Friday, February 03, 2006

Crap Wrapped in Lettuce

Darren has requested a recipe for lettuce wraps. So here it is, plus some variations.

This recipe is great for novice cooks and is very versatile. It falls in the aforementioned chinese cooking system of 'chop up crap, throw crap into hot wok, season with more crap, eat crap.'

Basic Lettuce Wrap Recipe:

Meat crap - I usually use ground pork. You can use any ground meat. A pound is enough for 4 servings. You can also use leftover meat like chicken, BBQ pork, duck, salmon, meatloaf, shrimp, roasted squirrel. If you use pre-cooked meat just add it at the end to just warm through.

You can also use tofu or tempeh. For tofu, use firm or extra firm. If using firm tofu, just sandwich the tofu block between two large plates with a can of whatever on top to squeeze out excess water. Crumble or chop into a small dice.

Vegetation crap: Whatever as long as it's not watery like a tomato. The usual veg crap for this are carrots, celery, onion. You can also use water chestnut (fresh not canned. Canned water chestnut is it's own punishment), jicama, fennel, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts. I'd stick with crunchy veggies that cook up fast. You can also use up leftover veggies here too. I like gai lan, sugar peas, mushroom (shitake is very good) and spinach. Again, if using already cooked veggies, add at end to just warm through.

Don't go overboard. This is one of those times that you should K.I.S.S.

Other crap: I like adding nuts, just a handful of walnuts, pine nuts or even pumpkin seeds add a neat extra dimension to the dish. Toast the nuts before adding. Just throw them into a dry pan at medium heat. Once they start getting some colour & you can smell the nuttiness, they're done.

Seasoning crap: Ginger, garlic, shallots, szechuan peppercorns, soy sauce, fish sauce, curry powder, ancho or chipotle chili powder, 5-spice, 7-spice, ground cumin and corriander, sesame seed oil, black bean sauce. Again K.I.S.S

Oil: Use peanut oil or veggie oil (canola, safflower, corn etc). Save your olive oil for another time.

Condiment crap: Hoisin sauce is the traditional favorite. Plum sauce or duck sauce is also pretty good. You can also serve with a chili-fish sauce (just mix a glop of sambal oelek and fish sauce together) and some wedges of lime. If you're using curry powder or powdered cumin and corriander, you might want to opt for some yogurt sauce (1/2 cup yogurt, some chopped cilantro/parsley, 1 minced garlic clove and squeeze of lime/lemon, salt & pepper to taste) or a chutney. If you're using ancho or chipolte powder, some salsa or sour cream will work well.

There are 2 main factors to a good basic lettuce wrap filling. One is that everything is cooked up fast so have everything chopped and right beside you at the stove. Secondly, the filling can't be a sloppy, wet mess. Unless you like wearing your dinner.

1- Chop veggies into small dice (1/4 inch cubes). Mince ginger & garlic if using.
2- If using raw ground meat, season with a good healthy pinch of salt.
-If using leftover meat, either dice or shred the meat.
3-Heat up a couple glugs of oil in pot/wok/pan at medium-high heat.
4- Add ginger & garlic to oil. Don't let it brown.
5- Add ground meat. Spread it out over the bottom of the pan.
6-Let it brown. This means "DO NOT TOUCH". For about 3-4 mins. Let the meat get some colour before you start farting around there with your spatula.
7- Once the meat is cooked, add the veggies. Cook for a minute.
8- Add other crap (nuts, seasoning stuff). Start off with a couple spoonfuls. Taste it before adding more. If you're using any of the spices like curry or black bean sauce, push some of the mixture to one side of the pan, let the moisture evaporate a bit and toss your seasoning onto the dry pan bottom to let it get a bit toasty. Be careful not to burn it. Toasting will help bring out the flavours and aroma of the seasonings. Mix in with the rest of the crap.
9-Taste it. If it needs more seasoning crap then add some. If not, then don't mess with it.
10- Serve with iceberg lettuce leaves and condiment crap.

Lettuce tips:
1-Use iceberg lettuce. Do not deviate, the other lettuces won't have the strength to hold the filling and you'll end up with filling on your lap.
2- Remove the core from the lettuce with a small paring knife. Just cut around the core with the knife pointed towards the centre so you end up with a cone shaped lettuce stump.
3-Slowly peel one leaf at a time. Cut off any thick stalks.
4- Wash the leaves and dry them as best you can without ripping. Stack them onto a plate and keep in fridge with a damp towel over them until needed.
5- You will end up a bunch of inner leaves that won't work. Save those for another use like an iceberg salad with blue cheese dressing and walnuts for lunch tomorrow. Or shred them and toss them into a bowl of congee.

Leftover Lettuce Wrap filling ideas:

You might as well make more than you need. So double or triple the recipe. For the most part, the filling can be frozen and used later.

The filling also makes a great base for fried rice or chow mein. It is as simple as reheating the crap in a wok and tossing in some cooked rice or noodles.
It can also be thown into a congee.

You can throw it into a bowl of noodles and soup.

Throw a bowl of leftover filling into a hot pan with a bowl of stock or water. Add a couple handfuls of spinach. Take pot off of heat and add a slurry (1 tbsp of corn starch and cold water mixed). Put back onto heat, bring back to boil for the slurry to thicken the sauce. Add more seasoning (soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce) if needed. Serve over sauteed asian greens or snap peas if you have them. Serve with rice.

If you have curried filling, just reheat it with a bit of stock or water. Add some more curry powder or ginger if needed. Toss in some coconut milk and serve over rice.

You can also serve the filling with naan or tortillas.

Chili powder seasoned filling is a perfect foundation for a quick burrito/taco. It is also the beginnings of a fast, easy stew/soup. For stew, just reheat a bowl of the filling and add a couple of spoonfuls of tomato paste. Cook for a few minutes over medium heat. You're looking to caramelize the tomato paste, not burn it. Stir continuously. Toss in a can a diced tomatoes and bring to boil then let simmer for 15 mins. Add more seasoning if needed.

For soup, skip the tomato paste and add a cup of stock along with the diced tomatoes.

Now I'm hungry.

Later my lovelies.

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