July 24, 2016

Banh Mi Lettuce Wraps

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When I was about six, I saw my first live musical. I think it was Les Miserables, which looking back (and with a kid of my own) seems like a rather strange choice for a tiny human who could barely tie her own shoes and thought her stuffed animals came alive at night. For the sake of the story, though, let’s just say it was something grand. And during intermission, I turned to my mother with wide eyes to ask, “when can I do that?” She answered, “not until you’re eight.” And while everyone thought the passing months would erase this date from my mind, two years later, on the morning of my birthday, I burst into my parents bedroom and announced that I was ready.

And so it began. Fearlessness.

Whether singing to a crowd of strangers or jumping from a high dive, my youth was lit with totally fearless moments. Nothing was scary. Everything was possible. There were no consequences; that I was conscious of, at least. And this fearlessness led to forever memories and great adventures. But, of course, with years of experiences and responsibilities, good old doubt finally cracked through. And these days, it would take a lot of convincing to get me on a motorcycle let alone a two-seater. Risks now get weighed against reality and often, I choose the path of least resistance. Or with fewer chances of band-aids and medical emergencies.

One place I continue to feel freedom from fear, though, is my kitchen. And thank goodness for that, because it’s essential to finding a grove at the stove and more importantly, solutions to the things that may scare you most — whether that’s feeding a first date or overcoming the challenges of a quick and healthy lunch. When you forget about failure, everything is worth a shot. And even with a good chance of messes and mistakes, the possibility for excitement and great invention outweighs it all.

So today, I want to give you these Banh Meatball Lettuce Wraps to help lure out that inner, fearless kid.

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A traditional Banh Mi is a mash-up of French and Vietnamese ingredients. It follows the equation of bread/baquette + mayonnaise + pate + jalapeno + cilantro + pickled carrots + sliced cucumber + and a splash of seasoning sauce, like soy sauce. Other variations use sliced pork belly, ground meat, or tofu and seitan for the vegetarians at the table. Here’s a pretty good breakdown of the elements in case you want to Banh Mi on your own.

And as you’ve probably already noticed, this sandwich is not only packed with tons of flavor, it is literally filled with some of the top sodium contributors: bread, spread, cured meats, pickled things, and soy sauce — ONE TABLESPOON of which will land you over 2,000mg of sodium. Close to ONE DAY’s recommended upper limit. Pretty much the only thing in this sandwich that stays on a low-so diet would be the cucumber and the cilantro. And that just makes a pretty naked salad.

Which is all to say it would be easy to run away from the Banh Mi. To leave it to its Banh Mi self and not dare to mess with the equation. Or dare to outwit the recipe, ditch the high-sodium ingredients, and find a way to keep that balance of sweet, salty, and sour tastes.

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But I won’t let you do that. Instead, you will flirt with disaster and roast red peppers within an inch of burning them. You’ll fearlessly blend those peppers with even hotter ones until you get a drizzly, tongue-tingling sauce, cooled down with some yogurt. You’ll take a risk and roll up some veggie-filled, pork meatballs. Not to mention, defy the rules and quick pickle some red onions. And finally, courageously stuff them in lettuce leaves with all the toppings and scarf them down in front of your (jealous) co-workers. Channel that inner Cosette and dare to dream a dream. Or at the very least, make a pretty bad ass meal for lunch at work or dinner guests at your table.

Some other fun variations include Banh Mi salads and slow cooker Banh Mi rice bowls. So don’t be afraid to take a chance and come up with a version of your won (and do share!). Live on the edge a little. Because being risky tastes good.

BANH MEATBALL LETTUCE WRAPS

(for work lunch and other fun gatherings!)

Veggie Stuffed Meatballs

Makes about 20 golf ball-sized balls (use a few for lunch & save the rest for later )

  • 1 zucchini, washed and ends cut off
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 green onions, root removed and minced into little bits

Preheat oven to 400dg F cover a baking pan with parchment paper. Using a hand grater or food processor with grater attachment, shred the zuke. Then use hands or fine mesh sieve to press out liquid. You will have about 3/4 cup of shredded zucchini. Place the zucchini, pork, garlic and onions into a medium bowl. Use hands or a fork to mix all the ingredients together until well combined. Make meatballs and place on parchment-covered pan. Bake until browned, about 30 minutes.

Quick Red Onion Pickles

  • 1 medium red onion, cut into 1/4-inch thin slices
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt-free garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 peeled clove garlic, orange peel, or whole anise (optional)
  • 3/4 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar

In a pot, bring about 2 cups of water to boil. Add the sugar, garlic powder, turmeric, additional spice elements, and vinegar to the pot. Cook at a light boil until sugar dissolves. Place onions in a heat-proof container or jar and pour the hot pickling liquid over them until covered. Close the jar and let them sit at room temperature for a minimum of 30 minutes. If longer, place in refrigerator. Drain onions before using. WIll keep in the fridge for 1 week.

Wraps

  • 1/2 English cucumber (the long skinny kind)
  • 1/2 carrot, washed and stem cut off
  • Head of butter lettuce, leaves separated and washed
  • Roasted Red Pepper Chipotle Sauce
  • Fresh herbs: cilantro, basil, mint leaves
  • Lime, cut in squeezable segments
  • Greek Yogurt (optional)

Cut the cucumber half in half lengthwise and use a spoon to remove the seedy center. Then cut into smaller sticks. Cut carrot into similar-sized sticks. To pack for lunch: put a few lettuce leaves, shredded carrot, and cucumber sticks in one container; put the pickled red onions in another small container; put meatballs in another; and the sauce in a fourth, (spill-proof!). When it is lunchtime, fill up Banh Meatball wraps, using two meatballs per lettuce leaf. NOTE: For more traditional dressing, mix a plop of hot sauce w/ a few Tbsp of homemade mayo or a dollop of Greek yogurt.

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