Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thai Lettuce Wraps

Ah, my adoring public. How I've missed you.  Don't think I haven't appreciated your silent protests demanding the return of some Food Baby blog posts. Much like Pussy Riot in the face of Putin, I'm here to speak the truth. In place of political prisoners and anti-gay laws, my repertoire revolves more around smoked meats and where to find the best dumpling. The long cold winter is nearly over though. And I'm hungry.

It's been a hectic couple months with the wifey recovering from hip surgery and us spending most of that time living with her parents in Bucks county. Not a lot to report on the Philly restaurant scene just yet, but we did manage to find a few gems up in Newtown. There's good Italian to be had at Vecchia Osteria and La Stalla - and not just chicken parm. I'm talking legit dishes of antipasti, homemade pasta and some crazy good tiramisu. Stuff that could hold it's own in the city. My favorite suburban find though has to be Oishi - a Japanese/Korean place with some extremely good sushi, nice kimchi influenced appetizers and some of the best yakitori skewers I've had anywhere.  We also did quite a bit of cooking at home. My mother-in-law taught me how to make knishes and I showed her how to make Thai style salmon. Everybody wins!

Since we've just recently entered the Lenten season I thought I'd reference some of our favorite meatless dishes over the coming weeks. The past couple years I've gone meatless from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. I still do fish & eggs (don't worry, I'm not wasting away) but I have to admit it feels good to cleanse  a bit for 40 days and hopefully even drop a few LB's. I'm not what you would call a practicing Catholic - but it's as good an opportunity as any to get more seafood & veggies into your diet.  So over the next couple weeks I'll post recipes for some choice non-meat dishes.  These are all Food Baby approved - so you won't see any rice cakes or tofurkey.

First up is Thai Lettuce wraps. I know it doesn't sound especially hearty, but it's more filling than you think without leaving you ready for a nap afterwards.  The flavors are incredibly bright and there's zero carbs. This is a slight adaptation from a recipe we got from our Greensgrow CSA a few years back.  I'm using tofu here, but you could easily substitute ground beef, chicken or pork.  It's a really quick dish to cook - most of the time is spent preparing the ingredients.  Don't be afraid of the tofu - if you know how to season it, you won't even know it's not meat. 

For the tofu:
1 lb extra firm tofu
2 tbs ground cumin
1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp fish sauce (try to find TIPS  brand, with a yellow label)
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Slice the tofu into 8 equal thickness slabs. Place these on top of 3 paper towels then cover with two more paper towels.  Place a heavy pot on top to squeeze out the moisture from the tofu.  Leave this to sit about 10 mins.  

Remove the pot and paper towels. With your hands, crumble up the pieces into a consistency that looks like ground beef. Season with the cumin, Worcestershire, soy sauce, fish sauce & cracked pepper.  Mix with your hands to make sure the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.  Set aside. 

For the filling:
1 head boston/butter lettuce, quartered and core removed
2 tbs olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp sugar
1 tbs fish sauce
2-3 thinly sliced Thai chilis, stems removed
1/4 of a red onion, sliced thinly
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1/4 cup each basil, mint & cilantro - finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbs long grain rice

 Toast the rice in a small frying pan - non-stick if you have it. When it just starts to turn brown pull it off the heat and let cool. Place into a clean coffee grinder (a mortar and pestle will also do) and grind into a powder.  Set aside. 

Heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic & sugar to the pan and saute for 1 min.  Add the seasoned tofu and stir to break up. 

Fry the tofu in a non-stick pan until there is no moisture left and it starts to brown up a bit. You want a bit of texture, but not burnt.  Add in the fish sauce and season with salt & pepper.  Remove the pan from the heat.  

Stir in the sliced chilis, red onion, peanuts, herbs & rice powder. Keep stirring until the onion softens and the herbs wilt, then add the lime juice.  Serve warm, scooping into the lettuce cups with a couple of cold Singha beers.