Myanmar is a country that uses “have you eaten?” as a greeting rather than “hello,” so you know that good food is a cultural priority. It was there this summer that I stumbled upon my latest food obsession, and your next culinary adventure: the Burmese Tea Leaf Salad.
Also known as lahpet thoke in Burmese, this unique blend of flavors and ingredients is pretty incomparable to anything we have in the United States. Earthy, tangy, tart, and savory — there’s something special about this dish that gives it a bite most salads don’t have.
That’s because the key component is fermented green tea leaves, traditionally made in Myanmar through a special process where the leaves are soaked in water, packed tightly in banana leaves, and buried underground to age (a method that is actually prohibited in the US).
Our recipe gets around this step by simply soaking the loose leaf tea in water and storing in the refrigerator for at least a day. This, along with oil, lemon, and salt, is brought to a pesto-like consistency, and essentially makes up the tangy “dressing” component of the salad. I like using Jade Citrus Mint green tea or a lemon lime tea to bring out even more citrus notes.
The rest is comprised of chopped tomatoes, romaine lettuce, and the touch I highly enjoy: “crunchies.” Toasted sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, roasted peanuts, crunchy peas, and fried garlic chips are tossed together to give the salad a satisfying and savory crunch in every bite.
There is a lot of leeway when it comes to creating your own flavor combinations. Fish sauce as well as shrimp powder are still used in Myanmar to boost the salty taste, which works nicely with the sour of the fermented tea leaves. For those of you craving spice, feel free to add some sliced jalapeño peppers. And if you have them handy, green onions, shallot, mung bean, and lentils are all great additions.
I personally enjoyed versions of the salad that pumped up the tea leaf, tomato, and crunchy proportions, nixed the romaine lettuce, and served the salad with sliced cucumbers on the side. Substituting in different oils such as vegetable oil or canola oil is totally fine, too. The fun part is that you really can’t go wrong — you can fit the dish to your and your guests’ tastes as needed!
You can also simplify the preparation process by checking your local markets for premixed seed and dried legume salad toppings. This is especially convenient if they include the fried garlic chips, which saves you the extra step of doing it yourself.
Just don’t rush the time needed for the tea leaf preparation. Allowing 1-2 days longer for it to sit will help remove excess bitterness. Serve the salad tossed or with the toppings separated and spread out around the plate for an appealing look.
Making tea leaf salad is as much about the incredible flavor as it is about keeping the Burmese tradition of hospitality alive. Share this recipe with friends and family, and you won’t have to go far to get a taste of this beautiful country! Enjoy!
Burmese Tea Leaf Salad
Tea Leaf Laphet:
- 1/2 cup Citrus Mint Green Tea or Kitchen Table Blend Black/Green Tea leaves
- 1 lemon (or about 3 tablespoons of lemon juice)
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 2 tablespoons diced ginger (optional)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3-5 garlic cloves
- 1 Lemon
- Romaine lettuce
- Toasted sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Roasted peanuts
- Crunchy split yellow peas
Tea Leaf Laphet:
Prep these one day in advance. Sort through the green tea leaves and remove twigs or tough bits. Pour the leaves into a bowl with hot water and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain and rinse with cool water. Now soak the batch with cold water for 1 hour. Drain and rinse.
Squeeze the tea leaves to remove excess water as you place them in a blender. Add the garlic, lemon juice, oil, ginger, and salt. Blend to the consistency of pesto sauce (scraping the sides of the blender as needed).
Place mixture in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.
Slice the garlic, then fry it to a light brown color. This doesn’t take much, and overcooking can bring out a bitter taste.
Now you’re ready to put it all together! Start with the chopped romaine, and add the crunchy bits, tomatoes, and any other additions. Spoon a dollop of tea leaves in the center, squeeze a bit of lemon over the top, toss, and hsa ba (please eat)!
All photos courtesy of the author.