Sunday, June 6, 2010

Chinese Take-Away

Hoisin "Chicken" in Lettuce Wraps & Scallion Pancakes

For most of my adult life, I haven't been a huge fan of Chinese food. In comparison with Vietnamese or Japanese or Thai choices, it seemed to be the most boring (and gloopy) option out of local Asian restaurants. But, my husband likes it, plus we now live in a town with fewer choices, so we've been getting take away from this one place fairly often. And it is good, although like all overly salted, sugared, sauced, greased, and generally unnecessarily fattened up foods, it leaves me feeling a little disappointed. It isn't that I mind consuming extra calories - I mind wasting them on something like an undeserving dish. I'd rather have a giant slice of Opera Cake than one of those nasty pastas-in-a-bread-bowl from Domino's.

Anyway, since I hate that feeling, I started making some of the dishes we order most often - scallion pancakes and General Tso's. I had never even had scallion pancakes till my husband ordered them, and I was pretty unimpressed. Why eat this bland, greasy, doughy, chewy triangle that only tastes like the soy sauce you dip it in? I made them for him anyway, though, and - oh my - homemade and fresh from the skillet, those things are good! And they freeze well, too. Just layer them with parchment paper and freeze flat (obviously) in a ziploc bag - they defrost in the microwave in seconds before frying.

I start out liking the General Tso's at restaurants, both the tofu and seitan versions, but by the time I get even halfway through the dish, the sauce seems to be weighing me down - plus, the protein's almost always deep fried. Don't get me wrong; I love deep fried foods. I'm just not sure they belong everywhere.

But that's what GT's like, isn't it? The versions I made at home were pretty much the same, which of course was the goal - getting the recipes from internet sites like, they were advertised as being "just like the restaurant version!" And they were. The amounts of sugar, soy sauce and cornstarch most versions call for is insane, but since they all read like that, I made it like that until I tried Emeril's recipe last week. Okay, so this is a total plug for his recipe, but really - it was a completely different and much improved dish. Obviously, I used chicken seitan rather than chicken chicken, but that's not a particularly big difference. So try his version.

Finally, last night I wanted something to go with the leftover scallion pancakes that I knew were lurking in the freezer, but I didn't want a heavy dish (aka, anything with rice or noodles) or one that took much time. Voilà - Hoisin "Chicken" in Lettuce Cups! My mother used to make something like this when I was little, and I thought it was awesome. I still do - I wish I had her recipe. But while this one was a little saucier, it came together in minutes and was not only rather tasty, but fun to eat.

Hoisin "Chicken" in Lettuce Cups

1 T vegetable oil
1 T fresh ginger, minced
1 T fresh garlic, minced
4 scallions, chopped

1-2 c seitan, diced
1/2 can water chestnuts, diced
4 large cremini mushrooms, diced (I'm sure you can use whatever - I had cremini)

1/4 c hoisin sauce
1 t rice vinegar
1 t vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
a couple shakes of sesame oil

1 head Boston Bibb,Romaine or Greenleaf lettuce, washed and leaves separated

In the vegetable oil over high heat, saute the ginger, garlic and scallions for about a minute, till fragrant. Add the seitan, water chestnuts and mushrooms and continue to saute, stirring, for about five minutes. Add the liquids, incorporating well, and cook another one to two minutes.

Place a generous spoonful on each lettuce leaf (but not too generous, or you'll end up with a mess) and serve.


  1. Delicious presentation. I wish my scallion pancakes were as good-looking as yours are!
    Out of curiousity, do you ever use TVP?

  2. Thank you!

    I do use tvp, but not as much as seitan. I use it for meatloaf, mainly, or sometimes meatballs or for bolognese. I find it less flexible, but that could just be because I rarely use it.

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