I once told my husband, "If you cut me open, I'll bleed milk tea." He asked, "Why are you so morbid?" I don't know. At the time, it was the only way to accurately express my love for milk tea. What can I say? The love is real and strong.
Lately, I have a thing for grass jelly in my milk tea. Milk tea and grass jelly with a cream top and a sprinkle of sea salt? Oh God. Yes, please!
You are probably wondering what is grass jelly?
Grass jelly, or Sương Sáo, is a black gelatin that begins with boiling the leaves and stalks of the Chinese Mesona plant, a mint family member. The deep dark black tea is then filtered and a bit of starch is added to gelatinize. Once the mixture is cooled, it is cut into cubes and used in many desserts and drinks in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asia. Grass jelly is served as the one of the many toppings in Bubble Tea/Boba shops. Having a cold sweet drink with grass jelly is a great way to cool yourself off during the hot Summer days.
Grass jelly has many health benefits. It relieves digestive problems. It cures cancer, diabetes, mental illness, and it gives you wings. Its flavor is earthy with a slightly bitter and herbal undertone. For us silly Asians, this makes it a perfect contrasting component in desserts and drinks.
Here in the States, grass jelly is found in canned or powdered form. The canned form is already made. The jelly slides out like canned cranberry sauce. Simply dice it up and add it straight to the dessert or drink. The powder form is for those who want to make it fresh or for those who want to adjust the sweetness. The package comes with grass jelly powder, sugar and gelatin. Heat up the powder with water, add the sugar and gelatin, and allow it to set before use.
When I return to Vietnam in the near future, I would like to hike the hillside of the Vietnam countryside, pick and dry my own grass jelly plant, and bring it home with me to the States. Until then, the canned version in my local Asian grocery store will do just fine.
Grass Jelly Milk Tea with Sea Salt Cream Top (Tra Sua Suong Sao)Printer-Friendly Recipe
Yield: 1 serving
- 1 cup hot water
- 2 bags black tea (I love Red Rose and Ten Ren brand teas)
- 1 can grass jelly(cut into tiny cubes and soak in simple syrup, overnight in fridge for best results)
- 4 tablespoons brown-sugar simple syrup (1-part water dissolved with 1-part sugar)
- 3/4 cups ice
- 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream (whip or shake until frothy but still runny)
- Sprinkle of sea salt
- Steep the tea bags in the boiling water for 3-5 minutes (the longer the better). Refrigerate until cool.
- Add grass jelly (about 1/4 cup grass jelly), syrup and ice.
- Top with whipping cream and sea salt.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had the appetite of a million elephants. I indulged in all my favorite food. You can't finish that? Let me help you out. At the time, I was working close to Oakland Chinatown. That meant plenty of cheap and satisfying Vietnamese Sandwiches (Bánh Mì). Pregnant me didn't order just one sandwich. I usually ordered two and both were easily finished in one seating. After I was done, I would order another one, as a snack, for my grueling 15-minute waddle back to the office.
My favorite Bánh Mì? It was hands-down the roasted chicken sandwich (Bánh Mì Gà Nướng). Oh, how I love thee.
What makes the banh mi so delicious? Every banh mi starts off with a toasted French baguette. These are not your ordinary baguettes. You have to seek out these specialty baguettes at a Vietnamese deli or an Asian grocery store. When toasted, these baguettes are crispy on the outside yet magically airy and soft on the inside. Inside the baguette, you have chicken or duck liver pate, mayo, pickled daikon and carrots, fresh slices of cucumber, a few sprigs of cilantro, a couple slices of jalapenos and a squirt or two of Maggi seasoning soy sauce. It is these different textures and flavors that makes the Banh Mi so awesome. Plus, it's a taste of Vietnam that you can easily stuff in your purse.
The difference in the sandwich is the protein. My favorite is the grilled or roasted chicken as mentioned earlier but there are many more options. Other common banh mi sandwiches include grilled pork (thit nuong), grilled pork sausage (nem nuong), Vietnamese ham (cha lua), pork meatballs (xiu mai), head cheese (thit nguoi), bbq pork (thit xa xiu), and tofu (dau hu).
I rarely make Banh Mi at home because I'm surrounded by so many Banh Mi shops. But not everyone is so lucky. For those who don't have access to Vietnamese sandwich shops, I hope you find the following recipe for the grilled Vietnamese chicken sandwich helpful. Enjoy!
Quick note: For my Banh Mi, I found that if I omit the liver pate (laziness), it doesn't taste quite right. You don't need a lot of it on a sandwich. A very thin smear is really all you want and need. Since I need so little, I don't make pate at home. I find just buying the small store-bought tin can is more than enough for about 8-10 sandwiches.
Vietnamese Grilled/Roasted Chicken Sandwich (Bánh Mì Gà Nướng)
Makes 8-10 sandwiches
- 8-10 6-inch baguettes (toast light until crispy)
- Chicken or duck liver pate
- Vietnamese Five-Spiced Roasted Chicken Recipe (remove bone and cut into long strips)
- Vietnamese Picked Daikon and Carrot Recipe
- 1-2 jalapenos (slice thinly)
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 1 large English cucumber (thinly slice length-wise)
- Maggi seasoning soy sauce
Once you have all the ingredients in order, assemble the Bánh Mì: Spread a thin layer of mayo on one side of the baguette and a thin layer of liver pate on the other side. Add chicken, pickled daikon/carrot, jalapenos, a sprig or two of cilantro, a few slices of cucumbers and a quick drizzle of soy sauce. Bon appétit!