We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Asian Lettuce Cups with Short Ribs and Kim Chee~ Gluten Free Slow Cooking

Guest Post by Mark

   This week we sisters are featuring a guest post from a friend of ours who is a very talented cook. Mark has a deep love of food and has recently experienced some trepidation in conjunction with embarking on a change in diet. Today he shares a delicious recipe and his realization that his new dietary changes can spark a whole new creative journey for anyone who loves food and likes to cook.

Linda and I having fun during an outing in San Francisco. 
   Here I am at the beginning of a new year, and I began 2012 by embarking on a quest to seek new avenues of self-improvement. That's why I picked up Dr. Andrew Weil's Spontaneous Happiness in January and started reading. The knowledge presented in his book started me on a better supplement regimen and prepared me to be open to the plentiful information regarding a wheat-free and sugar-free diet. I am also lactose intolerant, so I am dairy-free as well. However, as someone who loves to cook, and eat, I thought, "how is this going to work?" I mean, it is like telling a painter that he can paint anything he wants... with the exception of these colors.  Colors that have been an integral part of his previous work. And that is when inspiration hit me. I was paging through David Chang's Momofuku cookbook, and realized that I could borrow from his take on ssäm wraps to create something special of my own. 

   A ssäm, is basically a lettuce cup or wrap. They are featured at the Momofuku Ssäm Bar, and usually are variations of slow roasted meat (pork) and are topped with condiments to create delicious hand food. Ssäm is a Korean lettuce wrap, but it is also common to see lettuce cupped around meats or fillings in Thailand and Vietnam. I created my version a couple of weeks ago when I planned to fix a special dinner on a Saturday. I did the first part of the braising on a Friday night. On Saturday evening, I ate the ssäm and enjoyed a beautiful rosé from Unti Vineyards located in the Dry Creek Valley here in Sonoma County. The crisp, but fruity flavors of the wine were a wonderful foil to the richness of the meat and allowed the fresh, crunchy appeal of the lettuce cups to shine. Success! Gluten-free and truly delicious.

   So in the end I realized that my new way of eating was not a foodie death sentence to bland and flavorless meals. I realized that the old rules still hold true in that slow-cooked food, is worth the effort. The inspiration of the Momofuku cookbook was just what I needed to create something of my own by relying on good technique but being adventurous enough to blend flavors in a fresh and different way. Could I have used pork? Yes. Could I have used red wine in the braise or wheat-free tamari? Sure. This is why this recipe is a winner in my opinion, because I can change it up or tweak it here or there, and I am sure that another tasty meal would be had. I like to have fun with food, and feed my heart as well as my body. I am in agreement with Linda and Michelle that going gluten and sugar-free will open up new avenues for creativity and self-expression when cooking, and I am looking forward to the adventure.

Asian Style Short-Rib Lettuce Cups

   This recipe takes is best when the meat is prepared a day ahead, so plan accordingly. Also, be sure to reserve the braising liquid.

2.5 lbs. beef short-ribs
3 carrots, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 stalk lemongrass (cut into 3 inch pieces and slightly crushed)
1-2 inch piece of ginger sliced
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp sambal oelek (Thai chilli paste) 
sea salt and pepper to taste
olive oil
sesame oil
1 cup white wine (Torrontes, Riesling, or Chenin Blanc)
2-3 cups vegetable tea or broth (recipe follows)
Vermicelli Rice Noodles; one pound box, cooked and chilled one head of Bibb or Butter lettuce; leaves separated, washed and dried thoroughly

1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
2. Season short-ribs with salt and pepper; be generous these will cook for a long time and seasoning well now pays in the end. Then rub each rib with Kim Chee and let sit for 15-20 minutes.
3. Heat about two tablespoons of olive oil and a small amount of sesame oil in a large Dutch oven.  A little goes far, so about one teaspoon will be sufficient. When oil is hot, begin browning the short-ribs on all sides. 4. Remove the ribs when each has good color and the beginning of a crust.
5. Add a touch of olive oil back to the pot, and sauté the carrots, celery, onion, lemongrass, and ginger. When the onions and carrots begin to soften, add the garlic and continue cooking. Add the wine, and deglaze the bottom of the pot. After about two minutes, and the wine and vegetables are boiling, add the sambal oelek, vegetable tea and bring to a boil once again. Cover and place in the oven.
6. Cook for two hours, turning and stirring ribs every 30 minutes or so. The ribs will be extremely tender...barely on the bone. Remove ribs and reserve in the refrigerator for cooking after a  24 hour chill-out. Also, be sure to reserve the braising liquid by pouring into a sealable container through a strainer.

7. The ribs can be served at this time, but I recommend allowing the ribs to cool overnight, and reheated the next day. To me, a second cooking on braised dishes always yields something just a little more savory and delicious.
8. For serving the next day, re-heat the ribs in a skillet with about 1-2 tablespoons of water. Heat the pan on medium heat add the ribs, water and cover. Meanwhile, the braising liquid can be re-heated by removing the fat that has collect on the top of the liquid overnight. Bring to a boil and reduce by about one third. After about five minutes the ribs should be making some noise in the pan and now would be a good time to ladle a small amount of the braising liquid over the top. Continue cooking the ribs until they do fall off the bone and gives little resistance to a fork. Remove from pan and chop the meat for the assembly of the lettuce wraps.

To make the vegetable tea: Use a medium sauce pot and add onion peelings and a four inch piece of lemongrass over medium high heat and toast in the pot, dry, no oil. When the onion and lemongrass char a bit and begin to give up their aroma, add three cups of water, a thick slice of fresh ginger, and a crushed garlic clove. Bring to a boil, and boil vigorously for about five minutes. After the five minutes, cover and simmer for an additional five minutes, and then turn off the heat and allow the tea to steep for fifteen minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, and keep simmering.

You will need the following to assemble your lettuce cups:

Braised short-rib meat
Reduced braising liquid
Kim Chee
Vermicelli Rice Noodles; one pound box, cooked and chilled
Head of bibb lettuce; leaves separated, washed and dried thoroughly

Take one of the lettuce leaves and start with the meat, spoon over some braising liquid and add a nice pinch of the rice noodles. Top with as much Kim Chee as you would like and curl up and eat!

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