Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Lettuce Wraps Two Ways

A little out of focus to be the lead photo, eh?
Tofu.
Beef.
Have I mentioned my children? The strict vegetarian and the strict carnivore both of whom I make dinner for every night? I have? Have I? No? Yes?

The carnivores.
Because I love these kids, I do. I love feeding them and eating with them, and they are gracious about meals, they are lovely. But the Venn diagram overlaps at, like, “corn on the cob” and “black olive pizza.”

My whole garden is peonies. Which is the best thing ever, for 5 minutes of the year.
The truth is that Birdy is easy. Serve that girl cheese and crackers every night, maybe a little pile of arugula, and she’s happy as can be. Ben, who is technically an omnivore, does not actually complain about all the tofu and beans we eat. Never. And we eat a lot of tofu and beans! But because he only lights up completely, all million watts of him, for a chop or roast or burger or steak, I feel slighted by his regular normal-strength smiling pleasure over a bowl of vegetable lo mein. “You don’t like it?” I say, and he says, “No! I totally do! Look, I’m having thirds!” And I sigh. Because I am practicing being a Jewish grandmother, guilt-tripping you preemptively for any thoughts or feelings you might have at some point.

Put this photo on my gravestone. (I almost never make two different things, but I sure do love to complain about it!)
Anyhoo, this meal is one that everybody adores, and it comes together quickly, even though, yes, you are making two separate things. But they use all the same ingredients! And none of it is hard to deal with! Obviously, if people in your house are all one thing or another, you can simply double that thing. Plus, if you’re feeding only small people whose legs and arms can’t stretch to the moon and back 5 times, you might be able to get away with only one thing not doubled. Annoyingly, the tofu version is probably Ben’s favorite tofu dish, even though there is actual meat on the table. when I serve it. I would make just the tofu, but it's not actually harder to make the beef too, and Michael likes it best too.

I keep a bed of weeds I like to call my "mint patch," which is why I'm such a profligate mint user. Obviously, if herbs are not a backyard proposition, it is fine to pick just one kind.
I make the beef and tofu a little ahead of time, so that they’re kind of room temperature and everything else is nice and cool, and that gives me a total summery salady feeling, whilst also not wilting the lettuce. You don't need to do this. And either way, the wraps will be crunchy, tender, salty, sweet, pickly, herby, and spicy. I could eat them every night.

Do "pickle" *something*! It's as easy as sprinkling seasoned rice vinegar on it! If you don't have seasoned rice vinegar, you can use half white vinegar and half water, with a little salt and sugar dissolved in it.

Lettuce Wraps Two Ways
This is based on a version of a kind of cheater bulgoki—a Korean beef dish that we all love, except for Birdy, who loves only the whole, live, uneaten cows. What I’m not in love with is the added sugar, but then it’s not as good without it. Feel free to never start using it, and then you’ll never know. If you don’t want to get involved in the whole lettuce-wrap situation, you can serve either of these with rice. Please note, if you’re making both, that the tofu takes 5-10 minutes longer to cook.

For serving
1 head of butter or Boston bibb lettuce, whole leaves washed and dried
2 cups fresh herb leaves, ideally mint, basil, and cilantro (or pick 1 or 2)
Carrots (grated) and/or radishes (sliced), and/or cukes (sliced or julienned), sprinkled with seasoned rice vinegar and referred to henceforth as “pickles”
Pickled jalapeno slices
Slivered scallions
Hot sauce

For the beef
If you are also making the tofu, add a tablespoon or two of the chopped water chestnuts to the beef for a little crunch. I add more of it to the tofu because I feel like tofu deserves a little something special.

1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sambal oolek or sriracha
1 tablespoon vegetable oil      
2 scallions, slivered
1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef

In a small bowl, whisk together brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and hot sauce.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds, then add the ground beef, raise the heat to high, and cook until browned, about 3-5 minutes, making sure to crumble the beef as it cooks. If there’s excess fat, drain it.

Stir in soy sauce mixture and simmer until it’s heated through, about 2 minutes.

For the tofu
Freezing the tofu and then thawing it gives it a crumblier texture. If you don’t have time for this step, skip it.

1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sambal oolek or sriracha
3 tablespoons vegetable oil    
2 scallions, slivered
1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (12-ounce) package tofu, frozen and thawed if you have time, crumbled in a colander and all the extra water pressed out
1 (5-ounce) can water chestnuts, chopped
1-2 tablespoons Bragg’s liquid aminos (or more soy sauce)

In a small bowl, whisk together brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and hot sauce.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds, then add the tofu and water chestnuts, raise the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring frequently, until dryish and browning, 10-15 minutes.  


Stir in the soy sauce mixture and a tablespoon of Bragg’s or extra soy, and simmer until it’s heated through, about 2 minutes. Taste for salt, and add more Bragg’s and/or soy sauce.

24 comments:

  1. Barbara8:00 PM

    This looks delicious, but what I really want to know is where did you get the pitcher that the peonies are in?

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  2. You're so sweet to ask, Barbara. It's from Marshall's, natch, but the brand is Le Creuset. I got it for, like, $10. But I'm sure it retails for a fortune!

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  3. Do you eat coconut sugar? It might make a good alternative to the brown sugar in this recipe. I'm going to try it! Also - score on that vase!

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  4. You're my favorite.

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  5. You're my favorite.

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  6. These sound delicious and perfect for a summertime meal. Thank you Catherine. I will be making the beef ones<3 no tofu eaters in my house....lol......if I lived closer I'd invite Ben to dinner, I bet it is fun to cook that boy a big ole steak! Num num num

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  7. Can't wait! Making this TONIGHT! (Finally, a use for the cilantro that has overwhelmed the strawberry patch . . .)

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  8. Perfect timing--summer CSA starts today!

    We often have a pan of ground beef and a pan of ground turkey; I'll have to try the tofu for a change.

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  9. I make lettuce rolls using the Vegetarian Times recipe, but the best thing is to top them with toasted unsweetened coconut, chopped peanuts, and sweet chile sauce. I like the idea of the pickled veggies in there!

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  10. Anonymous8:35 PM

    Made these tonight! A hit with kids and adults alike! Thanks for the delicious, summery recipe!

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    1. Thank you for letting me know!

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  11. I made these tonight. I only made the ground beef because my tofu was not frozen/defrosted (and I want to make it that way). I pickled the carrots and radishes and they were a nice topping.
    I have a book rec for Birdy but you might want to peruse before she reads. It's YA but I'm not sure where she's at in the "love" (sex/virginity) department. It's called "I'll Give You the Sun" by Jandy Nelson. Love love love it.

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    1. Thank you for the rec! xo

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  12. Catherine, I am doing weekly meal planning and we are making these next Friday when we hopefully have a family of ready-for-the-weekend folks and not a family of exhausted-by-the-week folks. So, question - are these a full meal? If not, what else do you put on the menu? Thanks!

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    1. Sarah, I make lots, and just this, for dinner. But you could add something like peanut noodles, if you wanted more to the meal!

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  13. Catherine, delurking to say I adore your blog, your book (of which I am halfway through!) and your recipes (the Ginger Cake and the Cheater Chicken Confit are the two I have tried and boy are they keepers!). Am planning to try this recipe this weekend, as the family we are inviting over is GF and vegetarian...so this is perfect! Question: how many does the recipe serve?

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    1. Thank you Raquelita! I tend to think that a pound of protein serves 4 people, but it kind of depends what else you're making, how much people eat, etc. If you had another head of lettuce, I'd say this whole recipe serves 6 generously.

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    2. Wonderful, that really helps. Thank you!

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  14. Just randomly checking to to say that I wish all the "Bringing Up Ben and Birdy" posts from babycenter would be published into a book. I would buy a bunch to give to friends, save one for each of my two kids (son 15, daughter 13) and devour one myself. You were my guiding light (wait, wasn't that a soap?) since I found out I was having my first, and have been such a source of reassurance and joy ever since!!

    In the meantime, I'll continue to consider cut & pasting them all into a document, lest they ever disappear!

    That, and, oh, these lettuce wraps? Definitely in the summer rotation!!

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