August 1, 2011

Thai Basil Tofu Lettuce Wraps

Okay, I have to admit this recipe surprised me.

I usually only try out new recipes that have me drooling. By the time I get to the end I’ve pictured the ingredients and flavors and the amazing way they’re going to taste in my mouth. All I’m thinking is when can I get to the grocery store and get this on my plate?

Not so with this recipe. I read through it and it sounded good. Good, but not great. I’ve had Asian lettuce wraps before and I have to say I wasn’t blown away. These wraps had the added iffy-ness of being made with tofu rather than ground meat.
my Thai basil plant

I was finally swayed for a few reasons. One, I’ve been trying to cut down the amount of meat we eat at home. Second, I’d be able to use the Thai basil that’s been growing in my backyard. Thai basil is similar to sweet Italian basil and yet different. I don’t know to describe it except to say that it tastes like Thai food. 

And last, this was a vegetarian recipe that didn’t involve a lot of cheese. I know there is a ton of vegetarian food out there that doesn’t involve any cheese. And yet somehow on vegetarian days I usually end up making something that’s either filled or covered with the stuff.

So how did the tofu lettuce wraps turn out? Let’s just say that You Must Try This Dish. It’s so flavorful. It’s light, it’s refreshing. The marinated bell peppers are nice and tangy. The chopped peanuts are crunchy and salty and yummy.

And the crumbled tofu had a texture that I found so much more pleasant than ground meat. You could substitute ground pork or turkey in this recipe if you wanted to, but I wouldn’t. I really recommend that you try this recipe with tofu at least once before making it with meat. You’re likely to be as surprised as I was.

Oh, and if that didn't convince you, my 7 year old tried a bite and decided he'd rather have this for dinner than a hot dog!

About an hour before you make this dish you’ll want to prep your tofu. You’re aiming to remove as much water from the tofu as possible. My favorite way to do this is to slice the block of tofu crosswise into eight rectangles. Lay these down on a double layer of paper towels. After half an hour, flip the tofu over and place it on fresh paper towels.

Also prepare your bell peppers. Dice them and pour some rice wine vinegar on top then stick them in the fridge.

Tofu really absorbs the flavors of the other ingredients, so use freshly minced ginger and garlic in this dish along with your chopped shallot.

Saute the shallot, ginger and garlic in a mixture of canola and sesame oil.

Crumble up the tofu until it resembles scrambled eggs.

Then add it to the shallot mixture and cook for about 10 minutes. You want to make sure all the water that’s still in the tofu evaporates and the tofu starts stick a little and picks up just the tiniest bit of color.

In the meantime, prepare the sauce. This is a mixture of Sriracha, salt, fish sauce (use extra soy sauce instead of the fish sauce to keep the dish vegetarian), rice wine vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, and hoisin sauce. Don’t worry if you don’t have these exact ingredients on hand. Use what you’ve got and play around until it tastes good.

Add the sauce to the tofu and cook until the sauce thickens.

Turn off the heat and add the Thai basil.

To serve, put out a plate of lettuce leaves. I used butter lettuce which is tender and pliable enough to wrap around the tofu mixture without tearing.

Place some of the tofu mixture in the center of a lettuce leaf. Garnish with Thai basil, marinated bell pepper and chopped peanuts. Yum!

Thai Basil Tofu Lettuce Wraps

Recipe minimally adapted from Food Network

1 red bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
1 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 Tbsp grated ginger
2 packages extra-firm tofu (I only used 1 package of tofu and left amounts for the other ingredients the same. I liked the higher ratio of sauce to tofu.)
1/2 Tbsp Asian hot sauce, such as Sriracha
1/2 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp fish sauce (add extra soy sauce in place of the fish sauce to keep this dish vegetarian)
1/2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
3/4 cups Thai basil, chopped
1/4 cup Thai basil, cut in chiffonade
1 cup salted peanuts, roughly chopped
1/8 cup thinly sliced scallions
1 head green leaf lettuce, cleaned and trimmed
Plum sauce, for serving

1.      Cut the tofu crosswise into eight slices. Place them in a single layer on a double layer of paper towels. After 30 minutes, flip the tofu slices and place them on fresh paper towels.
2.      Mix together the bell peppers and rice wine vinegar and marinate for one hour and up to a day in the refrigerator.
3.      In a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat, add the vegetable and sesame oils. Add the shallots, garlic and ginger and sauté for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning.
4.      Crumble the tofu with your hands until it resembles scrambled eggs. Add the tofu by to the shallot mixture and sauté for 10 to 15 minutes more.
5.      In the meantime, whisk together the hot sauce, salt, fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and hoisin and add to the tofu. Cook until the sauce thickens, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the chopped Thai basil. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
6.      To serve, spoon the tofu mixture onto a piece of lettuce and top with the marinated peppers, peanuts, scallions, the chiffonade Thai basil and a couple dots of plum sauce. For more heat, add a few drops of hot sauce.

Serves 4

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