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AWESOME vegetarian lettuce wraps

AWESOME vegetarian lettuce wraps

Today’s recipe is a meat-free version of the Chinese restaurant favourite san choy bow which is a lettuce wrap with a pork filling.

I hate that I used the word “awesome” for a recipe name (in caps! 😅) but I couldn’t think of another way to capture your attention for these lettuce wraps. A vegetarian one, no less, made with lots of vegetable and tofu.

So if you’re reading this, perhaps the somewhat childish name I’ve bestowed upon these lettuce wraps worked! Because they are Awesome – with a capital A. Not just “ok”, not just “good”. That doesn’t make the cut to be shared on my website. They. Are. AWESOME!

(I need a new word. My high school English teacher would be horrified if she read this post).

Right, let me go straight to an up-close-and-personal of this tofu and vegetable filling that is the star of today’s show. Try telling me this doesn’t look delicious!

Tofu and vegetable filling for Vegetarian lettuce wraps - san choy bow

And before it was that, it was this:

  1. Tofu crumbled up like mince (that’s ground meat, to you folks in the States). Much more effective for flavour absorption than dicing (plus, easier); then
  2. Sauced with san choy bow sauce that stains the tofu an enticing mahogany colour and coats everything in a glossy savoury sauce.

Ready to see how to make these vegetarian lettuce wraps?? Let’s do this!


What you need for Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps

Here’s what you need:

THE FILLING

Ingredients in Vegetarian lettuce wraps - san choy bow
  • Firm or extra-firm tofu – Use a firm or extra firm tofu, not silken tofu. It needs to be firm enough so you can crumble it like mince / ground meat. Tub label will give you clues – it will be labelled as such. 😂 Also, give it a squeeze. It should feel like soft rubber, rather than a very fragile jelly (silken tofu).
  • Vegetables – Green beans, carrot and mushrooms are the mix I’m using today. Love the texture the green beans and carrots give to the filling, and the savouriness the mushrooms bring.

    Having said that, feel free to use what you’ve got! Any sauté-able vegetables will work fine.

  • Garlic and onion – Aromatics. Don’t skip these – they become more important in vegetarian dishes!

SAN CHOY BOW SAUCE FOR FILLING

The sauce used for these vegetarian lettuce wraps is the same as the one I use for my classic pork san choy bow. It’s glossy and savoury, and each ingredient contributes to the flavour so please don’t skip any. This sauce, it can make anything taste amazing – even tofu! (There, I said it, go ahead and call me immature 😂).

Ingredients in Vegetarian lettuce wraps - san choy bow
  • Cornflour / cornstarch – This makes the sauce shiny and thickens it so it coats the filling ingredients beautifully.
  • Oyster sauce – A whole lot of flavour, jammed into one bottle! As the name suggests, the sauce is made with oysters – not that you would ever pick it. It just tastes savoury and sweet.

    Alternatives – Vegetarian options available these days, even at large grocery stores in Australia. Else, Hoisin works great (though you get a five spice flavour which is lovely, just different!)

  • Light soy sauce provides salt but doesn’t stain things a brown colour and has a mild soy flavour. Can be substituted with all purpose soy sauce but not dark soy sauce (too intense). More on different soy sauces here.
  • Dark soy has intense colour (this is what makes the sauce and stains the tofu a brown colour) and much more intense soy flavour. It can be substituted with more light or all-purpose soy sauce but the sauce flavour will be more mild, and the tofu won’t go brown.
  • Chinese cooking wine (“Shaoxing wine”) is an essential ingredient for making truly “restaurant standard” Chinese dishes. It adds depth of flavour and complexity into sauces. More info on Chinese cooking wine here.

    Substitute with Mirin, cooking sake or dry sherry. Non alcoholic sub – use 1/2 cup (125 ml) low sodium chicken broth/stock instead of water + Chinese cooking wine.

  • Sesame oil (toasted) – For lovely sesame flavour in the dish. Use toasted (brown oil) not un-toasted (yellow oil) as it has stronger sesame flavour. For fellow Aussies, toasted is the standard sesame oil sold in grocery stores. Un-toasted is harder to find (generally in health food stores).

THE LETTUCE WRAPS & TOPPINGS

Filling sorted, now here’s what you need to make the wrap. The peanuts and sriracha or other chilli paste/sauce is highly, highly recommended for a great lettuce wrap!

Ingredients in Vegetarian lettuce wraps - san choy bow
  • Lettuce leaves – Chinese san choy bow lettuce wraps served at restaurants here in Australia use iceberg lettuce. At fancy places, they cut into neat rounds!

    But honestly, any lettuce leaves where filling can be bundled inside, or have a natural cup shape works fine. Crispy (cos / romaine lettuce) or soft, pliable leaves (like butter lettuce).

  • Sriracha or other chilli sauce – Highly recommended. It just works so well to add a hit of spiciness to the freshness of the vegetable filling!
  • Peanuts – For an authentic san choy bow experience, chopped peanuts is also highly recommended!
  • Green onion – Sprinkle of fresh. Not as highly recommended, but it can be skipped if you don’t have it.

How to make vegetarian lettuce wraps

 

How to make Vegetarian lettuce wraps - san choy bow
  1. Mix the sauce ingredients in a small bowl in this order: cornflour/cornstarch and water first until lump free, then mix in everything else. Why? Because it’s easier to dissolve cornflour in less liquid than too much liquid.
  2. Crumble tofu – Drain tofu. Cut into 5mm/0.2″ slices then use your fingers to crumble into a mince. It will crumble with little effort. Don’t make the crumbs too fine, you can always break the tofu up more when cooking – just like cooking mince/ground meat!

    No need to press the tofu – There’s no need to press water out of the tofu using weights. The water contained in the tofu prevents it from being too dry.

  3. Filling – Using a large non stick pan, heat the oil over high heat then cook the onion, garlic and carrot for just 1 minute. Add green beans and mushrooms then cook for 2 minutes. The green beans should still be firm. This is good! The texture the green beans add to the filling is really nice.
  4. Add tofu and just toss through. Tofu doesn’t need to be cooked to eat it so for this recipe we just need to warm it through.
How to make Vegetarian lettuce wraps - san choy bow
  1. Sauce it! Pour in the sauce then let it come to a simmer. As it heats up, the cornflour in the sauce will make it thicken. Stir for 1 minute or until it becomes thick and glossy so it coats the mixture nicely. See the photo in step 6 for what the filling looks like once the sauce thickens. Look at all that flavour on the tofu and vegetables!

    If the sauce reduces and thickens too quickly (which might happen if you’re using an extra large pan or an extra strong stove <– I’d love this problem), then just add a splash of water.

  2. Serving – Transfer the filling into a bowl. Put it out on the table with the lettuce leaves, green onion, peanuts and bottle of sriracha. Then let everyone make their own wraps!
  3. DIY lettuce wraps – Spoon filling into lettuce leaf.
  4. Toppings – Drizzle with sriracha, sprinkle with peanuts and green onion. Bundle / wrap (for soft lettuce leaves) or fold like tacos (for crisper lettuce leaves) then devour!
Hand holding Vegetarian lettuce wraps - san choy bow

I have to confess, this recipe took me by surprise. I made it during one of those patches when I was trying to “be healthier”. (But then mango pancakes and chili dogs happened which derailed my good intentions, followed by pizza bread and carbonara which didn’t help.)

Even though I knew the san choy bow sauce had flavour-power, the thought of a tofu-vegetable medley wrapped in yet more vegetable (lettuce) wasn’t exactly making me excited.

How very, very wrong I was. It’s not just “good”. It’s extremely tasty. As in – I WANT to have it for dinner tonight.

The fact that it’s just 245 calories for a generous dinner-size serving is a bonus.

And with that, I’m done in my efforts to convince you to try this. Perhaps I didn’t even need to do all this writing and the excellent name I christened this dish was enough?? Awesome Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps. Full points for creative writing!

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