Lettuce Wrap Lunatic

Zesty lime and peanut lettuce wraps

Where have I been? How is it that I have missed the lettuce wrap craze? Heck, even the cattle wrastler Pioneer Woman has a recipe for tofu lettuce wraps. I have not been to P.F. Chang’s so maybe that explains it. And, ‘low-carb’ is not a hyphenated word you hear around our house often. I did witness one of my friends ordering a Jimmy John’s sandwich wrapped in lettuce once. “LETTUCE instead of BREAD?!” I thought. “What the hell?”.

Mea maxima culpe (because mea culpe isn’t enough here).

After I made one batch of the filling for these wraps, I ate half of it before it even hit the table. This required me to fry up another pound of tofu. We ate the wraps for dinner, then I had them for breakfast and the last bit for lunch the next day. To say I love these is an understatement . . . I love these more than cheese or ice cream  . . .

Or pie. Yes, I typed ‘pie’.

Thai-Style Tofu Lettuce Wraps

serves 4 generously

adapted from The Cozy Apron

Filling

1 pound extra-firm or firm tofu, cut into slabs, blotted dry with paper towel and crumbled
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
2 scallions, white and light green parts, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon vegetarian oyster sauce (The original recipe calls for fish sauce. I think you could also use soy sauce or hoisin.)
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
Pinch black pepper

Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the crumbled tofu, seasoning with a pinch of salt. Resist the urge to stir the tofu. Let it fry for at least 5 minutes. Stir when you see the edges of some of the crumbles brown. I use a metal spatula to scoop up the bits that stick. If you let it get somewhat crispy, there should be minimal sticking. Cook until most of the tofu bits are light to medium brown. The key here is not disturbing it too much.

In a medium-large bowl, add the cooked and cooled tofu; next add the remainder of the ingredients, and toss all together until well combined; set aside while you prepare the dipping sauce.

Sweetly Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce

makes about 1/2 cup (More than enough for the wraps. The original recipe is double this. I really don’t like it when there is a lot of sauce leftover because it inevitably sits in the fridge until I throw it away one month later. Yes, I could go out of my way to find something to do with it. Sometimes I do. But, more often it goes to waste.)

1/4 cup natural peanut butter
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
3/4 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon sriracha

In a medium bowl (or a food processor), combine all ingredients and gently whisk together to combine; at first the sauce may look “broken”, but it will come together- just continue to whisk until smooth and creamy; set aside until ready to serve with wraps.

To Serve

2 tablespoons dry roasted peanuts, chopped, for garnish
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges for garnish
20 Romaine leaves, bottom half of the leaves’ hard “rib” portions removed

Fill boat-shaped Romaine leaves with the tofu mixture. Top with peanut sauce, chopped peanuts and a squeeze of lime juice. Swoon accordingly.

I served sauteed and steamed broccoli on the side.

Ratings:

Me:  A++ (To infinity, really)

Scott:  B (He is not a big fan of the spines in Romaine, so this may have something to do with his ratings. I could see serving the crumbled tofu in a tortilla or over noodles the avoid the lettuce spine avoidance.)

Luca:  B+ (“This is exotic.” Then he choked on a red pepper flake so I think that may have something to with the rating.)

Alia:  A++ (And, she meant it this time. I did serve hers over rice because I didn’t want to argue about the lettuce.)

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The Gateway Tofu Recipe

Tasty Tofu Guaranteed

Back when I was in high school, there was lots of talk about marijuana being a “gateway drug.” You smoke a little weed then, before you know it, you are plunged into a scene from “Sid and Nancy.”

If you try this recipe, I doubt you will find yourself curled up in front of a PETA headquarters on a Saturday morning after a protest of an industrial farm complex in Oklahoma. I do think you will see (if you don’t already know) that tofu can be tasty. You may even commit to eating one meatless meal a week as the Meatless Monday campaign suggests.

Why?

The amount of evidence that eating less meat is better for you and the planet we inhabit is overwhelming. Michael Pollan has extensively researched and written about our food system and came to the following simple recommendation: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He explains further, “populations that eat like modern-day Americans — lots of highly processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains — suffer high rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. But populations that eat more traditional diets don’t. Our great-grandmas knew what they were doing.”

Mark Bittman is another advocate of what has been called the flexitarian “diet” (I put diet in quotes because this is not a weight loss plan, but rather a way of eating).  He, along with Pollan, has written extensively about the effects of  factory farming, a deeply flawed system that gobbles up resources in the name of widely available cheap meat. “Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word “raising” when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.”

Even chicken came under fire recently. Nicholas Kristof recently wrote about “new scientific studies suggesting that poultry on factory farms are routinely fed caffeine, active ingredients of Tylenol and Benadryl, banned antibiotics and even arsenic.” So along with eating local, ethically raised meat, why not incorporate some meatless options into your cooking repertoire? It isn’t painful, I promise. This particular dish earned A ratings from everyone in my family – the picky 4 year-old, the 8 year-old food critic, and the meat and potatoes vegetarian spouse. Even cattle-raising Pioneer Woman has posted some tofu recipes this year.

Try this  . . . or any other recipe I have shared here. I promise you won’t find yourself in a Vegetarians Anonymous meeting any time soon. You will, however, be taking steps towards creating a healthier family and planet.

Spicy Basil Tofu and Noodles

adapted from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen

Serves 4 generously

1/4 cup low sodium tamari or soy sauce

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (You may need a little more.)

1 serrano chile, seeds and ribs removed, then minced

1 pound extra-firm or firm tofu, cut into slabs, blotted dry with paper towel and crumbled

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

2 small heads broccoli broken in small florets

12 ounces Chinese noodles

1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh Thai or Genovese basil (I prefer the Thai basil for this dish.)

Put a large pot of water on high heat on the cook top to boil the noodles.

Combine soy sauce, water, and brown sugar in a small bowl, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve.

Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until shimmers. Add the crumbled tofu, seasoning with a pinch of salt. Resist the urge to stir the tofu. Let it fry for at least 5 minutes. Stir when you see the edges of some of the crumbles brown. Cook until most of the tofu bits are light to medium brown. The key here is not disturbing too much. After the tofu is cooked, toss in the garlic and chile and cook until fragrant – less than a minute. Transfer the tofu mixture to a bowl.

Heat about a teaspoon of vegetable oil in the skillet over medium high heat. Add broccoli florets and a pinch of salt and stir fry until bright green and brown in spots. Put 1/4 water in the frying pan and cover. Steam broccoli to desired tenderness.

When broccoli is done, put a few tablespoons of salt into the boiling water. Put noodles in and cook until al dente, about 3 minutes. We found out the hard way that Chinese noodles cook fast. Overcook them and they are a gloppy mess. I start tasting them 2 minutes in. You could also try this with linguine pasta if you can’t get your hands on Chinese noodles. The linguine takes longer to cook – about 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the tofu mixture and cooked noodles into the skillet with the broccoli. Add the soy sauce-brown sugar mixture and carefully stir to combine. Incorporate the basil. Serve immediately.

Ratings:

Me:  A+  (One of my favorite tofu dishes. I love, love the basil.)

Scott:  A (He wasn’t here for dinner, but said “I love it!” after eating leftovers for lunch.)

Luca:  A (Just an A, not an A+)

Alia:  A+, B+ (“The best rating I give.”)

The T Word

Tofu. There I wrote it. My first recipe is tofu-based (or “two-foo” as Erica Weidner, contestant on “Worst Cooks in America” mispronounced it repeatedly a few weeks ago). People cringe when I say it. I am often apologetic when I suggest recipes with tofu in them. I always throw in the caveat “you can substitute chicken!” because tofu IS like chicken. The taste is subtle and it takes on the flavor of whatever I cook it with. It is versatile. It is a respite from beans for vegetarians.

There’s another word . . . vegetarian. Scott and I have been vegetarian for more than 20 years now. Inspired by John Robbins, we chose to pass on the pot roast . . . the turkey . . . the steak in the late 80s. So, tofu it is. Sometimes.

I have developed an affection for these soy bean cakes though – especially firm tofu cut into slabs, blotted dry, cubed and pan-fried in some oil over medium high heat. It develops a pleasing crispy, chewy texture. Then, if you dunk it in a coconut curry sauce . . . well, then you have a little bit of heaven in a bowl.

Coconut Curry With Tofu and Lime

adapted from This Can’t Be Tofu! by Deborah Madison
Serving Size : 4

1 carton firm tofu with about 1 TBS of peanut or vegetable oil to pan fry (Of course, you CAN substitute chicken . . . maybe about a pound of already cooked chicken?)
1 can coconut milk mixed with 1/2 cup water or stock (I use water with about 1/4 tsp. Better than Bouillon for that nice umami flavor)
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons curry powder (I use 1 tsp. mild and 1 tsp. that is spicier)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon tamarind paste dissolved in 1/2 cup hot water (I have a block of this kicking around in the back of my fridge. We bought it years ago at our local international grocery . . . it keeps indefinitely and is worth buying if you plan to do any Asian or Indian cooking. If you can’t find it easily, there are substitute suggestions online.)
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, finely chopped
2 Roma tomatoes, diced small
2 scallions including the firm greens, chopped
juice of 1 lime
mushroom soy sauce, to taste (Mushroom soy sauce gives another hit of that umami or savory flavor. It is one of my secret ingredients. It elevates dishes from somewhat flavorful to bursting with flavor. It makes the difference in soup as well.)
chopped cilantro

Drain the tofu, pat dry with paper towel, then dice it into 1/2-inch cubes. Heat oil to medium high in a heavy skillet (I use cast iron). Brown tofu turning occasionally to get as many sides as possible. Set tofu aside.

Combine the next ten ingredients in the skillet. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 minute. Add the tofu, lower the heat, and simmer, covered for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and scallions, and simmer 5 minutes more.

Add the lime juice. Season to taste with a teaspoon or more mushroom soy sauce. Serve garnished with chopped cilantro over basmati rice or noodles.

Ratings:

Note: Both Scott and I are professors, so the letter grades make sense to me for now. 

Me:                                    A

Scott:                                 B

Luca (8 year-old foodie):              D (“It was too spicy.”)

Alia (4 year-old food terrorist):      A (“It was very good!”)