As my friendship with Shanshan Mei has blossomed like a chrysanthemum bud steeping in my teapot, so has my fascination with Chinese culture. Shanshan is a mesmerizing storyteller, and this girl has a story for every part of her culinary heritage, from the intricately painted dish-ware in which she dips her chopsticks to the fermented tofu she melts in a bowl of piping hot noodles. We spend hours, days at times, swapping stories and bites around Ithaca and our kitchens. When Shanshan asked if she could host a Chinese Tea Party at Frisch Kitchen, I emphatically shouted “YES!”
For the first time I opened the kitchen to the public, inviting tea-lovers from Ithaca and beyond to sample fifteen exclusive tea varieties supplied by Shanshan via a tender-loving care package from her mom. Yes folks, you cannot find these teas in the U.S.! Shanshan met with a tea expert over Skype to bolster her detailed knowledge of tea production in China and the nuances between White, Yellow, Green, Red, Oolong and Black Tea.
Before sipping, Shanshan made it very clear that “while we often associate tea with the Japanese, or god forbid the British, the Chinese were the creators!” In a captivating presentation, she laid the foundation for what tea actually is. My mind is swimming with busted myths and new knowledge! All six varieties are achieved through different processes that have developed from as far back as 1200 and as recently as 1990. New methods and varieties are still being developed today. The hillsides on which tea is grown also play a vital role in the differences in flavor.
Shanshan asked us, “What would you do on a typical day in 1215 in China?” I shouted something nonsensical, like “fetch the water!” Shanshan reminded us that China already had cities and a thriving culture in the 1200’s; life operated much in the way it does today. People worked, hard. Tea houses provided a respite, a place where people could connect, converse, hear the news and share a leisurely cup of tea. Light snacks were provided, but visitors saved room for proper meals at home. In a sense, this was the birth of restaurants!
While I had dreams of making shumai to accompany our tea party, I settled on a gently sweet and light snack inspired from south of China, Thailand. Shanshan showed me how to shape the purple stick rice into perfect spheres, using a common method (described below) in Chinese kitchens. I fashioned a mouthwatering cream sauce, inspired by my Almond & Candied Orange Cupcakes (a la Babycakes), and garnished the top with a few juicy wedges of mango. Though my mind is still set on journeying to China, this brings back fond memories of street food in Bangkok!
Don’t let the cooking time fool you. This recipe is simple and quick to prepare, you just need some forethought so the cream can set to a thicker consistency before serving! The ingredients for the cream can be found in the natural foods section of your supermarket or at your local cooperative market.
- Soymilk - ½ cup
- Soymilk powder - ½ cup
- Coconut flour - 1 1/2 tablespoons
- Agave nectar - 1 tablespoon
- Vanilla - ½ teaspooon
- Coconut oil - ½ cup
- Purple sticky rice - 2 cups
- Water - 4 1/4 cups
- Mango - 1 mango cut into matchsticks
- Note: Coconut oil usually comes in a jar, and depending on the temperature in the store or your pantry, is either in liquid or solid form. If the coconut oil is solid, melt it before measuring. You can either put the jar in a bath of boiling water, or scoop out the oil and melt it in a saucepan (if the latter, let the oil cool before using).
- In a blender or food processor, combine the soy milk, soy powder, coconut flour, agave nectar, and vanilla extract. Blend the ingredients for about 2 minutes.
- With the machine is still running, slowly add the coconut oil in a slow and steady trickle.
- Pour the cream into a bowl or container and cover it with a lid or plastic wrap container. Store the coconut cream in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.
- Rinse the rice in a colander.
- Put the rice and water in a medium pot and bring the water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover with a lid. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Check to see if the water is completely absorbed by the rice; the rice should be very soft, even mushy. Continue to cook if there is still water in the pot. When it is finished cooking, uncover the pot and let the rice stand in the pot for about 5 minutes.
- Tear off a piece of plastic wrap and lay it in the palm of your hand. Scoop about 3 tablespoons of rice into the palm of your hand. Fold the edges of the plastic wrap around the rice, so that the rice is in the center as if in a small bag. Twist the plastic wrap and shape the rice into a ball (see pictures below). Untwist the plastic and gently transfer the rice ball into a serving dish.
- Drizzle a dollop of coconut cream over the rice and top with a few sticks of mango. Devour with your eyes closed!