In India, “chai” is simply an ordinary word for tea—an everyday, extraordinary treat, brewed to support and complement the complex, exotic flavors of Indian cuisine. Typically brewed with milk, sugar and all manner of Mother India’s intricate spices, chai is at once sweet and creamy, with a densely smoky edge. But don’t look for it on your grocer’s shelves, reach for a saucepan and brew your own. Invite a few friends, snuggle into comfy chairs and celebrate your authentic selves with a lovely spot of chai.
If nibbles are a necessity, may we suggest a quick-and-easy batch of India-inspired tea sammies? Layer sliced cucumbers, cream cheese and prepared mint chutney on thinly sliced sandwich bread. Using a serrated knife, carefully remove the crusts, cut into four bitsy pieces and serve on your very best mismatched chai-na.
Authentic Indian Chai (Masala Chai)
4 cups cold water
2 cups regular or soy milk
1 stick cinnamon
6 whole cloves
12 green cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
6 teaspoons sugar, or more, to taste
9 bags orange pekoe tea
Combine water and milk in a deep saucepan and bring to a boil, careful not to let the frothy mixture boil over. Add the spices and sugar, stirring to blend. Turn off the heat, cover the pan and let the spices soak for 10 minutes.
Add the tea bags and bring the mixture to a second boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Before serving, taste, adding more milk or sugar, if desired.
Diva confession: To buy or not buy organic, that is the question. Organic fruits and veggies can be pricy, so for our cost-conscious readers concerned by pesticide use, it’s helpful to know what’s safe to purchase without the organic stamp of approval. Broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, onions, eggplant, tomatoes, sweet peas, corn and sweet potatoes are clean veggies. Fruits include papaya, kiwi, pineapple, mangoes and watermelon. It’s not they’re completely pesticide free—they simply aren’t prone to pests, or have thick protective skins that shield the edible bits from harmful chemicals. Splurge for organic when buying peaches, apples, strawberries, grapes, pears, cherries, celery, bell peppers, carrots and kale. Whenever possible, give it up for the little guy and buy local. Spend a lazy weekend morning perusing nature’s gifts at your local farmer’s market.