Meaty–Yet Meatless–Spicy Lettuce Wraps

Meatless Lettuce Wraps

Between Cinco de Mayo two weeks ago and an especially booze-soaked girls’ getaway last weekend, my body is pissed. I’ve been stuffing myself with melted cheese, guacamole, and tequila for two straight weeks now and I’m not feeling my finest, on the inside or outside.

SO! What does this mean? Back to basics. Making a conscious effort to cook at home, using healthy ingredients. I’m trying to cut back on the meat and carbs for the next couple weeks, so it’s up to me to make eating tons of fresh vegetables interesting. The other night I cooked Asian lettuce wraps for boyfriend Rob (an ultra-carnivore) and our roommate Dayna (a vegetarian) and… the impossible was achieved! Everyone loved this dinner. Probably because it’s flavorful and meaty, yet meat-free and light.

The secret is my new fave vegetable protein, made by Gardein. Normally I don’t like packaged frozen foods, but I’ll make an exception for quick, healthy options like Amy’s, Kashi and certain Trader Joe’s entrees… and now I can add Gardein to the list. Luckily, their meatless meats are made from all-natural vegetable proteins (soy, wheat, and pea proteins plus vegetables and complex grains) so I don’t feel guilty about splurging on a little frozen shortcut. Apparently nobody else in my house minds either!

Meatless Spicy Lettuce Wraps

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Spicy Bibimbap Oatmeal

Sick of the same old breakfast? Bland old cereal and fruit not doing it for you anymore? Well, today I’m here to spice up your morning routine… literally. Presenting your new favorite way to start the way: bibimbap oatmeal!

The idea for this glorious creation came together last week when I was trying out a new condiment, Gochujang, or Korean Hot Pepper Paste, from CJ Foods. I love anything spicy and/or Asian, so I was curious to see how this product stacked up to beloved old standbys like Sriracha. I gave myself a little taste test and determined that the Gochujang has a bit of a slower, more controlled savory burn that builds up after you eat it, while Sriracha is a bit more of a bright, immediate in-your-face kind of spice. Both are fantastic—and in my opinion, crucial—condiments for any home chef.

Anyway! I was thinking, hmm, what creative new dish can I make with my new chili paste? Then it dawned on me… the spicy oatmeal I read about and pinned from HuffPo last week! If it’s good with Sriracha, I bet it’s even better with Gochujang and Sriracha! And that’s how my Bibimbap Oatmeal was brought into this world. I added some complexity to my dish by combining quinoa and oatmeal, but you could easily make it only with oatmeal or only with quinoa. I made my first version with just the grains, seasonings, and egg, but in true bibimbap fashion I encourage you to mix in sautéed seasonal vegetables and/or some thin-sliced meat. Either way, make sure you have that runny yolk on top, because that makes all the difference.

Spicy Bibimbap Oatmeal

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Endless Road Trip Seattle: Curry to Thai for

I’ve saved the best for last. The best thing I miss about Seattle, the best restaurant memories from my years of college in the University District, the best Thai food I’ve ever had. Yes, I’m that passionate about it. Thai Tom is my favorite restaurant in Seattle even though it’s a cash-only hole-in-the-wall with hit-or-miss service, multiple health department warnings, an undeniably intense spice level, legions of whiny Yelp detractors, and often a long wait on the dirty sidewalk of the Ave.

It’s fine, I’ll call out all those detriments. I challenge you to take one bite of Thai Tom’s curry and disagree with my ardent assessment of their amazing food. After your wait, after cramming into a wobbly wooden table or a crowded corner spot in front of the open-kitchen wok, after agonizing over which dish to order off their hand-painted wooden panel menus, after hungrily watching the sweaty chefs pouring piping-hot, incredibly fresh sauces over snowy balls of rice in glass troughs and praying that order is yours… once you’re endured that, the first bite (and every subsequent bite) is worth enduring the Thai Tom process. The food is heaven.

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Breaking it Down: Deconstructed Sushi Salad

Sushi is one of my favorite foods in the world. Sometimes, though, it can be a real pain to procure. If I’m not in the mood to hit up a restaurant, what am I supposed to do? Roll my own sushi at home? A fun activity, but pretty time-intensive for the average American. Who has a sushi mat, anyway? So I came up with the next best thing—or maybe even better: sushi salad!

That might sound a little weird, but let me explain. All you do is break down all of your favorite parts of a sushi roll—rice, seaweed, fish, and fun condiments like soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger—and serve them over spicy Japanese greens, and there you have it: a beautiful and fun-to-eat plate! Sugoi!

While sushi used to be super exotic, these days it’s pretty easy to find most of the more unique ingredients in mainstream grocery stores. Pickled ginger and wasabi paste are readily available in the Asian section, and even seaweed has become pretty accessible; for example these seaweed snacks by Annie Chun’s even come in non-intimidating packaging and cool flavors (like wasabi—perfect for this salad).

Deconstructed Hot & Cold Sushi Salad

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The Endless Road Trip: Porklandia

Portland, Oregon may seem like the type of hippie-dippie place that knows its silken tofus from its seitan (and it is). But as I recently discovered, these hipsters also know their swine, from head to tail. Oregon is a serious pork-producing state, and Portland chefs get crazy/creative with pig parts of every variety. I ate my way through Porklandia so that you don’t have to.

At Tasty n Sons, nearly every dish, from salads to kimchi to chicken, comes with an egg on top (as god intended). It climaxes with this perfectly golden-brown, intensely crispy fried pork cutlet, served over spinach, with a soft fried egg for a crown.

The Woodsman Tavern is the first place I have ever been served a ham plate and then told the proper order in which to eat the hams, as if this was a fancy wine tasting—from most delicate to heartiest. Each one was prosciutto-thin, but with the full salty taste of a good ol’ Virginia-style baked ham.

Don’t forget the ears! At Whiskey Soda Lounge, a casual spot from acclaimed Pok Pok chef Andy Ricker, they’re stewed in 5-spice and deep-fried until crisp, served with a black vinegar dipping sauce. They’re crusty on the edges and chewy in the middle, with the texture of…well, ear.

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Eating Down the Fridge: Egg Foo Young

Lately, when it comes to reconstituting my leftovers into dinner, it seems that there has been an “Asian-inspired” theme.  (I say “Asian-inspired” so that I can sidestep any claims about the dishes’ authenticity.  I made it from stuff I found in the fridge.  I know it is not authentic.)  Whether it’s a weekly dose of fried rice or a bowlful of curry, I have definitely been getting the Far East vibe when I open my refrigerator door.

The other day, as I contemplated dinner, I spied a half-empty bag of bean sprouts in the vegetable drawer.  I knew at that moment that I had received my mission.  Here’s why:  Once every few months, I go to my favorite cheap, exotic produce shop, LA Mart in Silver Spring.  I marvel at how inexpensive everything is, fill my cart with vegetables, and spend less than $30.  Without fail, a bag of bean sprouts materializes in my cart.  I take it home, use half the bag that night, and forget about the rest until I find the sad little sprouts, brown and slimy, in the bottom drawer a week later.  But no!  This time, I have seen them in time.  I would not let them go to waste.

I like bean sprouts a lot.  My husband is a bit more iffy.  Thus, I needed to use lots of them without serving something that appeared, despite whatever delicious dressing I concocted, to be just a bowl of bean sprouts.  Enter egg foo young.  A childhood favorite of mine, it is the perfect EDF dish because once you have bean sprouts and eggs, the rest is quite flexible.

Egg Foo Young

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Pom Pom Party

I don’t know about ya’ll, but I am abostlutely incapable of spying something like this in the grocery store and not taking it home. I saw these fuzzy little guys at the food co-op and had to have ’em. What the hell is a pom pom mushroom, anyway? I had no idea, but that was completely beside the point. “$4 each — I hope they’re worth it,” the check-out girl said skeptically.

According to the Internet, these fluffy little buns have a hearty, slightly sweet taste and an almost meaty texture that makes them of good use as a veggie replacement for veal or lobster. They’re fragile and shouldn’t be washed or handled much; just sliced up and sautéed in butter for about five minutes.

Not wanting to get too crazy in my first go-around with pom poms, I followed directions and just cooked them up in butter for a few minutes, then added them to some leftover udon as such:

They are actually quite delicious, and certainly hearty, although a replacement for lobster is a pit of a stretch. I’d call the texture less meaty and more spongey — kind of like a tastier fried tofu, with a sweet, somewhat nutty flavor.

I’m curious — anyone else played with pom poms? What do you do with ’em?

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