I headed to San Francisco last weekend, for the first time believe it or not, and had a remarkable culinary discovery at a place in the inner Richmond called Burma Superstar: Tea leaf salad, which you see above (I didn't get a shot of my own, so I pinched one from Grace Chen of cityfoodsters.com). We don't have a Burmese community in Portland, but we have some adventurous Southeast Asian restaurants, so once I got home, I figured I'd be able to find it somewhere around town. I was wrong. Nobody's doing this dish here, that I've yet found, anyway. So I set out to try and recreate what I'd had.
The definitive ingredient in this salad is fermented tea leaves, which due to a general lack of trade between Burma and the U.S., as well as a couple of really sketchy chemicals used in most commercial Burmese preparations, is basically impossible to get here (apparently, the Burma Superstar folks make regular excursions to Burma and mule a bunch of it back). There used to be an importer in London that you could order it from, but that source seems to have since dried up (and who wants to pay $40 in shipping for $2 worth of fermented tea leaves?). Making them myself wasn't really an option, as the process takes months and, presumably, a tropical climate, so the next best alternative was to use pickled tea leaves instead. I found this recipe online, for both the pickled tea leaves and the salad itself, and altered it a bit for my own purposes.
This salad is a two-step process, the first being the pickling and pureeing of the tea leaves. Here's the mise on that: