Having lived as a family in Japan for 6 years, we have developed quite a taste for Asian food. When asked about their favorite foods, four out of five of our kids will choose an Asian dish (Big A will go with meatloaf first). When we feel brave enough to venture out as a family for dinner, the top three choices are always Chinese, Japanese and Indian. Little J thinks I should serve more sushi at home (but she won’t touch a piece of cooked fish).
So I am again grateful for Costco, that sells soy sauce by the gallon and sticky rice in 25 lb bags.
My Asian-inspired cooking is by no means, however, authentic. Using standard flavors like soy sauce, ginger and garlic (and chili paste – this is my favorite ingredient!), I throw together a wide range of dishes- often giving the answer of “stir-fry” to the ever-present question of “What’s for dinner, Mom?”
This dish is a little different than the standard stir-fry, but has become very popular lately as it is served in several chain Chinese restaurants. Often made with finely diced chicken, I use ground turkey as a base. I don’t have the time to dice chicken that fine! And ground turkey can be a very economical meat to cook with.
These lettuce wraps are basically a well-seasoned filling of ground turkey, served in a piece of lettuce topped with ground peanuts and additional sauce. You can add hot steamed rice to your wraps, or eat it on the side.
Start by browning and draining your ground turkey. Add finely chopped onions, either green onions that have been sliced, or red/yellow onions that have been finely chopped (I use a food processor).
Add your seasonings and some finely chopped water chestnuts; simmer 10-15 minutes. Stir in some sesame oil and chopped cilantro and your filling is done.
We like these with some additional sauce to add at the table. The sauce is a slightly thickened soy sauce-based sauce with as much “spice” as your family likes.
This is one of the few recipes that I use Chinese mustard in, but I really like the taste that it adds to the sauce. Always looking for a way to save a few pennies and also save room in my fridge (how do those condiment shelves fill up so quickly?), I save the little hot mustard packs that come with take-out Chinese (we always end up with more than we use).
Also, a word on chili paste. There are several different kinds of chili paste on the market, and you can experiment to find which ones you like the most. The two that I use for cooking most are a concentrated chili paste called Sambal Oelek or a garlic-chili paste. The main provider of these (outside of an Asian market) is Huy Fong Foods, and they can be found in most grocery stores. We like our food on the spicy side, so adjust the chili paste to your family’s taste.
Asian Turkey Lettuce Wraps
3 lb lean ground turkey
1 bunch green onions (or 1 yellow/red onion), finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 Tbs grated fresh ginger
1 can water chestnuts, minced
½ cup soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
1-2 Tbs chili paste (or chili-garlic sauce)
2 Tbs sesame oil
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
¾ cup water
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tsp sugar or Agave nectar
1-2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp rice vinegar
1-2 tsp chili paste (or chili-garlic sauce)
¼ – ½ tsp hot Chinese mustard
½ tsp sesame oil
Iceberg, Bibb, or Butter Lettuce
1 cup chopped peanuts
Brown turkey in large skillet; drain. Add onions, garlic and ginger; cook 3-4 minutes. Stir in water chestnuts, soy sauce, vinegar and chili paste. Simmer 10-15 minutes. Stir in cilantro and sesame oil.
Combine sauce ingredients (except sesame oil) in small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Cook until clear and just barely thickened. Stir in sesame oil. Sauce will thicken a little more as it cools, but it should not be thick.
Serve turkey mixture in lettuce leaves with sauce and chopped peanuts. Serve with rice, if desired.
**For a less-intense flavor, layer hot steamed rice in lettuce leaves with meat mixture. You can also adjust the amount of chili paste to make it more or less spicy.