Thursday, June 6, 2013

Wrapping Up a Great Summer Meal

As the weather turns warmer, I am noticing more locally grown produce arriving at the grocery stores, and my long-awaited CSA share is starting next week (we are members at the dynamite Lindentree Farm). June is a perfect time to start pulling out my favorite veggie-heavy, warm weather dishes.

I love all sorts of Asian flavors and cuisines. One concept I think is genius is using a lettuce leaf as the vehicle to wrap up your food. I first encountered the idea when eating Korean bugogi and French-Cambodian rouleaux. When it's hot out, using lettuce or cabbage as a wrap is especially refreshing.

I created these hoisin beef wraps on a day when I didn't want to use the oven and I didn't want to eat anything too heavy. The wrap combines a highly flavored meat with all sorts of crunchy accompaniments. I relied on a few pantry staples like hoisin and ramen noodles, but sometimes that's how I roll, especially when I'm trying to cook dinner in a hurry. A special plug for hoisin--it's a bit of a magic sauce, something like a sweet Worcestershire, and it's always on the fridge door in my arsenal of secret weapons that can create robust flavor quickly.

This recipe seems like it has a lot of moving parts, but in fact you can get this on the table in about a half hour. Start with draining the cucumbers and washing the lettuce, and end with the croutons and meat. And I guarantee once you make crunchy ramen croutons and quick pickles, you will start looking for ways to incorporate those in to other meals as well.

Hoisin Beef Wraps with Crunchy Ramen Croutons and Quick Pickles
meat adapted from Food Network; pickles adapted from How to Cook Everything

Serves 3-4. 

For the wrap: 
1 head butter (Boston) lettuce, leaves separated

In a large bowl or sink, soak lettuce leaves for 10 minutes in cold water to remove dirt. Dry leaves, but leave them whole.

For the pickles: 
1 pound cucumbers
1 T. salt
1 t. sugar
1 t. sesame oil
1 t. reduced sodium soy sauce
1 t. rice vinegar

Slice cucumbers as thinly as possible (if you have a mandolin you should use it). Place cucumbers in a colander and toss with the salt. Let sit for 30 minutes in the sink, squeezing them occasionally with paper towels.   

Toss with sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce and rice vinegar. 

For the meat: 
1 pound ground beef or turkey
1 T. grated fresh ginger
2 scallions, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T. reduced sodium soy sauce
1/4 c. hoisin sauce

In a skillet, cook meat over medium high heat until browned. Drain off any excess fat. Stir in ginger, scallions, garlic, soy sauce, and hoisin and cook for one minute. Remove from heat.

For the croutons:
2 packages ramen soup, flavor packets discarded
3 T. canola oil
2 T. sugar

Remove dried ramen noodles from the packaging, and gently break the noodles into small pieces, roughly 1/2 to 1 inch. In a skillet, heat oil and sugar. Add noodle pieces and cook, stirring constantly, until noodles turn golden, about 5 minutes. Cool on a buttered plate.

To eat this delectable dish, take a lettuce leaf in your hand, spoon in a small amount of meat, and top with a few pickles and croutons. Eat as delicately as possible, but I warn you it's hard not to stuff the whole wrap into your mouth in one bite. Repeat as many times as needed.

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