Monday, February 8, 2016

Year of the Monkey: Lettuce Wraps of Prosperity

Chinese New Year, which is based on the lunar calendar and marks the arrival of Spring, is an occasion steeped in rich traditions and meaningful celebrations. However, the Chinese don’t turn to resolutions to change their futures, they turn to food and an array of auspicious dishes known to ensure a fortunate beginning to the Lunar New Year. 2016 is the Year of the Monkey, and is celebrated with foods that symbolize luck, longevity and prosperity: dumplings symbolize prosperity as they are stuffed and folded, sealing in wealth, while long, unbroken noodles represent longevity, and lettuce wraps are commonly served because the Chinese word for lettuce - 'sang choi' - sounds like ‘rising fortune.’

These Asian-Style chicken lettuce wraps, known as Lettuce Wraps of Prosperity, are a delicious low-carb and gluten-free dish full of fabulous flavours and fresh Asian-inspired ingredients. Also called Chopped Rainbow in Crystal Fold, it was one of the house specialties at the 'Pink Pearl' on Avenue Road, before it closed its doors a number of years ago — crystal fold is the poetic Chinese term for lettuce, and chopped rainbow is the term for a colourful meat mixture. Designed to be enjoyed taco-style, minced chicken, pork or beef are stir-fried with diced water chestnuts, mushrooms, onions and garlic, then cooked in a fragrant soy, brown sugar and rice wine vinegar sauce. Served on a large platter with crisp iceberg lettuce leaves and an aromatic Asian pouring sauce on the side, these delicious Lettuce Wraps of Prosperity make a healthy and auspicious start to the Chinese New Year — Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Lettuce Wraps of Prosperity
Serves 4

Asian pouring sauce:
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 tbsp tamari or regular soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp hot water
1 tbsp dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced

Stir-fry sauce:
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar

Chicken stir-fry:
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 lb ground chicken, turkey, beef, pork or Peking Duck
1 8 oz can sliced water chestnuts, minced to the size of corn kernals
1/2 cup cremini mushrooms, minced to the size of corn kernals
1/2 onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced fine
2 scallions, cleaned and chopped finely for garnish
6 large leaves of iceberg lettuce
1 handful Maifun rice sticks

For the rice sticks, place one to two inches of oil in a small sauce pot and heat over medium for several minutes. Break off a handful of rice noodles and drop into the pot, then immediately removing them to a paper towel lined plate when they puff up; set aside.

For the pouring sauce, dissolve sugar in 1/2 cup warm water in a small bowl, then add soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ketchup, lemon juice and sesame oil. Mix well and chill in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. Just before serving, combine 1 teaspoons hot water with dijon mustard and garlic and mix in a small bowl. Add to the pouring sauce, 1/2 a teaspoon at time to taste.

Prep the stir fry sauce by mixing soy sauce, brown sugar, and rice vinegar in a small bowl. Then begin the stir-fry by combining the oils in a wok or large frying pan over high heat until it glistens, about one minute. Add the ground meat and sauté until it's mostly cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Turn the heat down to medium-high. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, wait one minute, and then add garlic, onions, water chestnuts, mushrooms, and the stir-fry sauce that was prepared earlier. Stir-fry everything until the mushrooms are cooked through, about 4 minutes, and then place in a serving dish. Add the crisp rice noodles at the end and toss well to incorporate. Garnish the dish with chopped scallions and serve with iceberg lettuce leaf wraps and bowl of pouring sauce on the side. 

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