Last night I made Lettuce Wrapped Beef 'n' Mushroom Stir-Fry, from Sam Stern’s Real Food Real Fast. My co-blogger, Anne Rouyer, says Sam Stern is the teenage Jaime Oliver. Like Jaime, he is physically adorable. Like Jaime, he is British. Also like Jaime, he writes cloying, chatty recipes for bland meals. Not so bland they can't be saved, but unmistakably, Britishly bland.
Let's start with the lettuce itself. Little Sam calls for iceberg. Iceberg lettuce is like a bowling ball of water. Is this why the English have such bad teeth? Are they vitamin deficient due to iceberg lettuce?
So to start, do yourself a favor, and choose a greener lettuce. In general, the darker the lettuce the richer in nutrients. I used red-leaf. It fell apart, so ours were not beef and mushroom wraps as much as beef and mushroom piles. Use romaine if you can -- it's much sturdier.
This recipe purports to take 20 minutes. This is a lie. The prep work, for which little Sam obviously does not account, takes 20 minutes on its own. There are matchsticks to be made: of cucumbers, of scallions. There are mushrooms to be chopped. Chili peppers to be seeded and cilantro to be torn. So give yourself a good 40 minutes for the whole thing.
As to the pepper: the recipe calls for one green chili pepper. Is this an Anaheim chili, which is large and only a teensy bit hot? A jalapeno, which is small and hotter? Poblano? Serrano? All have different heat. All are green, so I guess it's up to you. Maybe in England, chilis are sold in generic baskets marked "green chili peppers."
I used a jalapeno. It seemed like the right thing to do. When you chop and seed the chili, try to wear surgical gloves. You can get them at the Duane Reade. You will feel silly buying them. You will thank me when you do not get chili pepper hands in your eyes, nose, or anything else you happen to touch within two hours of handling a hot chili.
Little Sam likes to use words like "slap," and "chuck." Slap the lettuce on a plate, he says. Chuck the beef in the pan. Please do neither, especially chuck. Not only is he insulting your intelligence, this is woefully inaccurate. You DO NOT chuck beef into a hot pan. You are browning it, and need to break it up into a crumble with a spatula as it does so. There is no chucking. Ditto for slapping. And don't get me started on the use of "n" in the title.
After the chili, garlic, mushroom, meat, rice vinegar, soy, cilantro, green onion stir-fry is done, you embark upon the "cool ritual" of the wrap. But first, taste it. Does it need salt? You bet it does. At least a half teaspoon over the whole thing. Then spoon the meat "n" mushrooms onto lettuce leaves rubbed with hoisin sauce. Hoisin sauce is sweet and smoky. It needs heat. You would think the chili pepper would do the job but it doesn't. I mixed a heaping tablespoon of hoisin with a very generous squirt of Siracha sauce and a good dose of the delightfully vinegary Red Devil hot sauce. I slapped it onto the lettuce leaves instead of the hoisin alone. Know what? Between Sam's quick, easy recipe and some of my own salt and spice, it was freaking delicious.