I can recount the exact moment I fell in love with lettuce wraps. You see, I have this one particular cousin. And I should tell you, I don’t have many cousins. No. I have a handful of cousins…well, two…that I actually grew up with and attended high school with and then, there’s a handful that I really only know through stories told to me by my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and somehow through these stories being told I feel as though I know them and then, like I said, there’s the “one particular cousin.”
She had the singular distinction of being the “first born” grandchild. The one who paved the way. The one we all looked up to. The one who never had to sit at the kids’ table. The one always privy to the “adult conversations.” I remember one Christmas when she pulled a candle out of her stocking and gave my Granny a knowing look. They smiled at each other and then, Granny hushed her when she saw me looking her way. I wanted to say, “It’s ok. I know the truth about the big guy.” but I could sense that this moment was just for them. She always seemed so much more knowledgeable about life in general than my adolescent-self. More worldly. More sophisticated. I always found myself watching the way she styled her beautiful mane of hair. The way she ironed her suits for work. The way, after purchasing those suits, she would take the time to re-sew each button on more securely than it was when she had purchased it. The way she kept her dinner parties organized on index cards. I always wanted to read whatever she was reading. To live in the hip apartment on Vista just like her. To sip red wine from a glass and mimic Julia Child while cooking with my husband. And, all of us younger cousins didn’t each just look up to her….no, we went to her. We went to her with our problems, our questions, our concerns both big and small…and she always took us in. What that must have been like…to be the one everyone turned to.
And then, as often happens in our transient country, she moved. And, she moved far. From Portland to Atlanta. We promised to call each other….which we did for awhile. We promised to visit….which we did a couple of times. And it was during one of those trips back to see her when she and her hubby took us to the new, highly sought after restaurant, P.F. Chang’s…back before P.F. Chang’s were as plentiful as Starbucks. We dutifully waited the two hours for our table and then, upon being seated, we were treated to a round of appetizers that included lettuce wraps, crab wontons and myriad of sauces. I found it all so divine. I couldn’t get enough. When Portland finally opened its very own P.F. Chang’s, my sweetie and I would frequent that restaurant over and over just to have the lettuce wraps and every time I would recall the first time I ever had them…with my cousin. But then, for no real reason, we stopped going to P.F. Chang’s. And, for no particular reason other than the undeniable fact that life gets busy, we stopped flying back to Atlanta and my cousin and I talked less frequently on the phone.
I realize that the feelings toward social media, run the gamet from love to hate. As Betty White, in her own sweet way, put it on Saturday Night Live, “I wouldn’t say that people on [Facebook] are losers…but that’s only because I’m polite.” Well, nevermind her…think of me. The product of a military family with many moves leaving me with friends scattered everywhere. Me, with parents who continued moving even after those military days were over. Me, with cousins on both coasts and siblings in different states. I have been so grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with people that would have been lost to me otherwise. To be able to have a glimpse at the grown-up person I only knew as a child. What she has become. Where he has made his home. To be able to connect with cousins and siblings both near and far. And even those newer friends. The ones I see day-in and day-out dropping off our daughters at dance. Spending hours together back-stage. You think you know them…or her, in particular….this stunningly beautiful corporate woman….when really, you find out, you don’t know her at all. Through little social media “sound bites,” you find out she’s an incredible cook which you never knew. In fact, she loves to cook and is often posting photographs of her culinary creations. You start to look forward to these bits of inspiration and when she posts a recipe for lettuce wraps, you know it’s time to try one.
So, as I made my dear friend’s lettuce wraps, I thought about how much we share with people face-to-face. How well do we really know one another? How much do we share in a two-sentence post while we’re alone…behind a computer screen? I think about our need to be connected. The reasons why social media outlets have become insanely popular. I think about my cousin. That I can once again have a little glimpse into her life. What she’s doing. Where she’s going. And, I take comfort in knowing, that she’s over there…reading what I write over here. Telling me how much she looks forward to it. I am so grateful for her presence, once again, in my life.
Lettuce Wraps Extraordinaire
Recipe created and then, kindly shared by Tina Ho
First off, I should tell you that my dear friend, Tina, is not going to like that I referred to her above as “this stunningly beautiful corporate woman” but she is, so ignore any comments she may leave that says otherwise and tell her to just graciously accept the compliment. Second of all, her lettuce wraps are absolutely divine. Better than P.F. Chang’s. I think my 5-year old summed it up best when he said after inhaling his, “I don’t know what that was….but it was yuuuummmmyy!” And thirdly, for whatever reason, when I made these I also made a pot of brown rice and rolled that up in the lettuce leaves as well.
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium shallot, chopped (or 1/2 c onion or green onion)
1 lb ground turkey (or finely chopped chicken breast, ground chicken, ground pork, shrimp, tofu, etc.)
Salt and pepper, if desired
3-4 tbsp oyster sauce (I used 3)
1-2 tbsp soy sauce (I used 2)
1-2 tbsp sugar (I used 1)
1/3 c dried wood ear mushroom that are pre-sliced into strips or dried shitake mushrooms
2 small bundles of bean thread noodles, found in the asian food aisle or asian grocery stores (approx 3 cups of soaked, drained and chopped noodles)
A couple heads of romaine, iceberg or butter lettuce leaves, washed and dried
5-6 tbsp of hoisin sauce
4 tbsp peanut butter, smooth or crunchy (I used smooth)
3 tbsp hot water
chili paste or siracha sauce to taste (optional)
Begin by washing your lettuce leaves and then, roll them up in a clean kitchen towel and set them aside to dry. I used the organic romaine hearts you can get at Trader Joe’s.
Next, soak your mushrooms and noodles in hot water for 15 minutes in separate bowls. (I used the water from my “insta-hot”.) Then, rinse, dry and and chop up your mushrooms. And, rinse, dry and chop up your noodles to about 1 inch long. (I “dried” my noodles by rolling them up in a bundle between a couple of paper towels.) Set aside.
While your mushrooms and noodles are soaking, mix up your sauce. Put the hoisin sauce, the peanut butter and the hot water in a bowl and stir to combine. Adjust by adding hot water to make it thinner if you prefer. Add chili paste, if desired. Set aside.
Heat your olive oil in a medium skillet and cook shallot until golden, about 5-6 minutes. Add your meat, season with a bit of salt and pepper and cook until nearly done, another 6-8 minutes. Add oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar and cook another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust flavorings as needed. Add chopped mushrooms and cook another 5 minutes. (I have to admit that even though I had my mushrooms ready to go, I didn’t put them in at the last minute, because there are a few in our family opposed to fungi and I couldn’t afford to make a “second” dinner for them if they refused to eat this first meal. I’m not a huge fan of “short order cooking” but sometimes it’s necessary.) Add noodles and turn off the heat. Mix noodles in with meat and flavorings. They will cook quickly and soak up excess moisture from the meat mixture. Don’t overcook noodles or they may liquify.
To assemble these heavenly creations, take a lettuce leaf, spoon on some sauce, (spoon on some rice if you made some out of habit like me), spoon on the meat filling, eat and enjoy. Scrumptious…I loved them with the turkey but I’m thinking I may try shrimp or ground pork next time just for kicks.
Yield: Enough for a family of 5 plus leftovers.
All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009-2010