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).

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:

None.

Ingredients

  • 3.5 lbs chicken (whole OR thighs on the bone) + salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup beet greens, finely chopped, dry roasted, optionally, for about 4 minutes (measures 1/2 cup after processing)
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 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 (optional).

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. Of course, any greens can be used instead of beet greens. make sure they are finely diced.
  5. Claypot is fun to use; but I find the LeCruset more convenient since I can brown 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.
  8. 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.