At The Dutchess, a Burmese restaurant that just opened in Ojai, Calif., chef and partner Saw Naing created his version of this beloved dish from his childhood.
He starts by importing tea leaves from Myanmar and preserving them in a blend of canola oil, ginger, garlic, salt and “lots and lots of lime juice.” He cures them for 2-3 weeks, a process that removes the leaves’ bitterness and gives them a flavor he says is similar to cured olives.
“You can actually go months and months with this preservation process, so I’m excited to start experimenting with that down the line and really understand how the flavor evolves,” he said. “We then save the oil and reuse it to ferment more tea leaves, so each batch just gets richer and richer.”
Originally, Naing was going to serve the salad as pictured, with its components laid out to be assembled by guests, but ultimately decided it would work better served already mixed. Along with the tea leaves, pictured in the center are tomatoes, sesame seeds, peanuts, fried shallots, fried garlic, lime and mint, which are part of the traditional preparation, along with cilantro, which is not normally used, but Naing said he loves it.
“My mom actually keeps scolding me that I use cilantro because she feels it overpowers the tea leaves, but I just love this herb so much and I see it as putting my own California take on the dish,” he said.
He also adds nontraditional radishes and turnips to the dish for crunchiness, as well as local lettuces such as Napa cabbage and red gem lettuce, which aren’t pictured.