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Burmese Tea Leaf Salad

I never thought I could be enchanted by a salad, but from my first bite of Burmese tea leaf salad, I was under its spell. This addictive salad has it all: good looks, great taste, fabulous textures, and, due to the high concentration of caffeine, it also has an incomparable “energizing” after-effect that can have you bouncing off the walls, depending on your caffeine tolerance.

After my first encounter, I knew I’d need to make it at home, since the nearest Burmese restaurant is, well, not very near. However, the main ingredient proved difficult to find. The Asian market I shop in doesn’t carry fermented tea leaves, so I asked my friend in Philadelphia to try her bigger/better store. Still no luck. I finally tracked down the elusive tea leaves online and ordered them from a source in New York. Within a few days, they were delivered to my door.

If you order the salad in a Burmese restaurant, chances are it will look much like the one in my photo (I’m a sucker for composed salads anyway, and this one is as composed as it gets.) In a restaurant, the server may bring it to your table and then mix it for you tableside, ala Caesar-salad style, with the fermented tea leaves (in the center of the salad) being tossed with the other ingredients.

You can find the recipe for this amazing salad (and more info about Burmese cooking) in my Global Vegan column in the current (January/February) issue of VegNews Magazine.

By the way, if you don’t tolerate caffeine well, you’ll be happy to know that the tea leaf salad has a close cousin that can be made with pickled ginger in place of the fermented tea leaf mixture. The ginger salad is equally beautiful and delicious as the tea leaf salad, but without the caffeine kick. Anyone who ever thought salads were boring needs to try one of these!