May it Please the Palate: Asian lettuce wraps

 There is one thing that gets me on my high horse more than anything — food snobbery. This takes many forms, from turning up one’s nose at the corner diner, to declaring and decreeing what types of ethnic food are “authentic.”

I have a pretty reliable guide to determining authentic food. If I can chew and swallow it, it’s probably authentic. I’ve always been an eat-first-and-ask-questions-later kind of guy, if you know what I mean. That helps me be open minded about food, for example when I grimace “Crunchy! What is it?” and the response I get is a chirp from deep in my belly.
I don’t even mind chain restaurants; I appreciate what they do. Almost always they were begun by some hard-working entrepreneur, whose joint became popular enough to open a second location, and then a third, and poof! Suddenly it became a chain.
Take P. F. Chang’s. I love their food. I recognize that I may not get Asian Lettuce Wraps at the foot of the Great Wall, but I do know I will generally like what they serve. Their name should be a tipoff to their cuisine – it is an amalgamation of the names of co-founders, Paul Fleming and Philip Chiang (they dropped the “i”).
Recently someone sent me a link to a recipe for Asian Lettuce Wraps demonstrated on the “Today Show.” It’s not exactly a P.F. Chang recipe, but was somewhat inspired by their own chicken lettuce wraps, found at: www.pfchangs.com/chefscorner/ recipes/ Ginger_Chicken_Stir-Fry_Romaine_Wraps_recipe.pdf. This version is made with ground turkey (thigh meat has better flavor) but I also made a vegan version that was pretty good. These are my variations:
 
Asian Lettuce Wraps
 
Ingredients:
1 head Bibb or romaine lettuce 
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
2 pounds ground turkey OR vegan meat substitute such as “Beyond Meat”
1 cup diced mushroom blend, such as shiitake, oyster, crimini
1 small bell pepper (green, red or any other color you prefer), finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1 large celery stalk, finely diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup finely chopped onions 
For serving:
1/2 cup chopped peanuts 
lime wedges
Sriracha or other hot sauce for serving
 
Directions:
1. Separate the head of lettuce into individual leaves. Rinse and dry. Refrigerate them until ready to assemble and serve; keep dry inside a salad spinner or between paper towels.
2. Whisk the broth, soy sauce, sugar and cornstarch together in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a very large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. (A little more if using vegan “meat.”) Add the ground meat until it begins to brown, breaking it up into smaller pieces.
4. Add the bell pepper, carrot, celery, mushrooms, onions, garlic and ginger. Cook for 5 minutes until the vegetables start to soften.
5. Whisk in the reserved broth mixture and cook for a few more minutes to thicken the broth into a sauce. 
6. Remove from the heat and spoon into lettuce leaves, garnishing with chopped peanuts, Sriracha, and squeezed lime as desired.
This reheats well and can be taken to lunch with the dried lettuce leaves in separate containers.
A note on “fake meats.” They can be found in the freezer section of your supermarket, and not all are vegan. Some are soy based; Quorn is sort of mushroom based; and “Beyond Meat” is soy free pea protein, a meat substitute that is becoming more popular.
I promise your belly will find this meal authentic — not to mention tasty. I even had a thought of stuffing my Thanksgiving turkey with it. Talk about an amalgamation!
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Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. He can be reached at nroumel@yahoo.com. His blog is http://mayitpleasethepalate.blogspot.com/.

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