Monday, November 23, 2009

Chai Tea with Wild Fennel Seed

I had to get up early this morning to take my car in for maintenance in Mill Valley.  On the 45 minute walk back home, across the marshlands of Richardson Bay, past the cranes and other water birds making a quick breakfast of the grubs and bugs in the deep grasses, I had a few moments of respite, the kind that help us catch up with our thoughts, remembering those emails that we haven't yet tended to, or the projects we are aching to begin.  A sort of  "mental accounting time" I guess you could say.  It was just then, wondering about the grasses and plants of this wild land, that I began pondering the Chai tea recipe my friend Linda sent me just yesterday.  You see, Linda was the only friend of 20 or so that complied with my forwarded recipe-exchange email. I had gotten it from a friend's mom and it seemed simple enough: Type up a quick recipe, the kind you can recite off the top of your head, send to the #1 person on a list of 2 people. Move the #2 person into the #1 position, and place your name into the #2 position.  In a few days I should receive 20 recipes, sort of exciting, really.  Well apparently my friends and family are way too busy for this sort of thing, as I received multiple emails saying they just "didn't have the time". (my thought was, "what-everrrr," in the best valley girl accent I could come up with).  I did receive one recipe though, for chicken breast sauteed with noodles and garlic, and heated through with DiSorrento Alfredo Sauce.  The recipe said it was optional to serve this dish with Texas Cheese Toast. I was about to be judgemental, using terms like WT and the like, but considering it was the only recipe I recieved, I was thankful for the effort (despite the fat cells I imagined expanding on my thighs).  I managed to rattle off an easy version of Butternut Squash Gratin, layering Bechemel with a sprinkling of parmesan, nutmeg and thyme, and topping with gruyere cheese.   (Yes, my thighs are expanding at the thought of that calorie-laden dish as well).  So, back to Linda, who facebooked me that she did participate by sending a Chai Tea recipe to the first person on the list (thanks Linda).  To date, she hadn't received any recipes in return...
Chai Tea?  "Can you forward me the recipe?" I called out over the airwaves.

After I arrived home, after a quick inventory of the cupboard revealed I had all the ingredients except fennel seeds, Foeniculum vulgare.  I had hardly ever used them, and seriously could not remember if I had ever used them in my cooking before (although eaten plenty of them in restaurants).  After having wondered about unidentifiable marsh plants just moments before, I felt confident and proud that I could solve  the no fennel problem in a matter of minutes. Wild fennel is practically everywhere in the SF Bay Area that's not deliberately landscaped. After a little online research, I found the ideal time to pick is when the seed pods start to turn slightly brown. Of course one should choose a patch away from traffic and the overspray of neighboring gardeners' weed killers. (an important point as I witnessed just today a neighbor spraying small grasses in her driveway with Roundup just feet away from the Fig tree I had been sneaking fruit from a few weeks back.) Oops, back to the fennel.  So, after picking , rinse the seed pods off, spread them out (on a screen or sheet pan) and let them dry naturally for a few days. When dry, the seed on the inside of the pod releases easily. These are exactly the same seeds you will find in a fancy jar in the spice aisle but instead are FREE. I strolled up my street and clipped a few fronds, some in later stages so I could use them immediately.

Here's her recipe:

Chai tea

3 pods cardamom, cracked
1 (3-inch) stick Ceylon cinnamon
2 whole cloves
1/2 tspn whole coriander
1/2 tspn fennel seeds
1 tspn black peppercorns
2 (2-inch) strips orange zest
1 tblspn black tea (or 5 decaf tea bags)
1 cup plain regular soy milk
2 tblspns honey

In a medium saucepan, combine the cardamom, cinnamon, cloves,coriander, fennel, and peppercorns with the orange zest. Add 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 5 minutes. Add the black tea. Cover and remove from heat. Let steep 30 minutes.Strain the spiced infusion. Pour it back into the pot. Add soy mik and honey. Heat, pout into cups and serve. Serves 4.

I must admit, being an avid tea drinker, the idea of steeping my PG Tips for 30 minutes was offputting.  Usually more than 2 minutes and the tea is bitter and tannic as hell.  Somehow that didn't happen.  Don't forget to crush open the cardamom pods though, as the flavors just don't extract if you leave them whole (I forgot the first time).  I used a few extra cloves and wasn't anal about the measurements of the other spices.  Also, I highly recommend using organic oranges, as the zest is the semi-permeable barrier between the pesticides the grower used and the fruit inside.  If your fruit is not organic, these creepy substances will be released into your delicious concoction, making it not so delicious seeming after all.

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