Cooking and eating lei cha is another truly hakka experience. The picture below shows a complete set of lei cha dish from my kitchen.
Though preparing lei cha is laborious and tedious, it is worth all the trouble because lei cha is fiber-rich and detoxify the liver if taken regularly. It is good for people having persistent cough. Sickly people should eat lei cha everyday without the groundnuts.
To avoid last minute rush, it is better to prepare the groundnuts together with the chai poh one day beforehand and keep all the finely chopped vegetables in the fridge.
The three most important herbs of lei cha:
– The most important herb of lei cha is the Dwarf mugwort (artemisia vulgaris L.). In Chinese is Aicao. Dry mugwort is used in Chinese Medicinal treatment as herbs for moxibustion.Hakka Remedy for headache – boil and drink the soup or make tea. Another one is fry the herbs and eggs together without oil. Mugwort is easiest to grow among all the herbs for lei cha.
– Sawtooth coriander (eryngium foetidium) is a very popular herb here in Malaysia and is a good replacement for cilantro. Despite of their different look and texture, they are very similar in taste, both display that distinctive fragrance and pungent taste of coriander. It can be used to replace curry leaf and Chinese celery for cooking curry or soup. This herb grows well under shade and needs a lot of water. This herb is a must-have item in my Nasi Briyani Recipe.
– Thai basil (ocimum basilicium L.) is an important herb for Hakka people. Hakka clan is the ancient immigrants from the Yellow River plateau. They include a lot of basil leaves in their dishes. One of this is stir-fry brinjal with fermented black beans and Thai basil.
Another three herbs of lei cha:
These are not optional but if cannot be found anywhere nearby, then just skip one or two herbs. Out of these three herbs above, the first two are not easy to grow here in Malaysia. Nevertheless, there are some farmers who grow lei cha herbs and supply them to the lei cha hawkers in Kuching.
– Spearmint a.k.a pudina (mentha spicata) is known to display a fresh, sweet and tangy flavour with a cool after-taste. All varieties of mints are good for cough and clearing lungs. For lactating mothers, limit the use of this herb as it reduces milk secretion.
– Perilla (perilla frutescens) is a common herb found in Asia. It is a well-known remedy for food poisoning from fish and crab. Just boil about 60 gm of the leaves and drink. There are a few Chinese patent medicine containing perilla like Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Pian.
– Elephant foot grass aka tutup bumi (elephantopus scaber L.) is a very versatile herb. Unofficial reports from some Chinese Herbal magazines show that it can cure leukemia. It can grow easily in Malaysia. It has a slightly bitter but pleasant taste. Hakka people cook this herb as vegetable by boiling chicken meat with the fresh or dry leaves.
Tutup Bumi is a good remedy for heat stroke. Wash the leaves thoroughly, mash and extract the juice – that is the Hakka remedy passed down from wise ancestors ages ago. Brew tea with the dried leaves or boil the fresh leaves with dates is another option for this remedy.
The three bitter herbs of lei cha:
These three herbs shown above are bitter and should be prepared separately to form a bitter paste.
–Kulixin is the three-leaved acanthopanax(Acanthopanax trifoliatus L. Merr.). As the name implies, it has clusters of three leaves in one and the middle one is the biggest leaf. It has thorns all over the stems so it is better to use scissors for cutting the leaves. Dried Kulixin leaves taste like tea leaves but much more bitter and astringent.
–Daun Capa (Blumea balsamifera) is an aromatic herb which grows wild in the bush. Hakka people boil the dry plant of the herb and use them for bathing mothers in confinement. It is believed that daun capa bath can help to get rid of bad ‘winds’ from the loosen bones of the mothers who have just given birth. They are unlikely to get postpartum bone pain after the bath.Daun capa, as you can see, is a herbal remedy for rheumatism.
–Pennywort a.k.a pegaga(Centella asiatica) is also used by the Malays. Do not add too much of this to lei cha soup as its strong herbal taste may overshadow other flavour in the soup. Lei cha soup can go without it. In Chinese medicine, pegaga is a remedy herb for tonsillitis. After thorough washing, mash and squeeze the fresh leaves to extract juice, mix with vinegar and swallow slowly. No harm trying if the pegaga plants are homegrown and safe for eaten raw.
Use a pair of sharp scissors, snip off the young leaves of the following herbs:
- 50g Mugwort
- 20g Sawtooth coriander(cut into 1 ” Strips,using scissors)
- 20g Thai Basil
- 5 g Perilla
- 5 g Elephant foot grass( cut into 1″ strips,using scissors
- 1 tbs of green tea leaves(dry toasted) or Japanese green tea powder
- 1/2 tsp mushroom powder(optional)
Notice the total weight of the picked herbs is 100 g.
Do not cut or chop the herbs using knife as action like this will result in bruises on the leaves.
Wash the herbs thoroughly and proceed to the next step immediately.
Prepare 1 cup of boiling water in the wok.
- Plunge the herbs into the boiling water and bring to boil for 2 minutes. This is to prevent the leaves from turning black due to oxidation when the cut surface gets in contact with the oxygen in the air.
- Add another 1/2 – 1 cup of bottled water and allow it to cool.
- Blend the herbs with 1/4 cup of groundnuts and 1/2 tbs of toasted green tea leaves. Do not add too much tea leaves which will make the soup looks black.
- A jade green herbal paste is now ready for the lei cha soup.
- To prepare the lei cha soup, just add 3 tbs of jade green lei cha paste to 1 cup of hot tea. The thickness of the tea is up to individual.
Preparing the bitter paste
- 10g Kulixin
- 5g Daun Capa(optional)
- 5g Pegaga(Optional)
Steps for preparing bitter paste is the same as above except water to be added is 1/4 cup of water.
Do not add groundnuts to this bitter paste.
Add the bitter paste according to personal favor.
Preparing the side dishes
- 2 pieces tofu – cut into tiny cubes and stir-fry.
- 200 g groundnuts (smaller type) – Do not wash. Dry toasted right away and skinned or buy packed groundnuts.
- Almond flakes, sunflower seeds or cashew nuts can be used to replace the groundnuts.
- 1 tbs dry toasted sesame seeds(optional).
- 200 g grated chai poh(preserved raddish) – stir-fry till slightly brown.
Prepare 200g of each of the following :
- Chai xim
- Kai lan
- Cangkok manis
- Long Bean or winged bean
- Leeks(optional for Buddhist and Hari Krishna vegetarians).
All the vegetables listed above are to be chopped. Stir fry the vegetables one by one.
Serve with a bowl of rice or puffed rice topped with all the side dishes. Add salt to taste.
Yeah, cooking lei cha is fun.
Crunch, crunch, crunch!
Munch, munch, munch!
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