Carrot-Jicama Lettuce Wraps with Hoisin-Plum Dipping Sauce

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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.

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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!

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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.

Green Papaya Salad (Vietnamese Style)

Not my photo! I didn't get one of mine because I ate it too fast ;)

Not my photo! I didn’t get one of mine because I ate it too fast 😉

So I’ve been meaning to post this recipe – I first made it when I got my mandolin slicer for Christmas (!!). But with summer just around the corner, weather in the 90’s forecasted this week, and lots of available, fresh produce, I decided that now would be the perfect time to share such a refreshing recipe.

 

Green papaya (unripened papaya) is shredded, and tossed with a salty-sweet dressing, and topped with fried shallots, beef jerky, and crushed peanuts. This dish comes originally from Laos, but I’ve been familiarized with it through my Vietnamese mother.

 

It’s helpful to have a mandolin to shred the papaya quickly. Also, any beef jerky will work (I prefer spicy), and you can find green papaya at your nearby asian grocer. Most western grocery stores DO carry papaya, but sometimes even though it looks underripe, it’s not. It’s best to go to an asian grocery to eliminate any doubts.

 

in the making...

in the making…

Green Papaya Salad (Vietnamese Style)

  • shredded green papaya
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup white sugar OR agave nectar (or any neutral, dissolvable sweetener)
  • 1/2 cup beef jerky, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup thai basil (or regular basil), sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup crushed peanuts, or more to garnish
  • sliced serrano or jalapeno peppers (optional)

Shred the green papaya with a mandolin or knife into fine strips. Place in a colander and toss with a pinch of salt. Let sit for 30 minutes to remove sliminess and some of the excess water. Rinse, and pat dry. In a seperate bowl, mix the fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, water, and sugar until all are dissolved.

Toss the papaya, dressing, basil, half the beef jerky and half the peanuts in a large bowl just before serving. Put onto a large plate, garnish with the remaining peanuts, beef jerky, and optional peppers. Serve immediately!

 

Power Mocha Smoothie

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I used to be a banana hater.

I distinctly remember trips to Jamba Juice gone wrong because there was a banana in my smoothie. Even the slightest detection of the fruit would set me off; it was so stringy and sticky, and smelly, ick.

However, my banana aversion gradually withered away with time, thanks to quite a few loaves of banana bread and my introduction to banana chips. To this day, I’m pretty tolerable. It’s a great fruit, after all, loaded with potassium, super portable, good for muscle cramps, and versatile, too!

Speaking of how useful it is, it’s a truly amazing component in smoothies. It really binds the whole thing together, acts as a natural sweetener and thickener. It pairs well with a myriad of fruits and flavors, and I’ve learned one of my favorite combos with bananas is chocolate!

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So why not put them together in a smoothie? Bananas are great quick sources of energy because they are easily digestible, and paired with a few spoonfuls of cocoa powder, and maybe some coffee beans to really accent that dark, rich flavor, they are truly stars. Smooth and creamy, streaked with little flecks of beautiful coffee beans, this makes a great afternoon snack or morning pick-me-up. And hey, this smoothie is easily vegan, gluten, and refined sugar free! Yay bananas!

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Power Mocha Smoothie

  • 1 medium banana, peeled
  • 1/2 cup soymilk, almond milk, flax milk, or regular milk
  • 1/2 cup ice cubes
  • 1/4 cup whole coffee beans (if blender is not powerful, use ground coffee or sub 1 tsp instant coffee)
  • 1 tsp dutch cocoa powder (regular is ok, too)

Put all the ingredients in a blender and mix, gradually increasing speed, until coffee beans are ground into small specks. Pour into a tall glass and serve. You might need a spoon because of how creamy this is!

Quick-but-healthy popcorn

Hey guys! I’ve been busy lately so I haven’t been able to keep track of all the recipes I’ve been using this week, so I apologize for that! I promise I’ll get my butt back on here ASAP. By the way, check me out on instagram! (Thumbnail on the right-hand sidebar, or @G1_N4)

In the meantime, I wanted to share the perfect quick snack (that’s healthy) that is one of my fallbacks when I don’t have much time. It’s microwave popcorn! I know, some people still think that microwave popcorn is unhealthy, but that’s only if you’re still buying it in the bag. Recent food trends have uncovered a way to make your own preservative-free popcorn – no air popper necessary.
Popcorn is loaded with fiber (it’s the only grain that we eat entirely; no removing husks or anything) and is a great unrefined carb. 1 cup popped = 30 calories. This recipe makes about 3 cups.

IMG_0101Microwave Popcorn

 

  • 2 tablespoons popcorn
  • pinch salt
  • oil, coconut oil, butter of choice

Just put the kernels in a brown paper lunch bag, drizzle some olive oil, coconut oil, or butter, sprinkle on some salt and seasoning, fold the bag over, and microwave for 2-3 minutes, depending on your microwave’s strength. Stop when the popcorn pops greater than every 2 seconds.

Some of my favorite variations:

  • shake on some Furikake (Japanese rice flakes after popping)

  • sweet cinnamon sugar (1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tablespoon white sugar before popping)
  • kettle corn style, salty & sweet (1-2 tablespoons white sugar before popping)
  • chocolatey goodness (add 1 teaspoon cocoa powder before popping)
  • spicy snacking (pinch cayenne or replace salt with chili powder before popping)

Get creative, enjoy!

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Paprika-Yogurt crust

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Cauliflower has quickly become one of my favorite vegetables.

I mean, it’s such a great “blank canvas”. Similar to cabbage (and also a cruciferous vegetable!), it’s a great vegetable that picks up an accent; think bacon, curry paste, lime juice, or cheddar cheese. And so many people have taken to cauliflower as a healthy substitute lately! It’s used to healthify mashed potatoes; to form a pizza crust; to replace buffalo wings; and to even soak up a sauce like good ‘ol white rice would! (hint hint click through for some awesome recipes)

Now think about taking this humble vegetable upscale. Dramatic. An appetizer, or even, a vegetarian entree. Lately I’ve been eyeing a TON of recipes of a whole roasted cauliflower. Not in little florets, nope, this is full-fledged cauliflower amazing.

Based on all the recipes I read, I amalgamated them all into something that would be easy to make but still delicious! Serve this at your next dinner party as an appetizer, or just whenever you feel like some charred, delicious vegetables. I served it alongside some homemade shwarma and flatbreads (I’ll post a recipe at some point, except the bread… that one I just eyeballed).

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Paprika-Yogurt Crust

  • 1 medium head of cauliflower, washed
  • 1 cup of greek yogurt (I used nonfat)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika OR regular paprika

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit.

Bring a large pot to a rolling boil. Add about a tablespoon of salt. Carefully load the whole head of cauliflower into the pot, and reduce the pot to a simmer for about 10 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender enough to poke with a fork. Carefully take the cauliflower out of the pot with a strainer spoon or tongs. Set onto a tray lined with foil.

In a small bowl, mix the yogurt, salt, pepper, and paprika. With a spoon or rubber spatula, spread the yogurt mixture over the cauliflower (not the leaves) on top of the foil.

Roast the cauliflower for about 40 minutes, until evenly charred throughout. Take the cauliflower out and cut into large wedges with a knife. Serve as a vegetable side or appetizer. Enjoy!

Simple Tabouli

tabboulicloseupParsley can be so under appreciated. I used to think it had no flavor – it was just a garnish to add color to a dish. Little did I know, parsley is an herb with some real attitude!

The first time I really had parsley, and tasted it, I realized that it was often what was missing in my cooking. It has an earthy, fresh, slightly bitter (but good bitter!) flavor, that’s perfect for completing a dish with all of the five flavors (salty, sweet, sour, bitter, umami).

So don’t forget the parsley next time you’re cooking! Think shrimp scampi, swedish meatballs, steak and a parsley chimichurri, chicken soup with parsley, or, the recipe that I’m going to present with you today, tabouli! 

Tabouli (tabbouleh, tabbouli), a mixture of bulgur wheat, parsley, mint, lemon juice, olive oil, and chopped tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers, is a dish from Levantine cuisine (eastern mediterranean). It’s typically served as a meze, or small plate, alongside  other dishes. I love the way that it marinates well, so leftovers are still good the next day!

tabboulioverheadBasic Tabouli

Adapted from the Food Network

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups of boiling water
  • 1 cup bulgur wheat
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 3 finely minced tomatoes (use nice, firm tomatoes; no watery heirlooms!)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-3 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or more to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper

Put bulgur in a medium bowl with 1/2 tsp. salt. Add 1 1/2 cups boiling water, cover, and let sit 20 minutes. Drain if necessary after the 20 minutes.

Add the chopped herbs and vegetables to the bowl of bulgur. Drizzle olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper over the mixture. Toss well, cover, and chill in the fridge. Enjoy!

Note: Feel free to be more adventurous with your tabouli! Use quinoa if you’re gluten free, use less mint and more parsley if you don’t like mint, break out that balsamic vinegar! Also, feel free to add in cucumbers if you have any on hand.
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Vietnamese “Grilled” Fish Salad Bowls

fishbowlOne of my mom’s favorite dishes is Vietnamese grilled fish. Typically rolled with fresh herbs, rice noodles (bún), julienned raw vegetables, rice paper (banh trang), and dipping fish sauce (nuoc mam cham), it’s a great meal to enjoy around a big table, chattering amongst friends and family in the sweltering humidity.

While there are many ways to prepare fish, her favorite is with lemongrass and fresh herbs. The lemongrass, crushed, goes into a sweet and salty marinade on the fish before it is broiled or grilled. Chopped fresh herbs (cilantro, mint, flat-leaf parsley, thai basil) garnish when the fish is done.

However, seeing as it is winter, the grill is covered, it’s a Sunday night, and there’s work to be done before dreaded Monday rolls around, it isn’t ideal to be lounging around meticulously assembling dinner. So, my mom and I have discovered a way to still enjoy all the flavors and textures of her favorite meal all in a bowl.

These “bowls” are becoming popular, too, regardless if they are traditional preparations or new spins on old recipes – bibimbap, burrito bowls, deconstructed falafel bowls, vermicelli rice bowls (bún).

So the recipe comes in two parts: the fish, the sauce. The assembly in a bowl is really up to you. Have fun with it!

grilledfishsideVietnamese Lemongrass Fish

  • 4 Tilapia fillets (or other white fish), thawed if frozen
  • 2 Tablespoons minced lemongrass
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder, any mild one will do (I used trader joe’s generic)
  • 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (or agave)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used olive)
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • Chopped cilantro, thai basil, mint, flat-leaf parsley, or any herbs of choice for garnish

Stir together the lemongrass, fish sauce, sugar, oil, and green onion in a small bowl.

Line a baking sheet with foil and spread with vegetable oil. Preheat the oven 450 degrees.

Lay the fillets on the tray, about an inch apart. Ladle marinade onto each fillet with a flat spoon (or alternately brush). Make sure to get both sides! Cover the fish and let sit for about 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, turn the broiler of your oven on (or if you don’t have a broiler, leave it on the highest setting). Hopefully your oven won’t explode when you turn the broiler on because you preheated it!

Put the tray in the oven on the top rack. Check the fillets after 5 minutes – they are finished when the meat is no longer opaque and the ends become charred. Flip each fillet and repeat on the other side, just until browned.

When the fish are done, garnish with chopped herbs.

Vietnamese Dipping Fish Sauce (Nuoc Mam Cham)

This is the dipping sauce served alongside many vietnamese dishes: bún, certain types of spring rolls, etc. Basically, you stir all the ingredients together in the proportions that you like. Warning, I can never perfectly measure these ratios! Sometimes the fish sauce is too salty, other times I use vinegar instead of lemon juice… blah blah. It’s difficult to get it right, but when you find the perfect mix, it’s worth it! I’ve found the best way for me to get the perfect consistency (without heating it up to melt the sugar) is to use agave. The sweetener is fairly neutral in taste, so it doesn’t affect the nuoc mam. My mixture this time (approximately):

  • 1 part agave nectar
  • 1 part fish sauce
  • 1/2 part white vinegar
  • 2 parts water (to dilute)

Mix, taste, mix, taste. Adjust to your liking! Some people also like to add minced chili or garlic.

 

To assemble: In a bowl, place a base of noodles, lettuce, chopped greens, or rice. Add blanched broccoli, shredded carrots, bok choy, or another steamed vegetable. Add the fillet of fish on top, garnish with chopped herbs, crushed peanuts, fried shallots, and finally dress with about a tablespoon of nuoc mam cham. Mix to combine, and enjoy! This is a very filling lunch or dinner, great for exotic vietnamese flavors without much time! No skill required to make these into rolls, either, haha.

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