Beautiful plates of food. Gorgeous posts on instagram. Delicious restaurant meals. Inspirational healthy recipes. You’re motivated; you want to cook, and you’re ready to embark on a journey into the culinary world, and then you open the fridge, and you’re missing the key ingredient.
The eggs. The cilantro. The canned tomatoes. The jalapeno. Suddenly your epicurean aspirations fall apart, and you’re back on the couch with a takeout menu in hand. I get it.
Yes, it is difficult getting started cooking. You have to have the recipe laid out; every ingredient has to be present; you have to make sure all your equipment is up to par. It might seem like missing one thing is the end of the world when you’ve got one thing in mind, but one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from cooking (and the TV show Chopped) is improvisation!
For example, today I was so ready to make spring rolls. I had my carrots and jicama sautéed, my vietnamese ham all fried up, sauce ready, herbs washed, and then I realized: I was out of rice paper. Duh! Luckily iceberg lettuce came to my rescue and I made lettuce wraps instead. In the future I think I’ll use this as a lazy spring roll version (as opposed to salad-ifying spring rolls) if I’m in the mood to dip.
If you’ve never heard of vietnamese ham (or vietnamese baloney), called Cha Lua in Vietnamese, do not be put off by the name! It’s such a sad english translation. It’s basically like a huge cylindrical steamed meatball, like the kind you’d find in asian soups, but wrapped in banana leaf. It’s often available at Vietnamese sandwich shops and grocery stores. Try it in a Vietnamese sandwich first (Banh Mi Cha Lua) and once you’re hooked, you can buy the full ham to slice at home!
Carrot-Jicama Lettuce Wraps with Hoisin-Plum Dipping Sauce
- 1 jicama, julienned
- 3 medium carrots, peeled & julienned OR 1 bag shredded carrots
- 1 tablespoon fried shallots
- fish sauce & pepper to taste
- 1 roll vietnamese ham, julienned
- 1 cup fresh mint, washed
- 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, washed
- 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
- 1/4 cup plum sauce
- 1 tsp sriracha
Heat a bit of oil in a large skillet and add the fried shallots over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the julienned jicama, stir. Let cook down a bit, for about 2 minutes, before adding the carrots. Stir fry all together until the carrots and jicama are softened and the jicama is slightly translucent. Season the jicama-carrot mixture with pepper and fish sauce to taste. Set vegetables aside.
In the same skillet, toss julienned vietnamese ham and let brown, stirring every minute or so until the small bits are crispy. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix hoisin, plum sauce, and sriracha. Thin out a bit with some water if your plum sauce is too thick.
On a cutting board, slice the iceberg lettuce in half down the stem. Carefully remove the leaves so they do not lose shape.
Layer a leaf with jicama carrot mixture, then vietnamese ham, then the mint leaves. Continue making lettuce “rolls” until all ingredients are finished. Enjoy by dipping the rolls in the hoisin-plum sauce.