Lei Cha (擂茶), pounded tea, is one of the most laborous Hakka cuisines. Traditionally, the many herbs used to make Lei Cha soup were pounded with a large mortar and a long stick made from a guava tree. That tool is hidden in my kitchen, as modern people use blender to make the soup nowadays!
Lei Cha is my mother’s favourite Hakka dish. But one that she makes the least due to the amount of work involved. If you’d like to take the challenge to make this from scratch, watch the video to understand the entire process and shortcuts that you can take. If you wouldn’t cook it, I’ll tell you where to get the best Lei Cha in Kuala Lumpur.
Besides the amount of work involved, the difficulty of getting certain herbs is another factor that deters my family from making this more often. Here are a few herbs that are elusive in the market. That is why we grow all the below in our organic garden!
- THAI BASIL In Malaysian supermarkets, Thai Basil is not as common as herbs like mint. That is perhaps because that it’s one of the least used herbs in Malaysian dishes. But this flavour makes the dish.
- SAWTOOTH CORIANDER The shape of this coriander is very different from that that we get at the supermarket. The leaf is long, flat, and with edges like the teeth of the saw blade. My Mom favour this as the taste is more intense. It’s also because it’s growing wild in our garden!
- MUGWORT This is another herb that isn’t available at the market.
- FU YIP SUM/ KU YE XIN (苦力心) Acanthopanax trifoliatus. This is perhaps the rarest of all herbs. We’ve made the recipe without this many times. I believe this is also not used in most restaurants as it’s not widely available for sale.
- Wok + spatula
- Chopping board + knife
- Oven (optional)
Hakka Lei Cha / Tea Rice 擂茶
- HERB FOR SOUP
- Thai Basil - 2 cups
- Mint - 2 cups
- Sawtooth Coriander -2 cups
- Mugwort - 1 cup
- Fu Yip Kam苦力心 (Acanthopanax trifoliatus)- 1/4 cup
- SEASONINGS FOR SOUP
- Sesame seeds, roasted - 2/3 cup
- Ground nuts, roasted - 2/3 cups
- Chinese tea leaves - 1 teaspoon
- White pepper powder, to taste
- Salt, to taste
- Water, according to consistency that you like
- SIDE DISHES
- Choy bo (Salted radish), minced x 100 g
- Dried shrimps, minced x 65 g
- Onion, minced x 2
- Hard Tofu, chop into 1/2 cm cubes - 1
- Chinese Leek - 1 packet
- Star gooseberry (Sayur manis/ Manicai) - 1 packet
- Garlic, minced - 1 bulb
- French beans - 1 packet
- Kailan (Chinese Kale) - 1 packet
- Choy Sum - 1 packet
- Step 1 TO MAKE BLENDED SOUP: Fry herbs for soup until dry and soft. Blend fried herbs with tea leaves until a paste is formed. Using the spice attachment of your blender, blend sesame seeds and peanuts until fine. To make into a soup, add blended sesame seeds-peanut, and hot water. Season with white pepper and salt.
- Step 2 COOK RADISH, ONIONS, AND DRIED SHRIMPS: Fry preserved radish until dry. Pour in oil, then dried shrimps and onion. Fry until aromatic. Add radish, mix well, and dish out.
- Step 3 FRY TOFU: Fry cubed tofu in oil until it turns brown. Season with salt.
- Step 4 CHINESE LEEK: Sauté Chinese leek until soft.
- Step 5 FRY FRENCH BEANS: Sauté minced garlic until golden brown. Add chop french beans and fry until cooked.
- Step 6 COOK SAYUR MANIS: Sauté minced garlic until golden brown. Fry sayur manis until soft.
- Step 7 COOK CHOI SUM: Sauté minced garlic until golden brown. Fry stems of choi sum, followed by the the leaves, until soft. Season with salt.
- Step 8 COOK KAILAN : Sauté minced garlic until golden brown. Fry stems of kailan, followed by the the leaves, until soft. Season with salt and sugar.
- Use a spice blender to crush the peanuts and sesame seeds. I am using the Panasonic blender with two attachments – one for blending smoothie/paste, and another for blending things like nuts. The finer it is, the better.
- Toast peanuts in the oven Traditionally, my mother roast peanuts on the wok. I prefer to use an oven instead to leave it there and cook the many other dishes instead.
- Freeze blended soup ingredients We like making extra soup paste to freeze. On busy days, we just defrost then put the paste and water into a pot to boil.
Although it’s a lot of work, I love making this with my Mom and keeping the tradition alive.