Lei Cha is an iconic dish of the Hakka people. It typically comprises several sides of vegetables, and toppings like nuts, tofu, preserved radish, served drenched in tea soup.
There are stories that claimed that the origins of Lei Cha dated back 1800 years ago. When Shu Han 蜀漢 kingdom General Zhang Fei 張飛 was about to launch his attack on Chengdu during the Three Kingdoms era (220 - 280 AD), his soldiers fell ill to a plague epidemic. A traditional physician prescribed rice with a combination of herbs feed the troops. It cured Zhang Fei's soldiers and he went on to conquer Chengdu. And, that said dish is the precursor to today's Lei Cha!
One of the characteristics of Hakka people is their adaptability to local conditions through 1,700 years of migration. Hence, flexibility is integral to Hakka cuisine where ingredients are substituted or added according to what is available locally 就地取材. As such, Lei Cha is a versatile dish where you can adjust the recipe according to what is available.
For vegetables, you can choose from a variety of vegetables like cai xin, kai lan, bak choy, kale, lettuce, leek, sayur kacang botol (wing bean).
The tea soup is made using basil leaves, mugwort leaves (ai cao ye), mint leaves, coriander leaves, peanuts, sesame seeds, peppercorns, and tea leaves. (Did you know that this dish is also commonly known as "Thunder Tea Rice" even though it has nothing to do with thunder or lightning? The character 擂 which means grinding and pounding (of the herb paste) sounds like the character 雷 which means "thunder". Hence, it's commonly known as the "Tunder Tea Rive", when it should actually be the "Pounded Tea Rice".)
Here's sharing a simplified Lei Cha that I made using the ingredients I have on hand. I am quite satisfied that it tasted pretty similar to the version I had from the market!
150g Kai Lan
150g Xiao Bai Cai
150g Cai Xin
3 cloves of garlic, minced (optional if blanching)
Seasoning for vegetables: oyster sauce, salt and sugar
25g dried shrimp (soaked and drained) - optional (I omitted it for my version)
50g chopped preserved radish (soaked and drained) - optional (I couldn't get hold of this and omitted for mu version as well)
100g tau kwa/ extra firmed tofu (cut into bite size pieces)
50g roasted peanuts (I substituted it with chopped cashew and almond)
Tea Soup Ingredients
25g Italian Parsley
40g roasted peanuts/cashew
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp green tea leaves
1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste)
Stir fry option: Heat about 1 Tbsp of oil in a wok. Add Kai Lan and 1/3 of the garlic and stir fry until soft but not mushy. Add seasoning to taste. Remove from the wok. Repeat for Xiao Bai Cai and Cai Xin. Set aside
Blanching option: Add Kai Lan to boiling water for about 3 minutes. Remove from boiling water, add seasoning to taste. Repeat for Xiao Bai Cai and Cai Xin. Set aside.
Stir fry dried shrimp in oil and garlic. Set aside
Stir fry preserved radish in oil. Set aside
Pan-fry tau kwa in oil until they are golden brown on all sides.Set aside. (For healthier version, air-fry the tau kwa in air fryer for about 8 minutes.)
Blend all the ingredients for the tea soup and 50ml of luke warm water in a blender.
Add about 50-100ml of boiling hot water to the tea soup paste. Stir and let it sit for 15 min.
Portion rice in a deep platter or bowl. Arrange all the veggies and toppings. Just before serving, pour the desired amount of soup over the rice and serve immediately