Monday, September 26, 2016

Masala Chai: Memories of India, and a Recipe

Masala Chai in the afternoon.

    We are firm believers in siesta, that marvelous time every afternoon where everyone takes a break, retreats to their rooms, and is quiet for a while. I haven't quite convinced the kids, yet, that it's a privilege and a blessing, and they often go with a bit of complaining, but this doesn't deter me. I'm a better mama for having a little quiet in the afternoon, and it follows that everyone is happier that way!  I usually make myself a cup of tea, sit down, and relax for at least part of this time. 

    Years ago I spent several months in India and Nepal where I enjoyed numerous cups of spicy tea sold by "chai wallas", street vendors squatting over steaming pots of sweet, spicy, milk tea. I remember  watching these alchemists as they squatted next to a kerosine burner, toss in handfuls of spices, creamy fresh milk, spoons overflowing with sugar, and little grains of black tea into an old worn pot. A fragrant cloud of steam would rise into the cold morning, luring me nearer. For just a few rupees, the chai walla would ladle the tea into a glass, or, in some places, a small terra cotta cup. Those were my favorite, as they were "disposable", and meant to be smashed on the ground when you were done! 

    Every week I get fresh milk from a friend who has a cow. It's become my Monday tradition to brew up a big pot of chai and keep it in a jar in my fridge. There is nothing like chai made from scratch, with fresh milk, whole spices, and robust black tea. A few people recently asked for my recipe, so I thought I'd share it here. I've adapted it to my tastes from one I found in Indian Home Cooking: A Fresh Introduction to Indian Food. Masala chai is made many ways, and this is my version. You you can easily adapt it to your tastes by changing the amount of spices, sweetener, and ratio of milk to water, or using a milk substitute. I like mine spicy, milky, and not too sweet. 

I crush whole cardamom pods, cloves, and peppercorns in a small mortar and pestle or grind them in a spice grinder. They don't need to be very fine, just broken up enough to release more of the delicious flavor! 

I break two cinnamon sticks into a couple pieces and thinly slice or roughly chop a good chunk of ginger. 

You could use any black tea, but this is what I use. It's what I remember using in India to make chai, and this is the only time I've found it in this form in the US. This happens to be a company that is local to me and I can buy it in bulk at the natural food store, but you can order it from their website or use loose black tea or tea bags. 

Mmmmm.... it smells so good!

Strain out all those delicious spices.

Add milk. It's beautiful. Sweeten to your taste, and enjoy! 

Masala Chai

Adjust the amount of spices to your taste. I use the greater amount because I like it spicy! 

18-22 Whole Green Cardamom Pods
12-15 Black Peppercorns
14-8 Whole Cloves
2 Cinnamon Sticks
2-3" Ginger Root
½ t. Ground Cinnamon (optional)

3 T Chai Patti Assam or Loose Black Tea or 5-6 Bags Black Tea

2 ½ C Water
4 C. Milk
2-3 T Honey or Sweetener of your choice

    Crush cardamom, peppercorns, and cloves in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder until they are well broken up but not too fine. Break cinnamon sticks into a couple pieces. Thinly slice or roughly chop ginger root. Add all the spices, including the ground cinnamon, if using, and the water, to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then take off the heat, add tea, and cover. Let steep for 15 minutes. Strain through a fine strainer, then pour back into the pot. Add milk and sweetener to taste. Heat it back up and enjoy! I keep any extra in a jar in the fridge so I can enjoy it throughout the week.