Sunday, January 01, 2012

The search for easy Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps


Almost a year ago, my daughter decided to become a vegetarian. While I respected the motivation behind her decision, I was a little bit worried about how I was going to feed my family. We had finally gotten to a place where I could make ONE dinner and everyone would eat it. But my husband does not think it's a meal unless some form of meat is present. Fortunately, H will eat fish, but unfortunately, Jeff only ate swordfish, shrimp and lobster. Oh, and fried catfish at Sportsman's Grille. Fast forward a year, H is still a pesca-vegetarian (eating only fish), J has added Trout, Tuna, Scallops and Halibut to his list of edible seafood, and I've found the best places to buy seafood in Nashville (not an easy task since we're 8 hours from the nearest ocean).

But I can't serve fish every night. Sometimes I have to make vegetarian chili (added meat to J's), vegetarian pasta, and I am learning how to prepare tofu. The only experience we have had eating Tofu was the vegetarian lettuce wraps at PF Changs. And to be honest, it's hard to tell the difference between their tofu wraps and the chicken wraps. I found a recipe online for the PF Chang's version, but both times I made them the tofu just tasted blah...and the texture wasn't the same. Plus, after mixing together the marinade, the cooking sauce, and the dipping sauce, and chopping up the vegetables and tofu, my kitchen looked like Haiti probably looks this morning. (Small pause for a prayer for those victims).

So I have been experimenting with the recipe, and last night I made a much better, easier version of the above recipe. I think the key is how to prepare the tofu before stir-frying. I start with a block of firm tofu, drained, and put it on a stack of 5 or 6 paper towels. Then I top it with another few paper towels and put something heavy on top (a heavy pan, a plate with a teapot full of water, etc.) After about 20 minutes, I turn the tofu over, replace with a couple more paper towels (I know, bad for the environment), and repeat the process for another 10-15 minutes. Then I thinly dice it, put it on a roasting pan sprayed with cooking spray, and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes, stirring halfway through. THEN, I marinate it. When tofu is warm, it supposedly takes the marinade flavors better. When I put the recipe together about 30 minutes before dinner, the tofu got really nice and chewy and very flavorful.

So here's the recipe:

Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps

Marinade:
4 Tbsp. Soy sauce (low sodium)
2 Tbsp. Rice Wine
1 TBsp. Rice Vinegar
2 Tbsp. Brown Sugar
1 tsp finely chopped ginger
1 Tbsp. lime juice

Mix above together and cover prepared tofu for 1-2 hours, or longer before stir frying.

Filling:
1 block firm or extra firm tofu, or soy crumbles (see note)
1 onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves chopped garlic
1 small can water chestnuts, finely chopped
1/2 bag broccoli slaw mixture
2 Tbsp. canola, sesame or peanut oil
1/4 cup of Iron Chef Honey Garlic stir fry and marinade sauce (or similar bottled sauce)
Iceberg, Boston Bibb or Butter Lettuce Leaves

Heat oil in wok over medium heat, add drained, marinated tofu and stir fry 15-20 minutes, stirring gently until browned. You can see below how the tofu "pops" as it browns.

video

Remove from pan, and add remaining ingredients. Stir fry for 5 minutes until veggies begin to soften. Add a little bit of reserved marinade to deglaze if needed. Stir fry for a few more minutes as veggies continue to soften, then add stir fry sauce. Stir until veggies are done and sauce is warm. Add tofu and stir. Serve with Iceberg, Boston Bibb or Butter Lettuce leaves.

Dipping Sauce:
Lettuce Wrap Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
2 tablespoons chopped green onions

Combine all ingredients and serve with lettuce wraps.

NOTE:  Sometimes I don't feel like going to the trouble of draining the tofu, so I substitute Soy Crumbles.  There are many different brands, but they can be found in the produce department, where you buy tofu and other vegetarian meat-type products.  They have the consistency of ground beef and work very well in this recipe because they soak up the taste of the stir fry sauce.