Asian Lettuce Wraps: Turkey Edition

This is probably one of the most delicious dishes that I’ve ever made – or so says a very reliable source with whom I’m currently co-habitating.

Lettuce wraps are one of my favorite appetizers to order at Asian restaurants, and, as I found out, they’re also ridiculously easy to make. This recipe uses turkey as the protein of choice, but you can swap in anything from beef to seafood to tofu to suit your taste.

Credit: Allrecipes (with some of my own modifications)

Servings: 4

1 head of lettuce (organic is best)
1 pound ground turkey
Splash of cooking oil
Splash of cooking wine
1 large red onion, diced
2 teaspoons ginger, diced
Many tablespoons soy sauce
Half as many tablespoons white rice vinegar
Many tablespoons garlic chili sauce
6 shitake mushrooms, if dried, soak in water for 30 min and dice
Handful of sliced wood ears, if dried, soak in water for 30 min
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 (8 oz) can water chestnuts, chopped (bigger pieces for more crunch)
3 green onion stalks, chopped
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil

1) Heat your cooking oil in a large skillet. Add turkey, sautéing and breaking into small pieces until brown. Add your splash of cooking wine about 2 minutes in. Remove turkey, and set aside to cool.
2) Sautee onion in the remaining turkey juices, stirring frequently until slightly brown around edges. Add ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic chili sauce and stir for 2 minutes.
3) Add mushrooms and wood ears, stir for another 2 minutes
4) Stir in carrot, water chestnuts, green onion, sesame oil and cooked turkey and cook until the onions begin to wilt (about 2 minutes).
5) Remove 4-6 lettuce leaves per person, being careful not to tear them, rinse and arrange on a plate.
6) Serve by spooning the mixture onto a lettuce leaf, wrap and devour.

I am highly confident that the mixture will taste even better tomorrow after marinating in its own flavors.

A weekend in Paris

There has been so much written about the “City of Love” that it’s not worth my writing up yet another trip summary or Guide to Paris. Yes, the Mona Lisa is a bit underwhelming. No, you cannot see the Eiffel Tower from everywhere. Yes, Versailles is expensive and crowded, but you should go anyway. Etc. Instead, I’ve written up some tips and unexpected discoveries from my trip that I hope will prove useful to any of you. If you are a frequent traveler, you might find something new. If it’s your first trip to Paris, you might be mistaken for a local.

Cannonball into a fountain at Versailles

The best things I ever ate in Paris are…

Ice cream – Parisians are very proud of their ice cream, and they have good reason to be. Go to Berthillon. Not to the dozens of ice cream shops that happen to sell their ice cream – go to the original location on Île Saint-Louis, the one with the longest line. This might be the only location where they serve “fraise des bois” (wild strawberry) flavor. You’ll pay a little extra for this one flavor, but it’s unbelievably worth it. Also, beware, Berthillon closes for most of August.

Falafel – I would not have found this if I hadn’t made a mistake of searching for “Jewish Quarter” when I meant “Latin Quarter”. The first result was called L’As du Fallafel with over 1000 positive reviews. Make your way to Rue des Rosiers, weaving between Vespas and carousing groups of Hasidics to this little eatery and get the Falafel Special. For around 5 EUR, you’ll get a magical concoction of falafel, eggplant and 3 kinds of pickled cabbage stuffed into a pita. I can now safely say – the best falafel I’ve ever had was in Paris.

Extra harissa, please!

Pot de Fer – This street, meaning “Iron Kettle” is near the Place Monge Metro stop and is absolutely packed with delicious, lively restaurants of all manners of cuisine, from French to Japanese to Italian and more.

Scallops at Chez Lena et Mimile

Some ways to save money are…

Eiffel Tower – Go to the East Pillar (Pillar Est) and take the stairs. Not only will it be cheaper, but there will be a shorter line, and the views while climbing inside one of the Tower’s legs are amazing. Don’t worry, you can still take an elevator between the 2nd and 3rd level.

Museum Pass – Only get this if you love museums and plan to go to more than four on a tight schedule. The only museum on this pass when it might have been worth it to skip a line was Saint Chapelle. Surprisingly, I got into the Louvre on a Saturday afternoon after only 10 minutes in line. Also, all museums are free on the 1st Sunday of each month, but beware the lines.

Metro tickets – The standard “single ride” ticket is misnamed. You can actually use your ticket (1.70 EUR within the city) as many times as you wish within a 1.5 hour period.

Do any of you have your own tips and discoveries to add to this list?

Next up: London!

Recipe: Mapo Tofu

Mapo tofu, a staple of Chinese restaurants and now one of my favorite dishes to cook. It’s quick, simple and the perfect comfort food for a chilly evening. There’s a lot of room for experimentation, especially in adjusting the amount of cayenne to change the spice level. This recipe is set to medium spiciness.

The recipe below is a frankenchild of AllRecipes and Epicurious.

Makes 3-4 servings

1/2 lb ground pork (95% lean)
5 tbsp dry sherry (or cooking wine)

1 tbsp fermented black beans, rinsed and mashed (might be called “Salted black beans“)
1 tbsp chili garlic sauce (I ❤ garlic and use almost double this)
2 tsp cayenne pepper
4 tbsp soy sauce
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp of ginger, minced

1 package (1 lb) of firm tofu, drained and cut into cubes
3 tbsp of canola oil
1 cup frozen green peas
1/2 cup chicken broth

2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 – 1 tsp Szechuan peppercorn powder
3 tbsp chopped scallions

1. Combine ground pork and sherry in a small bowl and set aside.
2. Combine black beans, chili garlic sauce, cayenne pepper, soy sauce, garlic and ginger in another small bowl and set aside.
3. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a light simmer. Slide tofu into water and maintain at a light simmer for 5-7 minutes as you stir-fry other ingredients. Pre-poaching the tofu this way makes sure that it is tender in the final dish.
4. Heat a wok over high heat until hot (can substitute a skillet) and swirl the canola oil to coat the cooking surface evenly. Stir-fry pork until evenly brown, breaking up clumps as needed. Stir in black bean mixture, peas and pre-poached tofu. Pour in chicken broth and bring to a light boil. Keep stir-frying until it looks ready to eat.
5. Serve topped with sesame oil, Szechuan peppercorn powder and chopped scallions.

Dinner is served

Self-Experiment: Dinner Party 101

I don’t cook.

I won’t quite say that I can’t cook — when presented with a microwave dinner or brownie mix with instructions printed on the back, I have done an admirable job. But a combination of Google cafes and living in a neighborhood with the highest concentration of Zagat-rated restaurants in San Francisco has made me regard the kitchen with fear and bewilderment.

Therefore it made complete sense for me to volunteer to host a dinner party. What follows is a step-by-step template for how to throw a dinner party for 20+ people, vegetarians accounted for, where your guests happily do most of the work for you and eagerly ask you afterwards for a recipe that doesn’t quite exist.

Step 1: Throw a dumpling making party
I can’t think of a more efficient way to produce delicious food in bulk. And since the guests themselves make the dumplings, they taste that much more delicious to them.

Step 2: Consider the recipes
My mom sent me her dumpling recipe. I remember it had always produced the most delicious dumplings as I was growing up. Of course, that was when she had made the mix:

Vegetarian dumplings

Dry Black Mushroom*
Dry Black Wood Ear*
Bell Pepper*
Fried Tofu
Green Onion
Water chestnuts, well chopped
Soy sauce
Olive oil
Sesame oil

Dumpling wraps

1. Put Dry Black Mushroom and Dry Black Wood Ear into cold water and let them become soft. Wash each piece using cold water (may have some dirt, especially at root of mushroom). By hand, squeeze some water from washing and cut into small pieces
2. Wash the Napa (you only want the leaves and tender inner stems); cut to small pieces; put it in a bowl, add some salt, stir thoroughly. Put aside for awhile till some liquid can be see in the bottom of the bowl. Using your hands or a cheesecloth, squeeze liquid out of chopped napa. If you like, wash the squeezed napa again and re-squeeze as before.
3. Wash Carrot, Celery, Green Pepper, Fried Tofu (this one needs some of the liquid squeezed out after washing also), Ginger, Green Onion and Water Chestnuts and cut them into small pieces.
4. Put all above (1-3) into a big bowl, add salt, soy sauce, egg (you may only want the whites), olive oil, sesame oil, cilantro) and mix well
5. Put proper amount mix on dumpling wrap and make sure closed tightly (you may use some juice from mix or little water to help)
6. Boil water and then put dumpling into and continue cooking. Add cold water three times during cooking whenever the water boils.
7. Serve with sauce on the side (soybean sauce, olive oil, sesame oil, green onions) for self-service

Pork and chive dumplings

Ground pork (or chicken/beef/lamb/etc)
Dry Black Wood Ear
Water chestnuts, well chopped
Soy sauce
Olive oil
Sesame oil

Dumpling wrap

1. Prepare Dry Black Wood Ear just like above
2. Cut garlic, ginger and water chestnuts into small pieces
3. Wash the Chives; cut to small pieces and squeeze some liquid out similar to Napa above. Save the liquid from squeeze into a bow. Then mix the Chive with a little oil.
4. Put meat into a bowl, add egg (you may only want the whites) If meat is too lean, you need to add some of the chive liquid from #3 also. Stir mixture in one direction until it become a little sticky. Add #1-2, salt, soy sauce, sesame oil and mix in the same direction. Note: if the soy sauce be added gradually will be better.
5. Add Chives into the mixture and mix well
6. Follow steps 5-7 as above in vegetarian section

Step 3: Eyeball it
You might notice as I did the distinct lack of numbers in the recipes above. This was by design as my mother always knew how much of each ingredient to put in. There are also a few ingredients in each recipe written in grey. These were items that weren’t in the original list and I ran out to a store in panic to get them when I saw them later in the recipe. Here’s to avoiding that the next time.

So… from microwave cuisine to this. I did the only thing I could: swallowed my fear and eyeballed it. Fortunately dumpling mix is very forgiving and invites a “what the hell” kind of attitude when it comes to preparing it. The only real criteria I used were:

Vegetarian mix: if you’re happy with the mix of colors, then it’s ready. I ended up not even including the carrot, celery or fried tofu. I kept feeding ingredients into a food processor and tossing it into a mixing bowl until the final result looked pretty enough to eat. The food processor is your best friend in this process, except for the items followed with an asterisk. These items either don’t get chopped evenly or get liquefied in a processor, so prepare them by hand.

Pork and chive mix: You never have enough chives. Whatever you prepare initially, double the amount. For that matter, you really can’t have enough water chestnuts, either. Have fun with this one — compared to the veggie dumpling mix, this one is easy.

5lbs of ground pork among other things

5lbs of ground pork among other things

Step 4: Put your guests to work
Have plenty of baking trays and plates sprinkled with flour. Spread out spoons and dumpling wraps evenly amongst the chairs and let them go nuts. The quest to create the perfect pleated dumpling will keep everyone entertained for a very long time. We had many very very beautiful ones at the end:

Art of dumpling making

Art of dumpling making

Step 5: EAT
Dumplings go well with friends, good music and just about any kind of alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink in existence. Thank everyone for attending and start planning your next party 🙂

Bubbling deliciousness

Bubbling deliciousness

TL;DR: Dumplings at a dinner party are delicious and impossible to screw up.