Thursday, October 21, 2010

Asian Lettuce Wraps

I love easy meals, and I love meals the kids will eat. I'd say lettuce wraps filled with this sweet and savory, barely tangy filling falls into both categories. I don't have time to nag anyone to eat, and I hate - really hate - to toss perfectly good food in the garbage. An added bonus is this recipe is budget and health conscious, especially when some of the meat is replaced with textured vegetable protein.

Thank goodness this meal comes together for me every time (including today). It's been a rather accident-prone week and a half. I've been dividing my attention among the kids, some work, cooking, etc., and the lack of focus resulted in some newbie disasters. An apple tart Tatin that I've made for years just wouldn't work. I burned the caramel on the first tart. The second tart ended up under-caramelized. I burned my wrist on a hot pot. I'll spare you the entire list. I'd rather not talk about it now.

But this week is already going better. After all, Halloween - one of my favorite holidays - is around the corner and I've already gotten my skull lights out and set up. And tonight's dinner is done.

Asian Lettuce Wraps
Serves 4-6

1 Tablespoon oil (canola or peanut)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 1/4 pounds to 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey (or beef)*

1 Tablespoon oil
1/2 medium onion or 1 shallot, chopped
5 medium or 3 large cloves garlic, chopped

2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons low sodium soy sauce**
1 Tablespoon fish sauce (I use Three Crabs brand)
1 teaspoon sriracha sauce
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
2 or 3 scallions, chopped
1 cup cooked carrot, diced***

8 to 12 lettuce leaves (Boston and red leaf lettuce work well)
garnish: mint or Thai basil leaves and lime wedges to squeeze over filling

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a deep 12-inch skillet or wok over medium-high heat, add ginger and ground meat, and cook until just done. Remove meat to a bowl and cover to keep warm. Return pan to stove, reducing heat to medium-low.

Add onions to pan, then make sauce.
2. Heat the other tablespoon of oil, add onions, and cook for 1 minute. Add the garlic, and keep cooking until onions start to turn translucent. While onions and garlic are sweating, combine sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, sriracha and vinegar. When onions and garlic are translucent (they can just be starting to turn golden at the edges), add sauce, scallions, carrot and cooked meat to pan. Stir until sauce is thoroughly mixed throughout meat. Remove from heat.

Thai basil has a slight anise flavor.
Serve ground meat together with mint or Thai basil wrapped in Boston or red-leaf lettuce leaves, two per person. It also is good served with a salad of napa cabbage or a bowl of mai fun (rice stick) noodles.

* To decrease the amount of meat in our diet, I also have made the filling with a combination of ground meat and textured vegetable protein, or TVP. For this recipe, I use 2/3 pound (0.67 pound) ground meat and 1/2 cup dried TVP (available in the bulk section of a health food store and in small packages at some supermarkets). The TVP I buy looks a little like coarse panko crumbs. To reconstitute the TVP, pour 1/2 cup water into a 1 cup glass measuring cup, place the cup in a microwave and bring to a boil. When the water boils, remove the cup from the microwave, stir in the 1/2 cup TVP and cover. When the onions are nearly done, stir in the TVP and allow to cook a minute or two, then add the rest of the ingredients.
** To make this dish wheat free, use a soy sauce that does not include wheat as an ingredient.
*** I use cooked carrot left over from another meal. If there is no cooked carrot, use 1 cup shredded or julienned raw carrot. It can be added to the onion about a minute before returning the cooked meat to the pan or stirred in last, depending on whether you want the carrot cooked at all. If you don't like carrot, you could use an 8 ounce can of water chestnuts (finely diced) or some chopped bamboo shoots.

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