This year is going be a tumultuous one, filled with upheaval, change and enthusiasm. At least that's what I was told a few weeks back. You see, it's the year of the monkey in Chinese culture. And while I'm not necessarily “into” astrology and the like - it most definitely makes for a good story. And considering the lady who told me this story also happened to be waxing me at the same time, I was clearly in the mood to listen. Because you never mess with a lady holding wax strips.
For some reason, this week had me thinking back to that hilarious discussion again. I wondered if she'd made the changes in her relationship as she said she would. Or if she got those weekends off she wanted. But mostly, I wondered if it was true: if in fact this year would be as tumultuous as she said.
Ask me a couple months back and I would have disagreed. Tumultuous – no way. But these past few weeks have really picked up. It's been fun, exhausting and energizing. All at once. Anguel and I are working on a couple busy projects at the moment. We've also decided to try out some new exercise routines – including spin class. I’m usually in the back, red faced, acting like I’m cranking up the tension along with everyone else, but mainly just trying to avoid passing out. It’s an art. Truly. We're also getting prepped for warmer months by setting up planter boxes in our back yard (yay for growing veggies), helping our patio shed its winter coat (months of rain do weird things to furniture), and generally just getting our life in order (taxes, yuk). That and we're prepping for a couple upcoming vacations, including one where Anguel's parents are coming to visit for a week!
To be honest, all this stuff has had me feeling a wee bit overwhelmed. So I chose to keep things pretty simple in the kitchen this week, opting for a dish that involved some low-stress vegetable prep (am I the only one that finds chopping vegetables relaxing?), minimal cooking and lots of fresh veggies. And funny enough, these Asian mushroom lettuce wraps so perfectly represent how I've been feeling recently. A mish-mash of different things going on (some might consider it chaos) that somehow seems to come together. And suddenly it all makes sense.
Lettuce wraps have been my jam for years. As a kid, they were one of my favorite things to order at Chinese restaurants. What’s not to love about crisp lettuce, a salty and savory filling, and lots of crunchy goodies to pile on top? And while back in the day they were anything but meat-free, these days I'm all about vegan lettuce wraps. Most vegan lettuce wraps use tofu in one way or another. Whether it's crumbled up like "meat" or sliced into thick pieces. I like to have a solid tofu-free version in my arsenal - it comes in handy with tofu-skittish friends (of which there are many). As it turns out, this mushroom version is quickly becoming our go-to. Because when you have these, who needs the tofu?
Mushrooms form the meaty base for this filling. I like to use two types of mushrooms for a little extra flavor (cremini and shitake). That said, you should feel free to use whatever type of mushroom(s) you want / have. Carrots and celery add a bit of color and texture to the filling. And to make this a legit Asian inspired lettuce wrap, I like to throw in chopped water chestnuts and bamboo shoots into the mix. If you’re not familiar with either of these, not to fear. Neither have a particularly strong flavor, but they add a nice subtlety and extra texture. Both are usually stocked at your regular grocery store – they tend to be with the other canned vegetables or in the ethnic foods aisle. And as an added bonus, they’re quite affordable.
This dish comes together in a breeze. I recommend chopping up all your veggies in advance, so that when it comes to cooking, you can toss everything in at just the right time. The veggies cook really quickly, so they'll be ready in no time. Once your vegetables are stir fried in an easy Asian sauce, lay out some lettuce and crunchy toppings, and have everyone assemble their wraps at the table. It really couldn't be any easier. For extra crunch, we like to chop up some freshly roasted cashews, thinly sliced cabbage and tons of fresh herbs. The extras keep well in the fridge and make a great packable lunch the next day.
Mushroom Ginger Lettuce Wraps
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced (about 1½ cups)
- 1 lb shiitake and cremini mushrooms, minced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 ribs celery, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 2 tablespoons tamari (or soy sauce, liquid aminos)
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 2 to 3 teaspoons Sriracha
- 1 (8 fl oz /227 ml) can bamboo shoots, rinsed and chopped
- 1 (8 fl oz/227 ml) can water chestnuts, rinsed and chopped
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 3 scallions/green onions, thinly sliced
- 1 head butter lettuce
- ¼ cup roasted cashews, chopped (see note 1)
- Red cabbage, thinly sliced (optional)
- Chopped cilantro (optional)
- Red pepper flakes or sliced chili (optional)
- Cook onion: Heat oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, sauté until softened, about 3 minutes.
- Add other veggies: Add mushrooms, sauté, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Add carrots and celery, sauté until the mushrooms are golden brown and carrots are tender, about 5 minutes.
- Add seasonings: Reduce heat to medium. Add garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tamari, rice vinegar, and sriracha. Toss to coat.
- Finish cooking: Stir in bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and sesame oil. Cook until warmed through, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in green onions and remove from heat.
- Serve: Transfer the lettuce wrap filling to a serving bowl. Scoop some of the filling into a lettuce leaf ("cup"), sprinkle with cashews and other toppings of your choice.
- How to roast cashews: Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes, shaking the pan halfway.
- Make it a main: To turn this recipe (1x) into a heartier meal: add crumbled tofu (from a 12 oz / 340g package) in with the mushrooms and serve with rice. With these modifications, it would serve 2 as a main.