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.

Warm Tex-Mex Salad!

Hope you’re all enjoying the chilly weather this winter, wherever you may be. Even when there’s frost covering the rooftops and there’s an icy glaze over the sidewalk, I still sometimes just feel like a salad.

Yes, a nice summer salad, full of crisp lettuce, refreshing and light. I don’t know –  it pulls you out of the season for a bit, and reminds you of sprinklers, and late sunsets, and cubes of fresh watermelon, and crickets.

So today, I have a quick and easy recipe to share with you that extremely versatile: is vegetarian (!) , easily vegan (!) , as well as gluten free (!). The dish comes together quickly, and could serve as a quick and healthy lunch or dinner for one. Enjoy!

Warm Tex-Mex Salad

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Warm Tex-Mex Salad

Feel free to omit/add any ingredients you’d like! This salad is made for one, but you can easily up the amount of ingredients to serve more.

First, cook the tofu. You can also omit the tofu or substitute another protein (chicken, shrimp,  steak, etc.)

  • 1/5th block extra-firm or pressed tofu (about 4 oz.), cubed 1/2 x 1/2 in
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp coriander
  • olive oil
  • pinch of salt and pepper, to taste

Heat a non-stick skillet on medium. Once the skillet is hot, add the tofu cubes; do NOT oil the pan. The tofu should sizzle and jiggle about once they hit the heat – do not turn or stir them. Let the tofu cook for 5 minutes, or until the pieces have a golden brown layer on each side and do not stick to the pan. Add oil to coat the tofu, then the salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, and coriander to the pan. Toss the pan to coat the tofu evenly. Set the tofu aside, and keep the skillet on.

Now, assemble the warm vegetables to top the salad.

  • 1/2 medium red onion, cubed
  • 1 small handful of cilantro, chopped
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, cored & sliced into strips
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into rings the same thickness as the bell pepper
  • 1/3 cup frozen corn
  • 1/3 cup black beans, drained
  • finely shredded romaine/iceberg lettuce
  • 1 whole wheat tortilla (or tortilla of choice)
  • 1/4 cup shredded mexican cheese

Keep a skillet on medium heat; drizzle some olive oil on once it is hot. Add the onions, green onions, and cilantro to the pan. Immediately, add the spices and stir to coat the onions. Let the onions brown for about 2 minutes, stirring infrequently, then add the peppers and zucchini. Allow the zucchini and peppers to caramelize on each side by not stirring excessively – leave them alone! Once the zucchini and bell peppers and zucchini are softened, add the frozen corn. Allow the corn to thaw on the pan for about 2 minutes, stirring often. Add the drained beans and tofu, toss gently for about a minute, careful not to break the beans or tofu, then take off the heat.

With the stove still on medium, carefully warm the tortilla over the flame or heat, for about 20 seconds each side. Place the warmed tortilla on a plate, and make a bed of the shredded lettuce. Add the warm ingredients on top of the lettuce. Top with cheese and extra cilantro or green onions if desired. Enjoy!

Note that there is a lot of room for variation in this recipe: the tortilla can be omitted or replaced with a gluten free one; the tofu can be replaced with a meat or another alternative; the cilantro can be removed if you are one of those “cilantro haters” (I respect you, though); you can add hot sauce, jalepenos, avocado, brown rice, etc. Have fun with it, and use whatever you have lying in the fridge!

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