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Sunday, May 29, 2011

~Spices of Life~ Just add water and what do you get? Golden Chai!

Our little Walla Walla has grown more and more metropolitan over the last few years lately we've been seeing more and more in the way of exotic ingredients/foods.  Down town the other day, in search of a pulled pork sandwich and some pickled green tomatoes, I found my nose in the tea section of our Salumierie.  The tea that jumped ahead of all of the others was one called Yunnan Gold.  Tea added to the list!

~Golden Spiced Chai~

Printable Recipe

2 C Yunnan tea
1 1/2 Teaspoon fresh ground green cardamom
1/2 Teaspoon fresh ground star anise
2 Tablespoon fresh ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoon ground ginger
1 Teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 1/2 Teaspoon crushed whole cloves
1/2 Teaspoon ground grains of paradise
1/2 Teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 Teaspoon dried Valencia orange peel
1/4 Teaspoon ground vanilla seeds

Special Tools: Medium Measuring Bowl
                       Large Mason Jar w/Lid

                       Mortar and Pestle and/or countertop spice grinder

Yield - about 2 Cups (32 single tablespoon servings)
This time, with the such a short ingredient category list (spices + tea + water), I'm gonna start with a fairly recent addition to my blog's extra segments!  Ingredient notes!  Needs to be said for sure with this one!

~~~Ingredient Notes: Whole Spices~~~

For any good chai, the key is good quality spice.  Good quality AND strong I should say.  Store bought ground spices can work when making chai but they simply aren't strong enough.  The same could of course be said for many many recipes.
Whole spices from an organic tea shop

Spices are defined as the dried seeds, fruit, roots, bark, or other woody, vegetative portions of a plant or tree added to food for flavor (cinnamon), color (saffron), or as a preservative (salt.)  With only a few exceptions, the actual spice is an oil in the flesh of the plant.  When we grind spices (or they're ground at the packing facility) the oils are allowed to pass more readily into the surrounding environment due to increased surface area.

pre-ground spices at the local grocery
With store bought spices, all of the whole spices are ground and packed, sealed tight for freshness and shipping, but you just can't stop the release of oils...  Once the spices are ground, the oils begin to seep out and begin to oxidize, loosing flavor quickly, even inside the bottles.  Often these spices are further treated via irradiation (to kill and parasites/bacteria,) killing unwanted bugs but also further degrading the essential oils.

Grinding spices at home boils down to fresher and less-processed ingredients.  Less oils escaping between grinding and use just equals better ingredients and better dishes that result!  The fresher the better, I think it's safe to say, is universal!

~~~Ingredient Notes: Whole Spices~~~

First off, grind your spices.  I think the best for chai tea is to more crush them than grind them to powder.  The finer the grind the better in most cases but with chai, you want to have just slightly larger pieces for a few reasons.  The first reason is flavor: too fine of a grind can lend the tea a far too powerful, almost bitter/harsh flavor.  The second reason is simply to allow proper, thorough straining after brewing.

Grind and or crush your spices to your liking then mix them thoroughly in a medium mixing bowl to homogenize.  Just like when you add leavening, thorough sifting/mixing here is key so you can avoid one dose of chai with WAAAAY too much of one spice or another (learned from experience myself.)  This spice mix is great for other applications as well like cooked custards and cakes!  Just put any extra in a coffee or spice grinder to powder completely and save for later!

Once you have your spice mix, time for the tea itself!  To mix properly, I like to be like bond and shake rather than stir.  Shaking the tea and the spices tends to mix them more evenly and keeps the small, fragile tea leaves from being beaten to a pulp.

In a large mason jar with a screw on lid, combine the tea leaves and spices and shake gently until you have a nice even mixture.  This will keep, sealed tight, for quite a while.  Just be sure to keep it cool and out of direct sun.

To Brew: 

When it comes to actually brewing this lovely tea, there are a whole few options.  If you've a tea ball rattling around the kitchen, feel free to fill it and steep in a cup of freshly boiled water but I feel the second option is much more fitting for the kind of tea we're after here.
Take a good, rounded tablespoon (or two if you like it strong) and toss it, along with a full 8 oz of cool water into a small pot and place it on the stove over medium heat.  Bring the contents to a very slow simmer for about one minute then remove from heat and strain with a fine mesh sieve.  Serve with lemon, soymilk, honey, and maybe a nice spiced cookie!

Chai has always (even when I was little) been a favorite of mine and of my family's.  The beauty of this sweetly pungent and spicy elixir is that it combines so many likely and unlikely allies into one wonderful blend, hitting so many notes that part of the fun is just trying to figure out what makes the stuff so good! 
Here I've added some non-traditional chai spices (Valencia orange peel, grains of paradise, vanilla seeds) but that too is part of the fun.  Try it out and see what you might want to add, take out, change...  Add a bay leaf, replace the orange peel with dried cranberries perhaps.  No matter what you end up with, it'll surely be worth writing home about!  Keep on experimenting!


1 comment:

Jill said...

These are all mouth watering - beautiful photo!