Foodie Friday: Thai Lettuce Wraps and My Hoarding Tendencies

by Maile on June 14, 2013

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For the past two months, my husband has had an on-again-off-again relationship with gluten and dairy. I won’t go into the details of why, not because it’s a deeply private issue, but because it’s really not that interesting. However, every time he announces, “Alright, I’m cutting out gluten and dairy again,” I always try to sound equally supportive and put out.

“Oh, good Babe; I’m so glad you’re doing this. I just don’t know what I’ll keep around here for you to eat. I mean, the kids really couldn’t go without bread and yogurt so, well, I’ll figure something out…”

But secretly, I love it. With that simple declaration from his mouth, suddenly the spotlights come on and the music rolls and I’m slam bang in the middle of an episode of Chopped, trying to conjure up recipes out of a small basket of bean sprouts, salmon fillets, and a pint of coconut milk yogurt. Really, I simply love the challenge.

Hidden under my desk in our office lives my ever-bulging file of Untried Recipes That I Simply Can’t Throw Away Even If They Are From A 1998 Issue of Bon Appetit And I Will Never Make Them. I just can’t be sure if at some moment in the next decade or two I might need that recipe, and no other, for Halibut Souvlaki, and heaven forbid if I’ve thrown it away. So I hoard recipes like some people hoard shoe boxes or used wrapping paper or cats. It could be worse.

From this infamous file, I recently came upon a recipe for Thai Lettuce Wraps that met both the gluten-free and dairy-free criteria. So I turned on the LED spotlights over my counter, queued up the music, and got down to business. Of course, I couldn’t leave well enough alone and tweaked things here and changed things there to come up with this little number that I am quite proud of and very eager to share with you.

One word of warning: if you don’t have a food processor (God forbid), this might require some tedious chopping on your part. I’m not saying it can’t be done, I’m just saying it’s the difference between having dinner on the table in 30 minutes or dinner on the table in 90; it’s up to you.

Mai Thai Lettuce Wraps

2 heads of lettuce, such as romaine or butter, separated into leaves

2 carrots, quartered

1 medium onion, quartered

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 mild green chile (or 1 hot green chile, if you dig the spiciness), quartered

½ medium zucchini, quartered

1 rib celery, quartered

1, 1-inch piece gingerroot, peeled and quartered

1 medium tomato, quartered

2 tbsp. sesame oil, divided

2 lbs. lean ground beef

1 c. leftover brown rice

¼ c. fish sauce (frightening, I know, but trust me on this; the stench while I was measuring this out took my breath away. Honestly, how can something that smells so awful make food taste so wonderful. Fish sauce: an enigma.)

chile sauce (optional)

Put carrots, onion, garlic, and chile in your food processor. Pulse it till the veggies are a uniform dice. Empty them into a bowl and do your next batch of veggies: zucchini, celery, and gingerroot. Dice to the same size and add to the bowl of veggies. Then put tomato in your food processor and pulse two or three times. You want it chopped not pureed. Put chopped tomatoes in a separate bowl.

In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp. of oil over medium-high heat; add ground beef and cook till browned. Remove beef with a slotted spoon. At this point you need to evaluate the amount of juices you have left in your pan. I get my beef from the dairy where I get milk, and I’ve noticed that they’re beef is remarkably lean, producing very little of its own grease. Therefore, I like to add another tablespoon of sesame oil at this point. If you feel like you have enough juices without adding the oil, just omit the second tablespoon of oil. Then add your big bowl of diced veggies (not the tomatoes) and sauté for 5 to 8 minutes, or until soft. Add tomatoes, rice, and fish sauce, and cook for 2 minutes longer.

To serve, spread 1 to 2 tablespoons of meat mixture on lettuce leaf. Top with a small dollop of chile sauce, roll up, and devour.

Confession: My husband and I ate half a batch of the meat mixture with 2 small heads of butter lettuce just between the two of us. You just start thinking, “Well, it’s mostly lettuce and lettuce is REALLY good for you, right?” And then you stuff another wrap in your mouth. Repeat. Repeat again. And suddenly you are a walking thai wrap.

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