Note: If you cannot find ramps, feel free to substitute garlic chives, which have a very similar flavor, shallots, or even leeks. In any case, you'll want about 1/4 to 1/3 cup minced onion....
We've been enjoying taking brisk walks here lately. When the weather cooperates and isn't trying to wash out the driveway or cause mudslides, nothing makes your cheeks rosy quite like a 30-minute jaunt up the mountain (okay, so maybe calling it a mountain is a bit of an exaggeration--but it's a pretty big hill).
There isn't much to see this time of year. The green riot of spring is still a couple months away, and we don't get much snow here in the southern Appalachians, so the entertainment is mostly supplied by squirrels and the birds that didn't fly south. But more than anything, these walks are restorative, straightening our backs after being hunched over our computers all day. And although this may be a dull time of year for a walk, we see a sight more trudging through the woods than pacing between the sink and the stove.
By the time we get back home, our cheeks and ears are stinging, and nothing warms us up quite like a hot beverage. Often, we go for the hot toddy--lemon, ginger, honey, and bourbon almost always do the trick, warming us up from the inside out. Occasionally, I'll crave a good, old-fashioned hot chocolate. But sometimes, only spicy, hot tea will do.
As you may know, chai simply means "tea." Masala isn't much more descriptive, meaning "mixture" and referring to the mixture of spices used in various preparations (you may have read about garam masala more than once on this blog). In the case of chai masala, this mixture is composed of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, peppercorns, and cloves. Add black tea, milk, and sugar and you have masala chai.
I prefer to add my sugar or honey at the end even though the recipe in JOY has you add it while steeping the spices. I also like to crush the spices beforehand, allowing them to release their essential oils more easily and giving you a more flavorful chai. If you really like this blend, you can also grind the spices and black tea very, very finely (a powder) in a spice grinder, sifting to remove any large particles, and use the powder as an "instant" chai mix.
Crush, using a mortar and pestle or a zip-top bag and a rolling pin (wrap the bag in a kitchen towel and roll over it with the rolling pin):
2 cinnamon sticks
16 cardamom pods
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon whole white or black peppercorns
Bring just to a boil with the crushed spices in a medium saucepan:
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups milk
1-inch piece fresh ginger root, thinly sliced
Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 20 minutes. Return to a simmer, remove from the heat, and stir in:
2 tablespoons black tea leaves
Cover and let stand 2 minutes. Strain and serve at once with:
Sugar or honey, to taste