As warmer days approach, meals often become lighter. One of my favorites, when I’m not in the mood for just a salad, is a lettuce wrap with a hearty filling.
Lettuce wraps are truly a regional and seasonal affair. I’ve had them in Hawaii made with tofu and macadamia nuts. Here on the mainland they’re usually seen with chicken. But if you’re avoiding meat, there is a great alternative that retains every bit of the toothsomeness and flavor of the original — made with tempeh.
Tempeh is a great choice of protein for vegetarians. It’s basically a block of fermented soybeans, with a firm texture and chewiness that can be sliced, cubed or grated.
It’s high in protein and fiber, and is a very satisfying substitute for meat in many recipes.
The process of making tempeh originated in Indonesia during the 17th century. It is said that the fermentation process was discovered by accident during production of tofu.
As the soybeans in tempeh are much closer to their whole food form than they are in tofu, tempeh may be a much better choice for those concerned about the highly processed soy proteins in tofu.
And since it’s fermented, tempeh is easier to digest. On its own, tempeh is low in calories and sodium, and high in fiber and protein.
While traditional tempeh consists solely of soybeans, some tempehs available today mix several grains together. The brand I used contains soybeans, millet, brown rice and barley.
Give these wraps a try, and then let your imagination run wild as you substitute tempeh for other meats this summer!
Spicy tempeh lettuce wraps
Serves 6 as appetizer, or 3 as an entree
1 package (8 ounces) tempeh, crumbled
1 medium long Chinese eggplant, chopped with peel left on
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 green onions, sliced thin
1 cup grated carrots
1/2 mango, peeled and chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 large red pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 head butter lettuce
Chopped nuts for topping
1 cup ponzu sauce
1/4 cup freshly grated ginger
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Warm olive and sesame oils in large saute pan; add red onion, garlic and eggplant. Saute until mixture begins to brown. Add tempeh and allow it to brown.
While vegetables and tempeh are browning, mix ingredients for sauce and measure out 1/2 cup to add to saute pan. Set aside remainder to use as dipping sauce.
Allow vegetables and sauce to simmer together for about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside.
Wash lettuce and separate leaves. Stack on serving plate.
Just before serving, mix onions, carrots, mango and red pepper into tempeh mixture.
Serve filling in a bowl or lettuce leaf, with extra lettuce, sauce and nuts on the side.