Monday, June 18, 2012

Lettuce Wraps

As much as I love sushi, I often feel the lack of vegetables if eating just a couple of rolls. Yeah, we could have a couple of veggie rolls, but I wanted more. I also had a hunch that a straight forward salad wasn't going to work for me, either. So, as a supplement to our sushi, I mixed cuisines and decided to make some lettuce wraps-- specifically, tofu lettuce wraps.

Now, I know what you might be thinking... tofu? Yes, tofu. In its raw, naked state, it can be less than appealing. It's pretty much flavorless and the texture can be anywhere from wet paper to jello. Prepared well, though, it can do just about anything! I should clarify that we're not talking about silken tofu here, which is an entirely different ballgame (also good, but handled differently- we can discuss that another time).

The real secret to working with tofu is pressing it. This removes some of its moisture to take away the jiggly-ness, improving its texture, and making way for some actual flavor. Since it doesn't have much taste on its own, it can can be seasoned in pretty much any manner you want.

These lettuce wraps are the perfect thing for rounding out an otherwise light meal. The spicy, warm filling wrapped in the cool, refreshing lettuce cups are a sweet summer combo.

Tofu Lettuce Wraps
  • 1 block extra firm tofu, pressed and cubed (I actually pressed it 4 times to get the right texture- twice whole, once in cutlets, once in strips)
  • 1/2 c low-sodium soy sauce (gluten-free, if applicable)
  • 1/4c neutral flavored or peanut oil (1 Tbl. reserved for sautéing)
  • 1/4c rice wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. grated ginger
  • 1 Tbl. honey (or sweetener of choice, adjusted to taste)  
Sauce and serving:
  • 1 Tbl. hoisin sauce (see note)
  • Sriracha, to taste (optional- you could easily substitute with red pepper flakes or leave it out entirely if you can't do spicy foods or your hoisin is spicy enough)
  • green onion (whites and greens, sliced, divided)
  • 1 medium carrot, grated
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil (optional)
  • other vegetables you may want to use up
  • 8 small-ish lettuce cups or 4 large, split in half
Note: If you don't have hoisin sauce, it's easy to make, including without gluten (a Google search will yield plenty of recipes). Alternately, add approx 1 tsp natural, unsweetened peanut butter to final sauce and adjust seasonings as you like.

Combine the first 7 ingredients, whisk to emulsify. Adjust seasonings to taste. Marinate cubed tofu for 1 hour (or as long as you can within that hour). If longer than an hour, make sure it's refrigerated, for food safety.

Once the tofu is marinated, drain the marinade into a bowl and give the tofu a slight blot with a paper towel so that it will properly sauté instead of steam. The beauty of only using tofu and vegetable ingredients is that the drained marinade can be used to start the final sauce. Add the hoisin sauce (or peanut butter) and whisk to combine.

In a medium-hot, large skillet (not nonstick), add approx. 1 Tbl. vegetable oil (peanut, soybean, canola, grapeseed, etc) and distribute evenly. It takes a surprisingly small amount of oil to get a nice crust on the tofu, which means building more flavor. Just as you see wisps of smoke, add the tofu to the pan in as even a layer as possible. As the tofu sears and is ready to turn, it should release from the pan somewhat easily. Give a turn every few minutes to ensure as many sides as possible are nicely browned.

When the tofu is nice and brown, remove it from the pan and set aside. Deglaze the pan with a small bit of the sauce and some water. Let the sauce reduce back to original consistency (maybe a minute) and add the whites of the green onion, along with the grated carrot. They should cook until just softened, with a slight bite to them. Add other vegetables, according to how cooked you want them to be. I had some peas I wanted to use. I shelled them, used the pods in the actual mixture, and saved the actual peas as a fresh garnish at the end (fresh, raw peas are SO good!). I added the pods in about the last 2 minutes so that they stilled retained some of their crunch.

Once the veggies are how you like them, add the remaining sauce and add the tofu back in. Give a stir, just to let the tofu warm again and let everything come together.

Garnish with the greens of the green onion (I also used the fresh peas I'd shelled). Serve with lettuce cups. Enjoy!


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