January 2009 Dinner Spree: Asian Beef Lettuce Wraps

(originally posted to Recipes of the Damned on January 6, 2009)

Tonight was my first real weeknight on the new schedule, and I kicked it off in style with a recipe from the current issue of Everyday Food, Asian Beef Lettuce Wraps. The recipe doesn’t seem to be online yet, but keep checking the site, or buy the magazine–it will be worth it.

The recipe is fairly simple: broil some steak, prepare the vegetables that go with it (lengths of scallion, strips of mango and leaves of Boston lettuce), prepare the sauce that flavors it, and prepare some Asian noodles to go on the side.

The recipe has a lot of advantages.  It only takes about 30 minutes from start to finish, it doesn’t have to be costly (you can use pretty inexpensive meat), it’s easy to prepare, and it is damn tasty.

I started by letting the beef sit for a few minutes to take the chill off, while I rinsed 6 scallions and cut three into thirds and three into thin slices. I then chopped about 1/4 cup of cilantro (I eyeballed that), minced a clove of garlic, and started the water boiling for the noodles. I turned on the broiler, laid the steak on a baking sheet and seasoned both sides with salt and pepper, and then put it in to broil for about 6 minutes per side.

While it cooked I peeled the mango and sliced it into thin strips. (This was the task I felt least adept at; I don’t cook a lot with mangoes and I think this one was less ripe than recommended. There’s probably some nifty Alton Brown whizbang strategy for peeling, pitting and slicing a mango, but I felt clumsy about it. Didn’t affect the taste, though.)

When the steak was broiled I took it out and let it rest. This lets the juices redistribute themselves evenly so that your meat doesn’t totally dry out when you slice it. Don’t be fooled, though; it’s still going to release plenty of juice when you slice it.

While it rested, I cooked the noodles. I had bought maifun, a very thin rice noodle, because that was the only Asian noodle available at the local grocery store we shop at most often. I’ll have to go to one of the other neighborhood stores and stock up on a decent selection of Asian noodles; these were fine but I think a thicker noodle would be a better accompaniment. Anyway, when the noodles were cooked I drained them and tossed them with the sliced scallions, a bit of sesame oil and vegetable oil, and some salt and pepper. The fine noodles wanted to clump together; I used two forks to tease them apart and ensure a reasonably even distribution of scallions and oil.

The beef was nearly ready to slice. I quickly halved and juiced the lime; I meant to take it out of the fridge last night but forgot, so it was a bit cold and I didn’t get as much juice out as I might have, but I think it was enough. I mixed that with the cilantro, garlic, some more vegetable oil, and a bit of salt and pepper. Then I rinsed and blotted the Boston lettuce leaves, and I was ready to slice beef and assemble wraps.

Beef being sliced:

An assembled wrap:

These were delicious. The mix of flavors was lovely, and they were light but satisfying. If you don’t care to eat beef you could do something very similar with chicken, or with a marinated tofu. If you didn’t want to do it wrap-style, you could shred the lettuce and toss or compose this as a salad.

So, my first work-weeknight dinner in something like four years? Success! Quick of preparation and cleanup, tasty, and inexpensive (unless you really splurge on the meat). I think I’m going to like this cooking gig.

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