Silk Road: Kashmiri Kahwa Tea

In my last trip to India, I was introduced to this incredibly fragrant, flavorful, gentle Kashmiri Tea. Green tea with saffron, rose petal and sweet spices. I am a tea junkie and I feel obliged to share this one. What sets this apart, in my mind, is the use of delicate sweet spices and multiple infusions (ala some high-end Chinese tea).

Using a 21st century “samovar”, you can use multiple infusions to last you an entire afternoon of incessant flavorful tea from a scant teaspoon of tea. See picture: this pot has no beak, the tea comes out of its bottom – pardon my language- into the drinking cup. Enjoy!

Special tools:

A Steeping pot; an electric kettle for heating water.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 tsp Kashmiri green tea
  • 8-10 strands saffron
  • 1/4 tsp edible dehydrated rose petals
  • Sweet spices: 3-4 whole green cardamom pods + 1 inch canela (Mexican cinnamon stick)
  • Optional: dash of Himalayan pink salt

Method

Bring a cup of water to 198 F. Place all the above ingredients in a teapot and pour the hot water into the pot and let steep for about thirty seconds. Strain into a drinking cup.

You can use multiple infusions- don’t discard the tea mix but use fresh hot water for a second, third and even fourth cup of tea. Adjust the steeping time to your preference.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. The Himalayan pink salt is my contribution to this classic mix: the salt rounds out the flavor (and I believe helps your body absorb water).
    My grandfather used to take a little salt in his tea and the rest of the family scoffed. Now I totally understand.
  2. What makes this Kashmiri tea work with the very delicate flavors of saffron and rose petals is the use of green, not black, tea. The Mexican canela is milder than the regular Malabar or even Saigon cinnamon.
    My regular go-to tea has been the kadak (strong) CTC -Crush, Tear, Curl- pellet, also called mamri tea. But just once a day. For the rest, I flirt with these other gentle, soul-caressing ones.
  3. The tea gets stronger with longer steeping time. So you can adjust based on your preference. This tea is more amenable to multiple infusions.
    There is nothing worse than lukewarm tea; so keep the water hot.
  4. In my trips to Hong Kong, I had seen the use of porcelain (China) teapots for multiple infusions at tea tasting events. You can use Chinese teapots if that is more easily available for you.
    The teapot shown in the picture here was bought at Teavana in New York. It is very convenient to use: once the steeping is done, you simply place the pot on your cup and the built in mechanism automatically strains the tea into your cup, leaving the tea leaves behind for the next infusion.
  5. You may add honey to sweeten to your cup (not teapot), if you wish.
  6. Sulaimani Tea/ Malabar Tea: India never disappoints me with its variety: I was besotted by Sulaimani in a Tea House in Mumbai. Coincidentally, an Iranian general with a similar name was hot in the news and that confused me about the tea’s origin. But the Sulaimani formula hails from Kerala.
    It is a sweetened black (no milk) tea with a dash of lemon and a few Malabar spices – cinnamon, clove etc. The sweetner is usually honey, and sometimes even jaggery (you can use Mexican piloncillo or panela).
  7. Ma’s Tea. When my mother visited me, I got addicted to her style of spiced black tea. I streamlined the process as: Nuke for 2 minutes 1 cup of water, about 1/8 tsp freshly grated ginger and 2-3 grinds of black pepper. Meanwhile, place 1 tsp black tea (I used Tata Tea Gold ) in the teapot (like the Teavana tea pot). Pour the hot water into the pot. Let steep for 30 secs. Pour the black tea into a cup with 1 tsp sugar (2 cubes). Stir. Serve hot.
    [I got into the habit of using a second infusion in the Teavana pot for a 2nd cup for myself, when I served my Mom.]

Silk Road: Tbilisi Chicken Stew

In my recent trip to Tbilisi, I bought a clay baking dish (ketsi) from a subway vendor. We communicated animatedly via miming. Gesturing creatively, she urged me to make chicken in the ketsi (or, so I think!). I also picked up a melange of spices at a street market, from an equally warm vendor whose enthusiastic chatter was translated by her young daughter. This is my homage to the gorgeous Georgian ladies.

Dairy and meat is not a common duo, but inspired by the Tbilisi experience, I present a version of shkmeruli, albeit with some spices (the above street-market spices) and a light, fragrant broth. Enjoy!

Special tools:

Claypot.

Ingredients

  • 3.5 lbs chicken (whole OR thighs on the bone) + salt and pepper to taste
  • Mirepoix: 1/2 cup beet greens, finely chopped, dry roasted, optionally, for about 4 minutes (measures 1/2 cup after processing)
  • 2 cups whole milk + 10-12 garlic cloves crushed,softened in 2 tbsp neutral oil (optional)
  • Georgian spices: 1 tsp Utskho suneli (“foreign” spice or blue fenugreek powder) + 2 tsps kharcho (mixed spices)
  • 10 sage leaves
  • Topping (optional): Georgian Ajika, a chilli-garlic powder

Method

Wipe the chicken pieces dry with kitchen towel and sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides. Brown both sides of chicken in a heavy bottomed pan. If using a claypot, line the claypot with the greens and place the browned chicken pieces on it. Deglaze the heavy bottomed pan with little water and pour on the chicken. If using an enamel iron pot (Le Cruset), add the greens directly and there is no need to explicitly deglaze.

Mix the Georgian spices in milk and pour gently over the chicken. Sprinkle the sage leaves all over the chicken.

Bake covered at 325 F for 1 hour. If not done, remove lid, baste and bake uncovered until interior temp to 165 F. Serve hot with topping.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. Just a couple of weeks before my travel to the Caucasus, I had experimented with a citrus-milk-chicken stew. In a Baader-Meinhof coincidence I ran into shkmeruli -chicken stewed in milk- at Sakhli, ostensibly one of the top Georgian restaurants in Tbilisi. My version here is slightly different from this classic Georgian dish and I present the citrus chicken below.
  2. If you don’t have Georgian spices, you can substitute with mix of garam masala and coriander powder.
  3. When using chicken thighs, I skin it to reduce the chicken fat in broth.
  4. My Mirepoix: I use dry roasting greens, instead of the classical French technique (eponymous!). Any greens will do- just make sure they are finely diced.
  5. Claypot enables even low-heat cooking; but Le Cruset is a lazier use, since it lets one brown, deglaze and cook in the same pot.
  6. The milk in the stew curdles– providing little cheese curds and a tasty, light broth.
  7. Ajika is reminiscent of the Maharashtrian garlic powder (with chilli, coconut, sesame). Almost all cultures –East Asian to Indian to Mexican– seem to have a version of this lip-smacking, hot, pungent topping.
  • Citrus Chicken: Here is a floral chicken stewed in milk, that is equally gorgeous. Substitute the Georgian spices with:
    Zest of 1 lemon, 2 oranges + 1 orange cut into pieces + 1 tsp ground cardamom + 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon + 9-10 garlic pods, skinned, smashed and softened in 2 tbsp oil
    In fact adding the zest at the end gives a stronger citrus aroma to the dish.

Malwani Chicken: The technique is inspired from above- it turned out like restaurant chicken, but without the oiliness. I used no more oil than the little fat the chicken thighs came with. The artesanal Malwani spice was the high end mix from Mumbai Food Court.
— 1.15 lb chicken skinless, on the bone, thighs. Salt and chilli pepper on both sides. Heat oven-proof calphalon. Add chicken thighs, fat side down to render it. Leave untouched for 1 minute. Then turn the thighs. Add 5 crushed garlic and let it heat till garlic is fragrant.
— Make a mix of 3/4 cup lactose-free skim plus milk (a little sweeter that just skim plus. wonder why) +1 1/4 thin yogurt (made from 1% milk) + 2 tsps Malwani spice mix + salt to taste
— Cook covered at 325 F for 1 hr. Then turn down to 300 F for another 15 mins.

Bengali Swordfish: Does the technique transfer to fish ? Here is the application on a firm-fleshed swordfish. Used the same recipe as above- except used Kalyustan’s Bengal Spice mix and baked at 300 F. Turned out Bengali great!