Is it possible to put on paper a place so culturally complex? A paradox of old and new, of corruption and beauty, of tradition and innovation…

My time in India was a melting pot of new experiences and unexpected situations, many of which, I’m still processing. What I know for sure is that my preconceived notions of India–this glorious, colorful, spice-filled paradise–were instantly shattered upon my arrival, and it took the next two and a half weeks I spent there to build a more truthful, meaningful and realistic understanding of the place.

One thing that completely lived up to my expectations was the cuisine. The pure bounty of fresh vegetables and fruit, the excessive aromas of heady spices, the intangible something that made the most unassuming chutney a revelation.

Food is indeed a path to the heart and it was during and surrounding mealtimes that I felt the most love and understanding for and from the wonderful people I met there.

Most days I spent in rapt attention, trying my best to remember each new ingredient and preparation technique…and indeed, there are too many to recount here. So instead I will share the most iconic, and perhaps the most simple recipe I learned during my time in India.

Indian Masala Tea

You can find different versions of masala tea in most households throughout India. It is how many Indians start each day, with another cup surfacing sometime between lunch and dinner.

The specific recipe and ingredients for masala tea vary drastically between regions in India. My version is somewhat different from them all, as I’ve put my own plant-based spin on it, but I dare say the essential flavors still shine through.

Do yourself a favor and try this tea. It takes just ten minutes to make, start to finish, and the warming spices in it will leave you feeling oh so cozy on these chilly days.

Ingredients: Serves 2

  • 3-4 tsp loose leaf black tea (I love Three Roses Indian tea for this)
  • 3/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • Pinch of ground turmeric (optional)
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 inches fresh gingerroot, peeled (leave unpeeled if organic)
  • 4-6 cardamom pods (depending on their freshness)
  • 1.5 cups plant milk of choice (I love Califia Farms Unsweetened Almond Milk)
  • 2 Tbsp sweetener of choice (white sugar is the traditional option, but I prefer coconut sugar or this apple sweetener)

Combine the tea leaves, black pepper, water and turmeric in a small pot.

Slice the ginger root and then smash it with the cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle (or in a small bowl with a wooden spoon) so that the ginger begins to release its juice and the cardamom pods split. Add the ginger and cardamom to the pot with the tea.

Turn the flame to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Allow it to boil for around 5 minutes. At this point, the mixture should be a dark reddish brown and the scents of ginger and cardamom should be filling your kitchen.

Now turn the heat down slightly and slowly pour the almond milk in one long stream as you stir the mixture with a wooden spoon. Add your sweetener of choice and stir to combine.

Allow the tea to come back to a boil, then leave it for 2-3 minutes longer until the mixture has reduced slightly.

Use a very fine mesh strainer to filter the tea. If you don’t have a fine mesh strainer, substitute a normal strainer lined with two layers of cheesecloth instead.

Position the strainer over a mug and pour the steaming tea from high above in a long thin stream. This allows the tea to cool slightly and gives the finished drink a smoother texture.

That’s it! Drink with a loved one and enjoy the deep flavors of this delicious, warming drink!

I love serving this tea with chewy cardamom cookies! The pungent flavors complement each other perfectly and it is a wonderful alternative to the classic English afternoon tea.