Get Out of Your Salad Rut With This Recipe for Burma Superstar’s Cult Dish

Photo: John Lee

Burma Superstar
Photo: Crown Publishing

Even with mouth-watering descriptions of coconut curry chicken, eggplant with garlic sauce, and walnut shrimp on the menu, the most popular dish at Desmond Tan's famed Burma Superstar restaurant is still...the salad.

Surprised? Diners seek out the Burmese restaurant—with locations in San Francisco, Alameda, and Oakland, CA—because foodies swear that it serves up the best housemade dressing around, made with fermented tea leaves and chili paste. Drizzled on top of a romaine-based salad that's loaded with spice, you've got yourself a dish that's more culinary masterpiece than pre-packaged grab-and-go.

And now, for the first time ever, Tan is revealing the recipe—along with a handful of others in his recently released cookbook, Burma Superstar—so that no matter where you are (East Coast represent) you can enjoy a taste.

Burmese food is highly underrated—especially where fighting inflammation is concerned, thanks to the generous use of spices like turmeric and cardamom. In his book, Tan reveals that the meals include ingredients that are beautifully colored and textured, meaning that even salad can be exciting. "When you taste the fermented tea—used in the dressing—you'll experience a hard-to-describe confluence of tanginess, bitterness, and savoriness," says the cookbook's co-author Kate Leahy.

Hungry yet? Keep reading for Burma Superstar's Tea Leaf Salad and Dressing.

Photo: John Lee

Burma Superstar's Tea Leaf Salad and Tea Leaf Dressing

For the dressing
1/2 packed cup whole fermented tea leaves (laphet)
1/3 cup canola oil
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp dried chile flakes
1 tsp lime or lemon juice

For the salad
6 cups thinly sliced romaine lettuce (about 1 1/2 heads romaine)
1/2 cup Tea Leaf Dressing (above)
1/4 cup Yellow Split Peas (fried with salt for five minutes)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted peanuts
1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 Roma tomato, seeded and diced
1 small jalapeño, seeded and diced (about 1/4 cup)
1 Tbsp shrimp powder
2 tsp fish sauce or a few generous pinches of salt
1 lemon or lime, cut into wedges

1. Prepare the tea leaves one to two days in advance. Brew a pot of two tablespoons loose leaf green tea. Save the leaves and press out excess water. Transfer to a closed container and let sit at room temperature for one to two days.

2. If using whole, unseasoned laphet leaves, soak them for five minutes in cold water to extract some of the bitterness. Drain, squeezing the leaves to remove excess water. Taste the leaves. If they still taste bitter, repeat the step again.

3. Put the leaves in a food processor with the garlic and chili flakes and pulse a few times. Add the lemon juice and half of the oil, briefly pulse, and then, with the processor running, drizzle in the rest of the oil. If the leaves are not pre-seasoned, add one teaspoon of salt. You will have about half a cup of tea leaf dressing.

4. To make the salad, place a bed of lettuce in the center of a large plate or platter. Spoon the tea leaf dressing into the center of the lettuce. Around the lettuce, arrange separate piles of garlic, split peas, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, tomato, and jalapeño. Sprinkle with shrimp powder and drizzle with fish sauce. Before serving, squeeze two lemon wedges over the plate. Using two forks, mix the ingredients together until the tea leaves lightly coat the lettuce. Taste, adding more lemon or fish sauce at the table, if desired.

Each week we spotlight a healthy-delish recipe that’s truly genius (and easy to make) from someone who’s wowed us in the food world. We’re talking buzzy cookbook authors and Instagram foodies to brilliant chefs. You can find more mouthwatering must-try ideas from the Recipe of the Week archive.

Salad obsessed? Here are 14 more wellness influencer-approved recipes. And if you're pressed for time, try one of these 10-minute lunch options.

Reprinted with permission from Burma Superstar, copyright © 2017 by Desmond Tan and Kate Leahy. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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