories. The people have always been nice to me – letting me eavesdrop on their conversations while I linger around and answer my inane questions. “Why are all woks carbon steel?”. They burst out laughing. “No, they are not. This is teflon. This is cast iron. This is steel. We have all kinds for all needs.” Fair enough. He goes on to educate me on how to choose one. And tells me some cool stories. Let me share what I learnt.

 

1. The term “Wok Hay” means the prized elusive seared taste that comes only from stir-frying in a wok. There are stories about restaurant talk in China town SFO where the customers walk up to the chef and ask for the ‘best wok hay’ he can make for the day. Wok hay lingers only for the first few minutes and needs to be savoured immediately.

 

2. Pow – the verb for tossing food.

 

3. Think high heat and short cooking time.

 

4. Hot wok – cold oil principle : If oil is added to a wok that is not heated, food with stick. The wok must be hot to its smoking point. Follow the cues of smell, taste, touch and hearing.

 

5. A wok can be used for steaming, frying, braising, boiling, poaching and smoking. But learn the proper technique.

 

3. Dear cast iron skillet, you are not perfect. Some recipes should not have you chase the ingredients and drag them around. Some ingredients need to be cooked on high heat and flipped. In a skillet, everything is spread out. A spatula can only do so much for moving the ingredients. Woks shape makes stirring easier. More oil is necessary to coat a skillet than the bottom of a wok. No spilling – if that can be counted an advantage.

 

4. Materials available : Chinese cast iron, enamel lined Chinese cast iron, American cast iron, carbon steel, stainless steel with aluminium core, anodized aluminium, … I picked the carbon steel.

 

4. Flat bottomed woks do better on electric stove. The rounded woks do great with open flame stoves. There is carbon steel and cast iron woks. The thickness of the wok is what makes it special. The storekeeper boasted about how the thin woks are mastered by the Chinese. And the American and French woks are too fat in comparison to pow.

 

5. A wok is humble. Price wise. There is no reason to spend a fortune on woks. Or buy the non sticks coated with nasty chemicals.

 

5. Seasoning the wok : Wash the wok with soapy water to remove the factory grease. Dry it. Heat some oil and fry some chopped chives in it. It can be any vegetable with high sulphur content – most of onion family fits the bill. After this, the wok acquires a beautiful patina. Without this step, food may taste metallic.

 

6. First time cooking :  Deep frying is good for a new wok. Make bacon / fry potato skins. Avoid cooking tomatoes or using vinegar till the seasoning is set.

 

7. Washing the wok : Place the wok under running water and use the bamboo brush to scrub any particles stuck to the surface. Once done, place it back on the stove to let the water dry.

 

8. Hard work shows ! The really non stick deep dark woks are so because of years of cooking.

 

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The day ended with us walking home with a plastic bag containing a wok, a bamboo brush and a steel spatula. And a pamphlet with instructions on how to season it and wash it. We are excited to do something with it all. Master of stir-fry – is a real title. I am hoping to confer it on my husband one day soon. I bought us a book to help us out. Indian and Chinese traditional food has a lot of dishes that we can try to learn. I used to think India has the most diverse food choices. That was until I started travelling. Last week, I stumbled upon a 800 page Chinese cookbook on how to cook mushrooms. Turkish-Persian food is quite diverse. So is French-Italian cusine. The more I learn about a culture, more my myths seem to shatter. But cheers to that thought. 

Tea: the recipe

Posted on December 25, 2014

Does brewing tea need a technique? Absolutely ! The tea masters have figured out the temperature, leaf to water ratios, brewing containers, swirling mechanisms and serving rituals the heighten the pleasure of tea drinking.  In Japan, during the 15th century, tea ceremonies evolved as a spiritual practice. Tea began to reach all ‘classes’ and was extremely popular. They paid attention to every nuance of tea making and enjoyed the ritual. People would invite artists/masters home, prepare tea and have a conversation. While we the mortals don’t participate in tea ceremonies and are too busy being busy, least we can do to perfect our cups is by paying attention to a few things: like steeping time and the temperature of the water. So here we go. 

 

Quality: First things first. Same rules as with any other food. Pick the best quality you can afford. And organic for good health and for the sake of the environment. And fair trade if you care for how your money gets distributed. Your dollar is your vote. Between Asian stores, ebay and amazon, i found sources that i am quite happy with.

Single Estate Teas: Tea bag producers try to keep the taste of their product consistent year in and out, to cater to the markets by mixing teas from multiple estates and by aiming for the same consistency. But the tea lovers appreciate the subtle nuances and look for pure blends that capture the essence of teas of the province in which they are grown.

Storage: We protect our investments. And never let food go waste. Airtight and opaque containers places far from heat sources, sunlight and moisture is the way to go.

Water: Start with fresh cold/room temperature water. Spring or filtered water recommended. Hard water can disrupt the flavour of the tea.

Amount of tea: I see various recommendations like one tablespoon per 8 oz of water, in most recipes. Loose leaves are hard to measure like that. Finer teas like Yerba Mate require much lesser amount. The experts correlate it to the surface area of the tea leaf and the size of the pot in which they are allowed to soak in. Trial and error maybe? Experiment to find the right amount. I used to drink Starbucks chai, before i discovered tea. It took me some time to get used to not having all the sugar and creamy texture of tea. Now, my taste buds really appreciate the subtle taste of tea without any add-ons.

Temperature of water: Tannins are chemical components in the tea (and wine) are responsible for how it tastes. The higher the temperature, the more that get released. The delicate leaves like the green ( 180F ) and white teas ( 175F ) require lower temperatures than their more processed counterparts. Black ( 205F ), Oolong ( 200F ) and Pu-erh( 195F ) require boiling water to best extract the flavours.

Brewing time: Attention needs to be paid to make sure the tea doesn’t get bitter (tannins release again). Steeping times depend on the delicateness of the leaves and the oxidation levels of the tea. Rule of thumb: white ( 1 min ), green ( 2 min), black ( 3-5 min ), oolong ( 3-5 min), herbal ( 5-7 min ), etc…

Number of infusions: You know what they say: The first infusion is to wash the dirt off the tea. The second is to really taste the tea. The third is light, but really contains the soul of the tea. True story. Infusions work for larger leaves than the finer ones. Steeping time can be longer for the later infusions.

Type of tea pot: Yixing teapots are crafted from special Yixing clay, also called “Purple Sand”, which contain micro air holes in the pot to keep the tea hot, longer. Cast iron pots are popular for their ability to keep the tea hot for long. Oh well, … the best pot is the one you got. I like cast iron for its beauty and longevity. Don’t want breakable pots that i have to keep replacing over my lifetime. A tea ball is fine too, but i like to let my tea leaves breathe and allow some movement.

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Now to the universal vague recipe. Preparing fine tea is very simple. But it does require some mindfulness and appreciation for what you are doing.

Step 1: It is recommended that you use a preheated teapot. ( Meh ! too pretentious i think )

Step 2: Add the recommended amount of tea leaves per cup.

Step 3: For black, yerba mate and oolong teas, bring fresh cold water to a roaring boil and pour it over the tea leaves. For white and green teas, use water that has just started to steam slightly. Or the water that has boiled and is starting to loose its energy.

Step 4: Follow the brewing time. Sit down and take deep breaths.

Step 5: Separate the leaves from the tea and serve. Save the tea leaves for the next infusion or the compost.

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       Mom: “What is there to write about tea?”

Me: “Read my blog”

Mom: “What are you doing research in? Tea? “

Me: “Where does curiosity end? Should it be confined to areas of life where we get paid for or are deemed as full time jobs?”

Want to meet other tea nerds? Here is a list i am compiling: Tony Gebely, TeaMuse, …

A few tea companies that i havent tried: Rishi Tea Company, Harney and Sons, Bellocq, Davidson’s Tea, Teavana, Tea and Paper, Mountain Rose Herbs , …

I am not the only one. The most amazing naturalist, John Muir who famously said:

Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – Letter to wife Louie, July 1888, Life and Letters of John Muir 1924

also said his idea of preparing for a trip was: “throw some tea and bread in an old sack and jump over the back fence.”

Christopher Nolan, the movie producer and director:

He always has a flask of tea in his pocket. No matter how hot it is, he has a big overcoat with a pocket big enough for his tea, and he quietly sips it. At a certain point, I thought, There must be something better than tea in there. I asked him, ‘You’ve not got vodka in there, have you?’ He said no, just tea.” – Source.

Tea: the history

Posted on November 18, 2014

 Some biology. All tea comes from a plant species – Camellia Sinensis. The tea plant is a sub-tropical plant that grows best in acidic soil in a warm and humid environment. The best tea grows in high mountains, in areas with large temperature difference between day and night, and with predominantly cloudy skies. The kind of tea depends on where its grown,  when its picked, how its dried and the oxidation it undergoes. Food Science and history is a fascinating subject for me. I always wonder how our ancestors discovered things and how food evolved over time. I have been reading books on Food History, Zen, Tea, etc. Here is a summary of what i have learnt and some interesting stories.
TeaHistory

Interesting Facts/stories

Theory of discovery of tea: water bore many harmful microbes and was boiled before drinking for safety. While boiling water in the garden, a leaf from an overhanging wild tea tree drifted into his pot—inadvertently brewing the first pot of tea.

Gautama Buddha is said to have discovered tea when a falling tea leaf happened to land in his cup one day as he sat meditating in a garden.

The monks found that tea enhanced their meditations. And over time, small tea plantations sprouted up in secluded monasteries. However, due to the isolation of monasteries, tea did not explode into the mainstream until the thirteenth century.

Tea preparation and service became elevated to an art, an extension of the Zen philosophy’s purity of form. The Japanese tea ceremony or chanoyu (literally, “the hot water for the tea”) evolved, in which the making and serving of tea is carried out through an elaborate set of procedures, each movement learned over years of study and requiring great skill and poise.

China and Japanese teas were originally in the powdered form (matcha). In the 17th century, a Chinese monk traveling in Japan brought the new rolled form of tea that had replaced powdered tea in China.

Tea was one of the first commodities to be traded outside China which opened up the ancient trade routes between China and the rest of the world.

Tea was the primary reason for the Opium Wars which led to modern day Hong Kong.

The original tea bags were hand-made, hand-stitched muslin or silk bags. Patents for tea bags exist as early as 1903.

English high society didn’t dine until 8:30 or 9 p.m. Anna Maria Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, ordered her maid to bring her what we would call a snack—a small meal of bread, butter, cakes and tarts and a pot of tea—at 4 p.m. daily. It was brought secretly to her sitting room, as incremental eating was unseemly for a royal. She soon asked friends to join her—gingerly, unsure of how her extra meal would be perceived. Her friends were just as enthusiastic. When Anna Maria returned to Mayfair in the fall, she sent invitations for friends to join her for tea and a walk, and the small meal between lunch and dinner became popular. Over time, “afternoon tea” became an elaborate social and gustatory affair with sweet and savory delicacies, special “tea cakes,” and even tea gowns to bridge the fashion between casual afternoon and formal evening dress. As tea was expensive, it was kept in a locked chest, and the lady of the house kept the key with her.

Iced tea originated in 1904 at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. A tea merchant and plantation owner from abroad had intended to provide visitors with free hot tea samples. Due to the unusually hot weather, it was not a big hit.To promote sales, he asked a nearby ice cream vendor for some ice. The American iced tea tradition was born when he dumped the ice into the hot brewed tea.

Disclaimer: Not a historian. Just a tea lover reporting some interesting facts read. Please feel free to correct me if you think something is incorrect.

Tea: the accessories

Posted on November 16, 2014

To enjoy tea, all you need is hot tea. But, but, i do have a few accessories in crime that enhance the experience. Thanksgiving shopping is upon us. And gift giving is a very serious business from what i have observed. I have a few recommendations. Tea and accessories make a great gift. Its better than things like clothes or other objects that may never get used or die early deaths. For someone trying to drink less coffee and get healthier, tea and tea accessories may help appreciate the switch better. Ofcourse, you dont need any of these to really enjoy a cup of tea. Thats the magic of tea.

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1. Gourd: Yerba Mate gourds are traditional sip-on containers used by South American tea drinkers. They are hand-crafted hollow calabash shells repurposed. Very quirky and all natural. The straw that comes with it is perforated and acts as a natural stainer. These are great to have in an office. They are very low maintenance. You are not supposed to wash with soap and let the tea season the container over time. I have one on my desk at work. And its always been a conversation starter.

2. Whisker: Powdered teas like Matcha need to be whisked into submission before drinking. This is a great present for whose who enjoy making tea as much as drinking it.

3. Cast Iron Tea Pot: This is a heirloom piece for any tea lover. Cast iron retains heat for a long time and keeps the tea prim and proper. The tea connoisseurs argue about how the pot used to make tea affects the final product. And this pot definitely is very well rated. You can find these in most Asian stores and eBay. Or in tea stores for ridiculous prices.

4. Tea ball: If you like steeping your tea multiple times, this is a good accessory to make your tea. Also, can be dropped into any coffee mug making instant tea without need for pots and stainers.

5. Thermometer: Herbal tea requires 200 degrees, green tea tastes best at 175 degrees. Black tea can handle much higher temperatures. The temperatures can be assessed by paying attention to the tea making process. Boiling water, add black tea. Green tea, use boiling water, but let it cool down just a little but not enough to loose all the vapors. But if the intended person loves cooking, having a thermo will make a versatile cooking tool that can be used when cooking other foods like meat, poultry, etc.

6. A good book: The perfect accessory that pairs well with tea, is a great book. Bonus points if its a discourse on seeing beauty in imperfection and the rustic –  Wabi Sabi. Extra points for Eastern Philosophy.

7. Great Music: Sigur Rós is my current favourite. The minimalism and the depth is just beautiful.

9. Stainer: This has to be one of the greatest accessory ever made. For the ones who don’t care about tea pots, gourds and the tea rituals … for the minimalists, all you need is a stainer. The stainless steel ones are easy to clean, don’t discolor if left over time, and are very low maintenance.

10. Pursuit of a great passion: Time to sound very cheesy. Drinking tea while working on something precious is totally the way to do it.

 

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Many of us are not born liking the taste of tea that is served without sugar and milk. It is an acquired taste. For me, I now enjoy my cuppa without any adulteration. But i do add a few ingredients from time to time to make my cup more flavourful.

1. Peppercorns: Pepper, good for health. Adding a few peppercorns is a good way to get some pepper flavour into our diets. It pairs well with green and black teas. I let a few sit in my tea pot all day.

2. Honey: Please do not use the processed honey sold in the supermarkets in those bear containers. Manuka honey/ raw honey is great to add to morning teas as a sweetener.

3. Lemon/Orange slices: Kitchen staples like this go a long way in enhancing the flavour. A great way to get a shot of vitamin C in the morning. Pairs well with white/green/herbal teas.

4. Liquorice : This is a wonderful medicinal sweetener that has been used in teas for centuries. Its used a lot as a medicine for coughs and congestion.

5. Ginger: Let a slice of ginger soak in your tea all day long.

6. Goji Berries: Popular in China as add-ons to a brew. Now popular in the smoothie drinking population and the fitness community. High on nutritional content and touted as anti aging. These are my tea’s best friend.

7. Sour Cherries: Popular in Eastern Europe and Russia for adding flavour to tea, these cherries are a great way to inculcate some sour elements into your food. Most diets are low in this element. And it is recommended by ancient Indian and Chinese medicinal wisdom to have a balance of the five flavours: sweet, sour, salty, astringent, pungent, bitter.

8. Cinnamon: Herbal and floral teas with a stick of cinnamon is divine on a cold day. Try it before you judge it.

9. Bee Pollen: These granules are high energy sources. Are sour + tangy. Great addition to afternoon pick me up teas.

10. Dried Spring fruit: Easiest way to add flavour to any tea is by adding dried fruit/flowers. Davidson’s makes a great blend that i add to mine from time to time.

Any tea lovers out there: How do you like your tea ? 

Wellness Ritual: Tea

Posted on November 9, 2014

Now that its autumn, my favourite way to not hate the cold weather is to sip on a lot of hot tea.  “If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points” , says George Orwell. I agree. In my series, learn to cook, i want to start with tea. I am an avid tea drinker. And here are a few of my favorites i want to share. Part two will contain rituals and techniques to make tea. 

 

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The task of Zen, the task of Tea, is to be entirely in the moment. Dogen, in his Chiji shingi, reminds us that when we are cooking or washing the dishes, we are not to be bothered with thoughts of what we will do next, worried about the value of our stocks and bonds, or even envisioning the Buddhist saints. We are to be single-mindedly engaged in what we are doing at this very moment. In the Way of swordsmanship, the feet, hands, body, mind, and sword must all be manifested in a single stroke.

                                                                        – Wilson, William Scott. The One Taste of Truth: Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea.

 

A few years ago, i was diagnosed with ‘stomach irritation from drinking too much black coffee’. And my Chinese labmates suggested drinking tea as an alternative. I liked the idea and started trying out boxed tea bags. A year later, i met Peng Zang. Peng was a visiting scholar from China who is a practicing Buddhist and has vested interest in martial arts. He practiced many wellness routines. And these routines were very bizarre to me, but only for a short period of time before they got to me. I would see him set an alarm on the phone, that would prompt him to get up from his desk every 50 minutes, to take a walk. We would see him do some martial art-sy moves in his office, which became a spectacle around the lab. And brew a fresh pot of tea during his ‘breaks’. All these were justified because of how brilliant he was in his field of expertise. One other thing i noticed was how he took care of his heirloom cast iron tea pot and the teas he used. It was always loose leaves or flowers of sort.  And the research started.

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Firstly, the importance he gave to movement and giving himself breaks. Secondly, the Cast Iron. Finally, the tea. There was something very earthy as well as ritualistic about using loose tea. You get to pick the quantity, quality and get creative with mixing your own blend. Pay attention to the nuances of drinking tea, which is Zen in every sense of the world ! Three years later, i have accumulated a tea box as well as some knowledge about how it should be done. To the point i fantasize about attending/hosting Japanese Tea Ceremonies.

A Few Varieties I Adore

Note: I added a few links to finding the products mentioned. American mainstream stores have over priced tea bags, which according to me are not sustainable and kill the soul of tea. There are a few places online to source great quality organic teas like Harney and Sons, Bellocq, etc. But if ordering online, you pay for shipping and taxes. Teas are native to China, Japan and India. They produce some of the best teas. If going for the non organic kind, Ebay is one of the best sources. There is free shipping by most vendors and all the links included are been tried and tested by me over the years. They are great quality for the price. Next best is local Asian grocery stores. You find the popular tried and tested kinds. The only downside is not being able to read the labels. Tag along with an Asian friend, for help.

 

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Green teas from China and Japan are pride of the traditional tea producers. These are the teas that are most popular in the world and has the highest sales volumes in the recent year, over taking the popularity of Black tea. Young tea leaves are picked, wilted and heated either with steam or dry cooking to kill the enzymes in the leaf that causes oxidation. It is high in anti-oxidants and is attributed to increased metabolism, weight loss, anti-aging benefits, etc. It is my afternoon pick me up that i drink after my lunch. In general, the subtle, vegetative flavor and aroma of most green tea is well suited to mild or subtly-flavored foods, such as seafood, rice, salads or chicken. This kind is my go-to easy tea. For when i want a routine and keep awake in the lab.

Shop: 1 , 2 

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Genmaicha is the Japanese name for green tea combined with roasted brown rice.  This type of tea was originally drunk by poor Japanese, as the rice served as a filler and reduced the price of the tea; which is why it is also known as the “people’s tea.” It was also used by those persons fasting for religious purposes or who found themselves to be between meals for long periods of time. Tea steeped from these tea leaves has a light yellow hue. Its flavor is mild and combines the fresh grassy flavor of green tea with the aroma of the roasted rice.

Shop: 1 , 2

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Matcha is a finely ground tea powder made from Tencha leaves. It is prepared by whisking the tea powder with hot water in a ceramic bowl. Matcha is the primary form of tea used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. The sweet flavor of matcha is due to the amount of amino acids present in the tea and the higher the quality, the sweeter and deeper the flavor is.The art of producing, preparing and consuming this powdered tea became a ritual performed by Zen Buddhists in China. Matcha eventually became an important part of rituals in Zen monasteries in Japan and was elevated to level of high culture and skill in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, which is still the case today. This is my official coffee substitute. I add this tea to my morning smoothie. And it gives me the pick me up i need, during cold winter mornings.

Shop: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 

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White tea is made from the young tea bud and is the closest to the natural state of the tea leaf. It is plucked just before the leaf opens on the stem and is air-dried to lock in its color and flavor. The chlorophyll is not mature in this bud and that gives its “white” appearance. It has both caffeine and healthy polyphenols.Its less processed hence retaining more of its anti-oxidants. White tea is my favourite kind of tea ever, and i definitely think its undervalued.  My favourite way to drink it is paired with a jasmine bud. The aroma complements its delicate-body, and innate sweetness. And its smoother than any other tea i have tasted so far. Because of the extremely subtle flavor of white teas, it is recommended to pair it them with only the mildest of flavors. If paired with strong foods,  the natural sweetness of this beverage, as it will be overwhelmed by the food’s aroma. This category of tea is the most delicate one, so it should be paired only with lightly flavored foods.

Shop: 1 ( absolutely the best i found, never need to try another)

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Pu-Erh is the original and ancient variety of tea tree that can only be grown in Yunnan, the birthplace of tea. The people of Yunnan traditionally eat a very fatty diet, but have low rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease, and the reasons is often attributed to this tea. Pu’erh is fermented green tea made from special broad leaf tea leaves that have a unique chemical composition, that makes them suitable for ageing. This tea is graded and classified by how old it is. It was definitely an acquired taste for me. The first sip ever felt like i was eating clay. Now, i absolutely love it. My favourite pairing with this tea is liquorice when drinking it stand alone. This tea pairs well with chicken and meats, stir-fried foods, and anything with lots of animal fat or greasy foods.

Shop: 1, Asian grocery stores.

yerbamate

Yerba mate has been used as a base for herbal medicines in South America for centuries. Its more nutritious than green tea. Rumored to be a nerve stimulant and apparently increases mental concentration. While there are no studies to prove this, but its linked to better absorption of carbohydrates and increased muscle endurance. Boy, i would love that. I am currently testing this tea. Its growing on me. But i am yet to experience the alleged benefits.

Shop: 1 , 2

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Indian inspired teas are the ones i was most familiar with, the ones i saw my country men drink when i was a child. The chai is a black tea blend, that is popular in England and India. And now that starbucks do a version of it in America, i see it everywhere. I make my own blend with a few varieties from Teavana. I prefer my tea without milk which sort of kills the essence of this tea, but i like it anyways. Another tea that doesn’t gets its due, is Tulsi tea. Its the holy tree for the religious Hindus and ayurveda claims many many medicinal benefits to this tea. The taste of this leave is just divine. It reminds me of visits to the temples and my travels in India.

Shop: Chai: 1 , 2 , 3  Tulsi: 1 ( very mild ), 2 ( my pick )

floralTea

Floral teas like Jasmine, Camomile, Lavender, Rooibos are great teas to drink at the end of the day and before bed when caffeine is a no-no. They also make great additives to make DIY tea blends. Chamomile is known for its soothing properties. Jasmine is very calming and relaxing on me. Lavender, makes the prettiest purple tea. Rooibos has many medicinal properties like anti-aging, soothing on the stomach, high mineral content, etc. These are the extra luxuries in my tea box and make great night time teas.

Shop: Jasmine buds (1, 2). Camomile ( 1, 2). Lavender (1) Rooibos ( 1, 2) Hibiscus ( 1


“When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Dear tea, Thank you for all the small pleasures that are not so small in reality.

 

 

An Essay on my Love for ‘Pho’

Posted on July 25, 2014

A few years ago, on my birthday, Harsha took me to a Vietnamese restaurant on campus, Kai Hanon (literally means Festival Opening). We have been going there for a few years but for one dish: Deep fried lemongrass chicken. But one glance around the place, and you will find everyone else’s dishes more interesting. And a major chunk of the Asians out there slurping on a certain noodle soup. Noodles in a soup? Never saw anything like that before. I even ridiculed it in my head. But this birthday, I wanted to try something new. And there was nothing else I knew on the menu.  When the owner comes down to our table, to take our order, I pointed at the next table and asked for that dish with noodles and soup. He gave me a curious look and asked ‘beef okay?’. ‘Yes’. Harsha looks at me doubtfully and suggests we order a backup. When it finally arrived, first slurp, ‘Harsha, its like bone soup, but more fatty. Must be the beef’. Second slurp, ‘I don’t know. Can I eat your food?’. But eventually, it grew on me and I couldn’t stop taking bites of the steak and slurping my soup. The sriracha made my Indian taste buds happy, but the original flavor was so well balanced that i decided to lay off it. Harsha watched in disbelief that i ate my whole bowl and ignored the precious lemongrass chicken. And so it started. A love affair with Pho.

Whenever i can get a take out, it is almost always Pho. The salty soup, the steak, the rice noodles cooked to perfection, the toppings, …. i adore it all.  As a home cook, a quick estimation of cost looking at the ingredients makes my paying 10$ for a bowl of pho not so smart. Been wanting to make it myself but been put it off thinking its not worth buying additional spices for one experiment.


When i started looking for a theme for this blog, i picked ‘Duet Theme‘. I wanted to see what it looks like and started searching for blogs using this theme. That is when i stumbled upon ‘The Squeaky Robot‘. I adore her blog and everything about her. And she has a post dedicated to Pho. It was a ‘i found someone special’ moment i very rarely find with bloggers. I dedicated a good chunk of my weekend and read it cover to cover. Back to the story, she made pho. She is a world traveller and wanderer. And i have a well stocked kitchen. If she can do it,  i should be able to do it.


With the impending trip to fetch groceries round the corner, I suggested the asian market. Harsha is happy i did pick ‘whole (paycheque) foods’ or some farmers market miles away. We pick up our usual stuff and then i tell him to stay back since he may not be able to handle the meat section. Tell a man he cant handle it, and vola, he accompanies you where ever you want him to go. Soon, he is making faces that read ‘disgusting’ , ‘can we go now’, ‘what on earth do you want from here?’, ‘i dont want to eat it’, …. Well Harsha, the prophecy of “i want to learn how to cook every part of every animal” is coming true. Four years of marriage and now you get to see the true colors.

The meat section in Mekong is like going to another country. People from many many nationalities come out here. You will see men hunched over crabs poking the crabs belly to test the fleshiness. And all sorts of sea animals swimming in tiny glass box cages ready to be sold. You can learn the anatomy of these animal by hovering around. And have a casual conversation with the butcher about change in the quality of lobsters due to global warming. I had three parts written down in my grocery list : oxtail, knuckle bone, steak. I stood next to the oxtails and stare, unable to decide how much or how many i want. The butcher comes by and yells, “how much?”. “One”, i reply. “One tail”. “Full tail?”, he askes pointing to a tail hanging at the back of the butcher shop. “One pound”, i say, since it feels like the smarter thing to say at the moment. He smiles. “What are you making?”, he askes. “Pho”. “Cheaper bones are over there”, he says. We have a little chat in broken english. Finally, i warm up to the surroundings. And the place no longer intimidates me. Occasionally, I check on Harsha to see if he is still around. I pick up a few more ‘bits and bobs’, literally. I am all set to cook.


Some real good explanation on how to make pho can be found at: Meat Loves Salt (They are a vietnamese and it is a family recipe. They elaborate on the variations one could make and the results hence forth) & Steamy Kitchen ( I trust her recipes. And kudos to her for following up with the comments and making variations to her recipe and giving detailed explanations. All the signs of a recipe maker to be trusted.)

photo (12)

Some interesting facts about Pho:

0. Its a street side breakfast item in Vietnam. These vendors open their ‘stores’ at 7am and its not uncommon to sell out by 11am.

1. The Vietnamese judge the Pho by the flavor of the broth. When locals discuss good pho places, they only talk about the broth. Rest of the add ons like noodles, meat, mint, sprouts, etc are fresh ingredients that are available at all the places and hence are not the distinguishing factors.

2. Pho is referred to as ‘labor of love’ since the broth requires extremely long time to simmer. And Pho refers to the noodle and not soup.

3. If you are eaten Pho is a traditional setting or in the US, there is a good chance it is laden with MSG. I know its the ‘no no’ ingredient, but street food vendors and restauranteurs who are not chefs use it as a short cut to make tastier broth.

4. The legend has it that its the French influence that brought this varient to the Vietnam in the 1900s. Some experts say its derived from the French word ‘Pot au Feu’ which means ‘Pot on fire’. Also, the charring of the onion and ginger, are French techniques for making soups.

Read full history: History of Pho Noodle Soup. Give it a chance. Try everything once !

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