One of my go-to spots for to-go food in San Francisco, the land of 10,000 dishes, is B Star Bar on Clement Street, the chilled out little brother of the famed Burma Superstar. Both places have a variety of amazing options, but I personally only go there for one: the fermented tea leaf salad.
It’s sweet, it’s sour, it’s spicy, it’s crunchy, and at $12 a pop, it’s doable and a filling lunch. There’s only one problem: it’s addictive. Seriously, I’m not sure why they don’t have salad dealers giving out freebies for first-timers – they WILL be hooked and they WILL be back, and before you know it, there would be a population of very healthy-looking salad addicts with $125/week habits, plus tip.
As a chef, I am a little frugal about the food I buy. I will spend heaven and earth for the right ingredients, and indulge in luxurious tasting menus (for the sake of R&D, naturally…), but I will not justify a $25/day salad habit when the ingredients will cost me $3.50, if not less, with my weekly farmer’s market trip and already-stocked-pantry. Whatever the case, I decided it was time to experiment on my own – and the results were phenomenal. My upstairs neighbor, a vegetarian gourmand with one foot in the world of food photography and the culinary arts while the other is firmly planted in grad school, admitted that she preferred this dressing over the restaurant’s in a side-by-side comparison for its brightness!
AND – in case you haven’t heard, fermented foods are SO GOOD FOR YOU! Why, because like Activiaaaaah, they provide good bacteria to your gut, which happens to be the seat of our immune systems. More good bacteria = happier bellies, skin, and bodies = healthier you. Good bacteria helps you break down food more readily, thereby gaining more access to the nutrients in the food, and will also keep you a little more on the “regular” side, if you know what I mean…
- ⅓ c dried green tea leaves
- 1 c water
- 1 c white vinegar
- ½ c safflower, grape seed, or canola oil
- ⅛ c sesame oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 Tablespoon fish sauce – tamari or coconut aminos to keep it vegan
- 1 head romaine, chopped finely
- 1 tomato, small dice
- ½ c yellow split peas, prepared according to package directions or just boiled in 2 c salted water until plump and chewable, but not mushy – 15 minutes or so*
- ½ c roasted unsalted peanuts
- 2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
- 2 Tablespoons sunflower seeds
- 1 serrano or jalapeño, sliced very thinly into rounds
- ¼ cup sliced garlic chips or fried shallots
- 1 lemon, cut into halves for a large serving dish, quarters for individual.
- *omit split peas for Paleo and replace peanuts with cashews or almonds
- First, combine tea leaves, water, and vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce heat and simmer gently for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and drain, squeezing as much liquid out as possible.
- Place tea leaves, oils, garlic cloves, lemon juice, and fish sauce or substitute into a blender or small food processor and blend until smooth, You will end up with about 1 cup of dressing.
- Place dressing in a jar and cover with a paper towel secured by a rubber band. Leave for 3 days out of direct sunlight to ferment, then cover with a lid and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months, though I promise it won’t last that long because you’ll be eating it! (My first jar lasted 4 days – ugh – making a triple batch next time…)
- For the salad itself, we first need to crisp the split peas and garlic. This can be done quickly, by shallow frying, or a little more slowly and healthfully by baking. I prefer the latter.
- Preheat the oven to 375.
- Spread the cooked split peas on a parchment paper in a single layer. You can put the garlic on the same tray if you have room.
- Liberally spray the peas and garlic with cooking spray – I prefer coconut because I like the flavor addition, but regular Pam or olive oil will do.
- Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, until the peas look dry and the garlic is golden in color.
- Place the chopped lettuce on a serving plate, and arrange each topping in sections for presentation.
- For the whole salad, you would use 4 Tablespoons of dressing and the juice of one lemon. For individually plated ones, one Tablespoons and ¼ lemon per plate is enough.
- Toss everything together using two forks, and dig in!
The dressing does take 3 days to fully ferment, but is delicious from the get-go. You can definitely use it freshly blended, but the health benefits start kicking up after 72 hours.