Chicago is a funny town. It took me a while to realize when I first moved here that there was indeed ethnic diversity in this city. The diversity is not like New York where everyone is piled on top of one another and jumbled together so that at any given moment you may have all seven continents represented in any given public space (yes, penguins frequent NY in the colder months…) Chicago is neighborhoody. Chinatown on the south side, Koreaville up on Lincoln, Greektown on Halsted, and oh-baby take me to India on Devon! If you have a car and the gumption, there are some fabulous ethnic markets to visit with wild and crazy ingredients that’ll make ye li’l heart sing.

Needless to say, my aforementioned Rhode-Island-sized spice cabinet is due in a large part to the Indian markets on Devon. They sell lifetime-supply bags of cardamom pods for $4. Who can resist such spice gluttony?! So, the question arises: what does one do with buckets of cardamom, coriander, and clove? Make buckets of chai, of course.

chai-spicesChi-town Chai

  • 5 cups water
  • 3 cups milk of some sort (cow, soy, whatever)
  • 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds, slighty crushed in a mortar and pestle
  • 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds or 1/2 a star anise, depending on your tolerance for licorice flave
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 half-inch thick slice of fresh ginger
  • 1 black tea bag (I like earl grey, but experiment around with what you like)
  • honey to taste

Put water and spices in a pan and bring to a boil. Boil down until just over  half the water has evaporated and 2ish cups of a healthy brown liquid remain. Set a fine seive over a bowl or measuring cup and pour the liquid through, separating the spices out. Discard the spices and return the liquid to the pot. Add milk and heat over medium-low heat until steaming (don’t let it boil over – major mess potential here!) Add honey to taste. Makes approximately 2 big cups of spicy goodness.

P.S. The cool thing about this recipe is that you can leave anything out at any time. Mix and match to your heart’s desire.