Several years ago, I ate a salad while on vacation in northern California that was life changing. This lahpet thoke salad was so divinely different than anything I had ever eaten. It was a tastebud-altering experience, to say the least. My mind was boggled by the combination of the complex flavors and the simplicity of the ingredients.
While I was still sitting in the unassuming Burmese strip-mall restaurant in which this salad first graced my palate, I vowed that I would learn to make this incredible salad on my own so that I could eat it as often as possible. I went home and got to work on replicating this salad. As it turns out, it wasn’t quite as simple as I thought to create a truly wonderful lahpet thoke.
After many attempts and a few years of not quite “getting it,” I think I have finally found the right balance of ingredients. I have discovered that the true secret ingredient in a good lahpet thoke is a good quality sencha tea. If you decide to make this, don’t get the cheapest sencha available. Spend a little more to get big, leafy tea without sticks. I promise it’ll be worth it. You may never eat a “normal American” salad again.
Fermented Tea Leaves:
¼ c. sencha tea leaves, loose
1 c. water
1 c. vinegar
¼ c. sesame oil
¼ c. olive oil
1 Tbsp. maggi seasoning or dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp. fish sauce or vegan fish sauce
Juice from one lemon
1 inch knob of ginger, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt to taste
1 head of romaine lettuce, chopped
2 roma tomatoes, diced
½ c. peanuts
½ c. sunflower seeds, shelled
¼ c. toasted sesame seeds (I prefer black and white)
½ c. fried chana dal or yellow split peas (see instructions below)
¼ c. fried garlic, prepared or homemade
Lemon wedges, for serving
The fermented tea leaves will need to be prepared 2-3 days before the salad is served. To prepare the tea leaves, you should first remove any twigs that may be mixed in with the leaves. This is important because you don’t want to bite down on a hard twig when you’re enjoying your divine salad.
Next, boil the vinegar and water. Remove from the heat and steep tea leaves in the liquid for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse. Then, steep the tea leaves in a bowl of cold water for 1 hour. Drain and squeeze out any extra liquid by pushing the leaves against the strainer.
Place the tea leaves in a food processor, along with the sesame oil, olive oil, maggi seasoning, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, and lemon juice. Process until the leaves are finely minced. Season with salt and process quickly again. Place the tea leaves in an airtight glass container and set in a cool dark place. Allow the leaves to ferment for 2-3 days.
To make the chana dal, soak 1 c. of chana dal for 4 hours and then drain. In a large skillet, heat coconut oil over medium heat. Add the chana dal to the pan and stir until cooked. Place the cooked chana dal on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil. Season with a small dash of turmeric, chili powder, salt, and pepper.
To make the salad, place the ingredients in separate piles around two plates (dividing ingredients equally). Make sure to include a big scoop of the tea leaves in the center. Squeeze lemon on top, if desired, mix together all of the ingredients, and enjoy!