tea egg salad

I realize that this title of this post is somewhat misleading because, as you can see from the above picture, I didn’t make egg salad per se – I made a salad with eggs on it. Really, though, the whole salad moniker is a mystery. As far as I can tell, the inclusion of mayonnaise in any admixture of unlikely ingredients – say, overcooked flakes of canned marine creature and chunks of celery – constitutes salad, despite the frequent absence of lettuce leaves or any vegetable that doesn’t also double as a punishment for dieters.

To find out where salad comes from, in the linguistic sense, I consulted the trusty Online Etymology Dictionary. This is basically what it said:

Once upon a time, the Romans didn’t have refrigerators, but they did have a heck of a lot of salt because they were a seafaring people in fashionable togas with no qualms about conquering places all along the perimeter of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Anyway, as it turned out, salt was a good way to prevent your herba (no, not that kind of herba – it’s just the Latin word for veggies) from going bad, and was also a good way to make them taste less boring. Fast forward a thousand years, to the Middle Ages: despite their best efforts, Europeans had still not invented refrigerators, so they continued to eat salted veggies (herba salata). And the French were like, “Okay, that name really isn’t doing this dish any favors. Why don’t we call it salade? It sounds tastier.” So in order to keep up with the joneses – who, in France, were probably called the Jean-ses – other European countries started copying the name to make their boring old Latin textbook salted vegetables seem new and interesting. Fast forward six hundred years, after the invention of refrigerators, to the boardroom of the Wesson Oil company in 1939. “You know what?” said one Jimmy Stewart-looking guy to the rest of the Jimmy Stewart-looking guys at the table, “Now that our society is advanced enough to have refrigerators in almost every home, our vegetables have been left uncomfortably naked. We should try to get everyone to slather all of their vegetables in oil.” The other Jimmy Stewarts nodded in unison, thinking to themselves, “By golly, he’s right. Vegetables do taste better when they slide into my belly on a slick of expeller-pressed lipids!” So after some genial grunting and whiskey drinking and cigarette smoking, they put their heads together and came up with the salad bar: a place where all of your vegetables are plainly visible, making it easy to see whether you’ve coated them with enough delicious oil to make them seem to pop right off the pages of Life magazine.

What did we learn from this story? We learned that toasted sesame oil is infinitely preferable to canola oil when it comes to salad dressing. Unfortunately, we didn’t learn anything about Chinese cuisine, but I’m about to remedy that.

Tea Eggs over Sesame Salad
(Serves 4)

Egg Ingredients:
-8 eggs
-1/2 cup soy sauce
-2 tbs sugar
-1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns*
-1/2 tsp fennel seeds*
-8 whole cloves*
-2 whole star anise*
-2 sticks cinnamon*
-2 tbs loose-leaf lapsang souchong tea (or another black tea)

*Instead of assembling these spices separately, you can also purchase a Chinese five-spice blend from most supermarkets. If you want to go that route, you’ll need a heaping tablespoonful.

Salad Ingredients:
-One head of cabbage, shredded
-1 cup peanuts, coarsely chopped
-1 bunch spring onions, sliced
-1/4 cup of toasted sesame oil
-1/4 cup of rice vinegar
-salt and pepper

First, the eggs: Soft boil them, ASAP. Soft boiling is basically a wimpy hard boil – you put the eggs in a pot, cover them with cold water that you then bring to a boil, and then take them off the heat and let them sit in the hot water for 5-7 minutes. Do not peel these eggs! The shells are key. When you’re ready to go on the tea marinade for your eggs, put two cups of water in a saucepan. Add the soy sauce, sugar, and spices. Bring to a boil, and then remove from the heat. Add the tea and let it steep for 10-15 minutes. Strain into a bowl and put aside.

Crack your hard-boiled egg shells all over. Resist the urge to peel. Pour the tea marinade into a pot and add the eggs. Bring them to a boil again and then reduce the heat, letting them simmer for about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the eggs cool in the marinade. When you finally peel them – yes, you can peel them now – they will have a really beautiful marbled look. Almost too pretty to eat.

Now, the salad: Shred your cabbage, slice your spring onions, and chop your peanuts. Put all of these things, except for a handful of the chopped peanuts, into a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the sesame oil and the vinegar, adding a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. Pour the dressing into the salad and toss. Separate out into as many bowls as you have people, and garnish with the extra chopped peanuts.

Slice the eggs in half – each person should get two eggs, because they’re too good to just have one.

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