chinese tea eggs

I really don't know how to start this post. It is Chinese New Year this week, so I thought I would make something Chinese. 

I am in no way Chinese- not even the tiniest bit- and I know very little about China. If there was a handbook called 'China in Generalisations' (giant pandas, communism, lots of people, a profound belief in luck etc etc)... That book would encapsulate my knowledge of China. 

It's a little embarrassing really. 

But where do you start with a place like China? The politics? The lives of its people, so vastly different from one area to another? The wilderness, with its rivers that provide life to most of Asia and its tropical rainforests nestled eight thousand feet above sea level? The religion, which I cannot even begin to fathom? The language would seem a sensible starting point. But I am going to start with something that so often transcends the barriers that language can create. I am going to start with food. 

Food is universal. So often I have shared silent meals with people in foreign countries- sometimes a little awkwardly, I have to admit. But always with the surprise and gratitude that comes from being offered food by a stranger. 

It is a beautiful thing to share food. One of the nicest things about being a human, and something we should imbue with an appropriate sense of importance. 

So the kitchen seems a good place to peek my head tentatively into China, especially with a dish as simple and aromatic as this. These tea eggs are apparently a very common sight on the streets of China, which is exciting because street food is often some of the very best you'll find in Asian countries (it can also be a fantastic way to ingest a whole host of bacteria, but what is life without risk?). Street food is traditional, simple, flavoursome; never turn up your nose at street food, just choose your vendor carefully. 

Or, make your own snacks at home! If, like me, your knowledge of China is little to none, let these tea eggs be the beginning of your education (in the kitchen at least). The traditional eggs are deeply fragrant with soy, cinnamon and star anise and your kitchen will smell amazing. 

For a traditional tea egg recipe, head over here. As well as the soy version, I made a more Scandinavian beetroot version, because I had beetroots and, why not? I should technically call them 'beet eggs' because there is no tea in them, only beetroot, dill seeds and coriander seeds, fresh dill, salt and a little chilli. They are quite subtle, the sort of pink that makes me happy, and would go wonderfully with a little horseradish mayonnaise. And yes, I realise they are no longer Chinese really at all but the inspiration well and truly came from there. 


CHINESE INSPIRED BEETROOT AND DILL EGGS

These are very simple and very open to adjustments, the one thing I would recommend is letting the eggs steep overnight in the simmering liquid- I was impatient and waited only a few hours and would have preferred the flavour stronger. 

METHOD

Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water, about an inch above the eggs. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes. 

Meanwhile toast the seeds in a dry frypan over medium-low heat until fragrant, then crush in a mortar and pestle. 

Remove the eggs from the pan and use cold water to cool them. Tap all over with a spoon so the shells are covered in little cracks- gently though, you don't want any of the shell to fall off. 

Carefully place the eggs back in the saucepan with the other ingredients and cover with water to one inch above the eggs. Bring to the boil and then turn the heat right down and simmer very gently for 30 minutes- for eggs that are still soft or 60 minutes- for hard eggs. Cool to room temperature then place the whole saucepan in the fridge and leave overnight. 

Peel and admire and eat.

NOTE The shells will seem slightly sandy when you go to peel them, this is from the acid which is needed to retain the pink colour- it has no effect at all on the flavour of the eggs.

 

INGREDIENTS

6 eggs

one medium beetroot, peeled and chopped into chunks

plus some of the beetroot skin for added colour

a pinch of tartaric acid

1 tbsp dill seeds

1/2 tbsp coriander seeds

a few sprigs of fresh dill or dill flowers

a pinch of chilli (adjust to your taste)

salt and pepper