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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tea Eggs


Tea eggs are a Chinese tradition, usually enjoyed as a healthy snack. But they can also be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Add them to a big salad for a light and satisfying spring lunch or serve them on Easter, as a healthy alternative to eggs colored with synthetic dyes.

Tea eggs are cooked and cracked, then simmered and steeped in tea and spices that add flavor and color. The longer you let the eggs simmer and steep, the more color and flavor they will absorb. Some people simmer their eggs up to three hours and allow them to steep overnight. Instead I prefer a shorter cooking time and a longer steeping time to make sure they don't become over-cooked or tough.

For the tea and spices, I used black Darjeeling tea, cinnamon, dried chipotle (smoked jalapeno), and allspice leaves. Most people are familiar with the allspice berry, which is commonly ground into a powder. My mother-in-law in Martinique cooks with the leaves as well, which are readily available because allspice trees grow all over the island. If you don't have all spice leaves you can substitute allspice berries, bay leaves, or kaffir lime leaves instead.

Chipotle peppers add a very mild, almost undetectable heat. If you don't like the subtle smokey flavor, you can substitute a different dried chili. If you don't like chili peppers at all, you can use another flavor all together like dried star anise, fresh sliced ginger root, or lemon grass.

  • 1/2 cup loose black tea leaves, Darjeeling or other, or substitute 4 tea bags
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 allspice leaves
  • 2 dried chipotle peppers
  • 1/4 cup tamari or substitute gluten-free soy sauce

  1. Bring 4 cups of water to a gentle boil. Add the tea leaves and steep for 20 minutes.
  2. While the tea steeps, place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring it to a gentle boil and simmer for 4 minutes. Pour out the hot water, keeping the eggs inside, and fill the pan with cold water. Set it aside to cool.
  3. Once the tea has steeped for 20 minutes, strain the mixture and reserve the tea. Discard or compost the leaves.
  4. Cut the chipotle peppers in half with a sharp knife or kitchen shears. Add them to a medium saucepan along with the tea, cinnamon, allspice leaves, and tamari. Warm the mixture over low heat.
  5. Once the eggs are cool enough to handle, gently crack them all over by tapping them with the back of a spoon. Place them in the saucepan with the tea mixture and increase the heat to medium. When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and simmer the eggs gently for 1 hour or more. Turn off the heat and cool completely to room temperature.
  6. Transfer the room temperature eggs to a glass storage container and cover them with the tea mixture. Put them in the fridge overnight for lighter lines or allow them to steep for up to 2 days for darker lines. Peel away the cracked shells and rinse the eggs before eating.

This egg was steeped only overnight. The egg at the top of the post (with the salad) was steeped for 2 days. Notice the difference in color.

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