3-22-10

MILKY TEA AND COOKIES
(AND OTHER MAGIC POTIONS)

SERVES 1, GENEROUSLY

Is there anything more irritating than a spring cold? Here I thought I’d made it though the entire winter staying remarkably robust and then, yesterday morning — after a week of crystal clear, crocus-popping sunshine — I woke up sneezing and snuffling and achy and feeling generally just awful. Then, this morning, the rain started. Needless to say, it took all the strength I had today just to get out of bed.

But let’s go back a minute. 15 years ago actually, to my senior year of high school, when I started getting freakish bouts of laryngitis that made my throat feel like it’d been buffed with sandpaper and my voice a strangled sort of whisper. The bouts were odd (calling Dr. Freud!) — but thankfully, didn’t last through my first semester of college. What I did take away with me, however, was a recipe for a hot ginger tonic — courtesy of an art teacher who I adored like a big sister. Great mounds of fresh ginger, grated into boiling water, sweetened with sticky tablespoonfuls of honey, and spritzed with slices of lemon: Ms. Demilta’s prescription became my miracle potion, my sickbed standby, the antidote to every cough and sniffle. At the merest suggestion of a wheeze, I’d whip up a gallon for a friend. I was utterly devoted.

But then, a few years ago, a coworker of mine insisted that she had her own miracle potion: an amped-up version masala chai, the classic Indian mix of strong black tea simmered with milk and sugar and a heady bouquet of cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, and peppercorns. I tried it. And lo and behold, I was smitten. Compared to my wonder tonic — which I’d always thought of as a slow burning slap to the senses — this chai was a quiet squeeze, restorative as a hot bath and a terry robe.

Happily, discovering the wonders of masala chai hasn’t meant giving up my old standby — it’s just meant adding more options to my kitchen-medicine cabinet. And so, this afternoon, as I was struggling to keep my eyes open over this damned laptop amidst a sea of crumpled tissues, I found myself craving something hot and sweet and spicy. I wanted a treat. I wanted it all. The result is this recipe: which combines the sharp ginger punch of my tonic with the milky sweetness of traditional chai masala. Take the time to use whole spices: it’s worth it. Make more than you think you could possibly consume: you’ll drink it all. And if you really need cheering up, good god, get yourself some cookies for dunking.

3 cups whole milk
12 cardamom pods, cracked and seeds removed
1 cinnamon stick (about 2 inches long)
4 white peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
2 star anise
3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
3 cups water
3 tea bags, black tea (I use PG Tips)

1. In a large saucepan, heat the milk to a slow simmer. At the same time, blend cardamom seeds, cinnamon, peppercorns, and fennel seeds in a spice grinder until they are a fine powder. When the milk is hot, stir in the spice blend, star anise, ginger, brown sugar, and honey. Lower heat and let simmer for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, as the spices infuse the milk.

2. In a separate pan, bring the water to a boil. Add the tea bags, reduce heat, and let simmer for 2 minutes. Turn off heat.

3. Discard the tea bags and pour the tea into the hot milk and spice mixture. Stir to combine and simmer another few minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Using a mesh strainer to catch the remaining whole spices, pour the mixture into a teapot. Drink it, nibble on some almond biscotti, and feel better.

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