Tag Archives: Ginger Root

Dad’s Wontons Become Lettuce Wraps

My parents often cooked when we were kids, and they sometimes made recipes that exposed us to different cuisines.  Some we never cared to repeat and some became family favorites, with each sibling putting their own mark or twist on it.  Dad’s fried wontons served with a garlicky, ginger soy dipping sauce were a favorite because they tasted like real grown up food, highlighting vibrant flavors and crunchy textures.  He picked up the recipe while enrolled in culinary school in Texas and it was often a menu item for their backyard parties.  Ground beef, carrots, raisins and onions make up the filling and with Dad’s version it gets rolled into an eggroll wrapper (we still called them a wonton) and fried to a crispy golden brown.  With the soy dipping sauce drizzled on every bite, it was the ultimate savory and sweet combination. My deconstructed version has a crisp crunch from the butter lettuce, with all the flavor memories intact. Ground chicken or turkey can easily be substituted for the meat, just be sure to add extra seasoning.

A soy dipping sauce pulls all the flavors together and enhances the taste of this meal.  The salty tang of soy sauce is combined with spicy ginger root, rich garlic, oniony scallions and bright cilantro for a superbly delicious sauce! A spoonful for every bite is certainly warranted.

Here’s where the crispy wonton part comes into play. Instead of frying the whole meal as an eggroll, I thinly cut a few wonton (or eggroll, whichever you can find) wrappers into thin strips and fried them up in a small amount of oil. They provide the perfect crunch on top and remind me of the wonton taste. For those of you who aren’t familiar with butter lettuce, also known as Bibb or Boston lettuce, it has a slightly sweet, buttery flavor with thick leaves – perfect for lettuce wraps. I like to buy mine live (living greens) with the root ball attached and packed in a large clam shell, pictured below. It lasts for 2 to 3 weeks in the refrigerator if the root ball is kept moist.

If you are yearning for something fried as I often do, here’s how to enjoy Dad’s original wontons: Simply heat your oil (about 2 ½ to 3 inches deep in a medium sauce pan with tall sides) to 350º and assemble the wontons: Add about 1/3 cup filling to the bottom half of an eggroll wrapper (a generous tablespoon for wonton wrapper), roll up like a burrito (for wonton: arrange wrapper with corner at top, place filling in the middle and fold in half) and seal the last edges well with a fingertip dipped in water, repeat process. Fry in small batches until golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Let drain and cool slightly on a plate lined with paper towels. Serve hot with the soy dipping sauce.

Eat well and share the love!

Dad’s Wonton Lettuce Wraps (print recipe)
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Serves two foodies, makes 5 to 6 wraps

Soy Dipping Sauce
½ cup soy sauce (low-sodium if available)
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated ginger, skin removed
1 tablespoon sliced scallions
1 clove garlic, mashed whole
1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
Fried Wonton Strips
Vegetable oil
5 to 6 wonton wrappers or 2 to 3 eggrolls wrappers, sliced into thin strips
¼ medium yellow onion, diced (about ½ cup)
1 large carrot peeled and grated (about ¾ cup)
½ cup golden raisins
½ pound lean ground meat (or chicken, turkey)
2 to 3 tablespoons of dipping sauce
1 tablespoon cilantro, rough chopped
1 small clove garlic, finely minced/grated
¼ teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/8 teaspoon lime zest
Olive oil or vegetable oil
Family Style Platter – Serve
4 to 5 whole leaves of butter lettuce
Wonton filling (keep hot until ready to serve)
Small bowl of Soy Dipping Sauce with spoon
Fresh cilantro leaves, from 4 to 5 sprigs of cilantro
Fried wonton strips

Soy Dipping Sauce:  To a small bowl or glass measuring cup, add the soy sauce, ginger, scallions, garlic, cilantro and rice wine vinegar – mix well with a fork. Let the dipping sauce sit for at least an hour before serving to allow the flavors to develop. Can be made one day ahead, cover & refrigerate. (Sauce will keep in refrigerator for 3 or 4 days.)

Fry the wonton strips Add oil to a small sauce pan with tall sides, enough so oil is about 1 inch deep and heat to 350º over medium-high heat (do not leave pan unattended).  Cut the wontons into very thin strips and gently run your fingers through them to loosen.  Fry in small batches until lightly golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Let drain and cool on a plate lined with paper towels; season with salt and pepper while still hot.

Filling: In a medium skillet over medium heat, add 1 teaspoon oil and the onions.  Sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the grated carrots along with a few drizzles of oil and continue sauteéing for another 3-4 minutes, until carrots are almost tender.  Mix in raisins and transfer to a medium bowl.

In the same skillet over medium heat, add a few drizzles of oil and the ground meat, break up with the back of a spoon.  Season with ¼ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper, mix together and continue to crumble meat as it cooks. When meat is done (no longer pink in the center), add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds.  Add the grated ginger, cilantro and lime zest, stir well and mix in the onion carrot mixture, stir together until well combined and keep hot.

Family Style Platter – Assemble the Lettuce Wraps:
Using a large plate or medium platter, arrange the wonton lettuce wrap ingredients for serving.  To assemble a lettuce wrap, add some filling to the middle of the lettuce leaf, drizzle some soy dipping sauce, add a few cilantro leaves and top with wonton strips.  Finish with a bit more of the soy dipping sauce.  Fold the lettuce leaves down and over each other, and eat with your hands.

A recent summer sunset from our front deck!


Basil & Ginger Granita

With the warmer weather teasing us with spring flowers and greener landscapes, I am ready for summer.  Some basil simple syrup has been on my mind for weeks because I started buying the larger, more economical container of fresh basil and needed to find creative uses for it.  Basil and fresh ginger are tasty companions so I thought they would be fun to combine in a granita, and hopefully hasten the approach of summer (a girl can try).  The recipe is modified from my strawberry granita with vanilla bean whipped cream dessert, but much lighter.  The basil & ginger granita is simple to make and needs several hours, most of the day, to firm up in the freezer.  It’s light and refreshing with subtle hints of basil and ginger flavors – perfect to enjoy outside in the sunshine, or watching the sunset.

Fresh ginger root is sold in the produce department in the grocery store and has an inedible skin.  A spoon is the best tool to peel the skin off; I like to use a serrated grapefruit spoon to make it even easier. Once peeled you can grate it with a microplane zester/grater, or slice it. Here’s a great trick (borrowed from Rachel Ray) to store fresh ginger: peel the root, wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze for up to 3 months. Grate or slice what you need off the frozen root and put back in the freezer when done.

For a special topping, I added a few thin slices of candied ginger (also known as crystallized ginger).  As described on the Savory Spice website, it is “young, fibreless ginger that has been steeped in cane sugar syrup and crystallized” – it has a strong but sweet flavor.  You can find it in the spice section of your grocery store or at your favorite spice store.  Ginger is known to help digestion and ease nausea.  In the kitchen, it’s great to have on hand for baking, fruit salads, marinades and granola, or just to eat on its own.  The candied ginger slices are my go-to for an upset stomach.  When we fly, I pack some slices in my purse just in case I need an in-flight fix from turbulence.

Fancy and funky glasses aren’t just for drinking – dress up dessert by using glasses instead of bowls. They are a fun and easy way to make dessert more elegant.  Add some cloth napkins, fancy spoons and you are ready to indulge in style.
Eat well and share the love!

Basil & Ginger Granita (print recipe)
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Serves two foodies, makes about 1 ½ cups granita
Cooking time: 35 minutes, Total cooking time (with freezing): about 6 hours

1¼ cups water
½ cup sugar
12 to 15 large basil leaves, torn – plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped
½ teaspoon freshly grated ginger root – plus 1/8 to ¼ teaspoon
Fresh basil leaves
6 pieces of thinly sliced candied ginger (optional)

Add water and sugar to a medium sauce pan over medium heat.  Stir to dissolve sugar. When sugar is dissolved, reduce the heat to lowest setting and add the torn basil leaves and grated ginger.  Lightly mash the basil leaves with the back of a spoon, to release the oils. Let steep for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice.  Turn heat off and let mixture cool for 15 minutes.

Into an 8” x 8” glass dish, pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve (lightly press on the leaves with the back of a spoon to remove all the liquid and discard leaves) and add 1/8 to ¼ teaspoon grated ginger root.  Stir and cover the dish with plastic wrap and place in freezer.

Let mixture freeze for about 5 hours total.  Every hour, stir with a fork until crystals start to form. Once the mixture starts to firm up (its gets slushy after about 3 hours), scrape with the tines of a fork every 30 to 45 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy and no liquid remains. After the final scraping, add 1 teaspoon chopped basil and stir well to combine. Put the granita back in the freezer and let set for 30 minutes.

To serve, place about ¾ cup of granita into a martini glass or decorative serving glass and garnish with fresh basil leaves and chopped crystalized ginger (optional).  Serve immediately.

Cover and freeze any extra; will keep for 3 or 4 days well-sealed.

  • A note about adding the additional grated ginger to the granita mixture before freezing: If you really enjoy the taste of fresh ginger like me, add ¼ teaspoon and if you prefer a milder taste just add 1/8 teaspoon