Friday, August 24, 2012

Spicy Lentil Lettuce Cups

Lentils have always been a favorite of mine, but usually I prepared them in a traditional French fashion, in soup or with a red wine vinaigrette. Then Isa Chandra opened my eyes: lentil "meat." What a concept! Nothing short of revolutionary!

Now a pint size jar of cooked lentils is a staple in my refrigerator. Whether they are used to create a quick taco filling or added to a grain and veggie saute, they are always ready to go. Here they are sauteed with peppers - hot and sweet - to fill some bibb lettuce cups. Simple, filling, and delicious.

Lettuce cups kind of hit the mainstream when carb-free diets were all the rage, but protein-filled lettuce cups is actually a traditional Asian preparation, found in Chinese, Thai, Korean, and Vietnamese cuisines and probably others of which I'm not aware. Essentially street food for any flavored protein, my first taste of a lettuce cup was with seasoned tofu at my favorite Chinese restaurant in Washington, D.C., and I have been hooked ever since. This is one of the few times that gourmands will eat iceberg lettuce since its water content is the best foil to spicy seasoned beef, pork, chicken or tofu used to fill the leaves.

These are so easy to make if you already have the lentils cooked and waiting to be used. If not, it's still a pretty quick dinner. As I mentioned above, iceberg is the best lettuce to use but bibb will do in a pinch. With the iceberg, you can actually roll it up like a hand roll. Enjoy! 

Spicy Lentil Lettuce Cups
(Serves 3-4)

1 1/2 cups lentils
3 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 dried red chili
2 jalapenos, minced
1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1-2 teaspoons hot sauce to taste
3 heads of bibb lettuce or 1 head iceberg lettuce

Place lentils in small sauce pan with water, bay leaf and chili and bring to boil and cook over medium high heat for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside. Heat skillet over high heat and add oil. Add onion, garlic and jalapeno and saute for 4-6 minutes until softened. Add red pepper and saute another 3 minutes until it begins to soften. Add lentils with cooking liquid and tomato paste and stir well to blend. Add hot sauce if using and cook on high heat, stirring often, until moisture is almost all gone. Season with salt, remember that legumes needs plenty of salt, probably 1-2 teaspoons. Remove lentils from heat for at least 5 minutes. Carefully pull off leaves of bibb lettuce and spoon lentils into cups, no more than 2 tablespoons per lettuce cup since bibb lettuce is kind of delicate. If you're using iceberg, you can spoon more into each "cup."


Recipes currently inspiring me:

Chocolate Mousse Tart with Hazelnuts at Eats Well With Others
Cold Rice Noodles with Peanut Lime Chicken at Smitten Kitchen
Green Goddess Dressing at Simply Recipes

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