Lettuce Wraps

We really like to wrap our food around here: rice paper, tortillas, and now lettuce. Basically we’ll use anything but bread and pita pockets these days.

I craved P.F. Chang lettuce wraps when I was pregnant with Lupe, though that may not be saying much as I seemed to crave everything during that pregnancy. This vegetarian option uses lemongrass and ginger to season the tofu and, in a nod to Vietnamese cooking (also because I had lots of Thai basil on hand from making a pot of pho for my sister) is garnished with carrots, Thai basil, and bean sprouts rather than served with dipping sauce.

The prep time for this meal takes much longer than the cooking time. Because you’re frying a bunch of finely chopped stuff on high heat, you want all the ingredients to be ready to go.

Tofu. For me, it’s like vanilla ice cream. I like it a lot better when there’s other stuff with it. Take a block and cut it into cubes about the size of your thumbnail:

Set the cubed tofu over some paper towels to dry.

Mix 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon chili paste in a small bowl. Set aside. If you don’t have all these ingredients, you can just use soy sauce and sugar–something salty and sweet that will glaze the tofu a bit. I like the fish sauce and rice wine vinegar for tang, the sesame oil for its flavor which I can’t describe except to say that I like it, and the chili paste for heat.

Mince 1/2 cup of onion or 2-3 shallots, 2 cloves of garlic, and enough fresh ginger to equal 1/2 -1 tablespoon, depending on how much you like ginger.

Prep the lemongrass. Lemongrass is readily available at Asian markets and although the price per pound seems steep (anywhere between 3 and 4 bucks), a stalk doesn’t weigh much. You only need one stalk for this recipe, and you’ll probably have leftovers to freeze.

Peel away the outer skins. Then, chop off the bulb at the base of the stalk, and trim the top so that you’re left with the meatiest part of the stalk.

Slice from the bottom of the stalk, where the bulb was. About 1/2 to 2/3 of the way up toward the tip, the lemongrass becomes woody. You can freeze this part for seasoning soups or using as a skewer for barbecued meat–more on that in a future post.

Put the sliced rounds in a food processor and process until it looks like you have little lemongrass shavings–about 1-2 minutes. What you don’t use for this recipe can be frozen and used later.

Heat up a large skillet or wok. Medium-high heat works well. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the hot pan and cook the onion and lemongrass for 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Then, add the garlic and ginger and stir constantly for 30 seconds. The tofu and mushrooms go in next and need to cook for about 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms are cooked and the tofu is warm. Toss in the water chestnuts–I left mine in the large wheels straight from the can but you could chop them to make them the same size as the tofu.

Up to this point, what’s cooking in the pan is a pretty uniform color, like tofu that’s gotten a ten-minute Seattle summer tan. Like me. Add the sauce you prepped earlier. Stir and take the pan off the heat. Use a slotted spoon to remove the mixture from the pan and set it in a bowl.

Set a piece of lettuce on a plate. Add a couple tablespoons of the mixture, then top with carrots, Thai basil, and bean sprouts (which we didn’t use because my sister and I ate all of them in our pho). You’ve got crisp, soft, cool, warm, spicy, and minty in every bite. Pretty exciting stuff for tofu.

serves 4

Ingredients:

1 14-ounce box of firm or extra-firm tofu, cubed to thumbnail size and patted dry

2 tablespoons vegetable oil for cooking

1/2 cup minced onion or shallot

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tablespoon minced ginger (or 1 tablespoon if you like ginger)

2 tablespoons minced lemongrass

1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, chopped

4 mushrooms, sliced (or enough to equal 1/2 cup)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon chili paste

1 head Bibb, butter, or green leaf lettuce

1/4 cup shredded or matchstick carrots for garnish

Thai basil leaves for garnish

Bean sprouts for garnish (optional)

Directions:

1. Separate lettuce leaves. Wash well, remove firm ends, and set aside to dry.

2. In a small bowl, mix soy sauce, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, brown sugar, and chili paste. Set aside.

3. Heat oil in a large frying pan or wok over medium-high heat. Add onion and lemongrass and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often.

4. Add ginger and garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.

5. Add tofu and mushrooms and cook 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, or until mushrooms are cooked and tofu is warm.

6. Add water chestnuts.

7. Add seasoning and mix to incorporate.

8. Remove from heat. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons into a lettuce leaf and garnish with carrots, Thai basil, and bean sprouts, if desired.

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