If there is one truth about the food I love, it is spicy – crushed red peppers and/or tabasco are two items that are always available in my apartment. I don’t always cook elegant fare for myself, but a dash of heat can bring almost any dish to life; there are exceptions, of course (like breakfast cereal – NEVER try this). I was cooking a meal for two of my girlfriends and wanted to put a little extra kick in the meal. It was then I remembered my upstairs neighbor Tim Wilfong had given me a bag full of Thai chilies – perfect. After endless internet queries and comparisons, I decided to make the following dishes: Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps with a side of Spicy Asian Roasted Broccoli & Green Beans
Let’s talk about chili peppers briefly – they are classified as fruit, though are obviously not utilized for their sweetness (the bell pepper is the one exception, and certain spicier cultivars do have a tangible sweetness). That spicy kick we get from peppers comes from the compound Capsaicin – when ingested, capsaicin will cling to our oral pain receptors, thus increasing our heartrate and causing perspiration. The amount of caspaicin present in a pepper is measured in Scoville heat units, or SHU. To give you some context: a bell pepper has 0 SHU, the jalapeño has 2,500 – 5,000 SHU, and the habanero has 300,000 SHU. The Thai chili peppers I used stand at 50,00-100,000 SHU – while it’s no habanero, it still packs some serious heat.*
These lettuce wraps were inspired from the P.F. Chang’s classic – though I adore the original, I wanted something a little less “heavy.” I found FoodNetwork’s “Almost Famous” edition of the wraps, and made a few adjustments to create a slightly healthier version. Of course, I swapped the jalapeño called for with a Thai chili. The stir-fry sauce is simple, yet gives this dish its “authentic” taste. It originally called for a tablespoon of hoisin, but I swapped that with ketchup (not the same I know, but it was the next best thing to get the sweet, tangy factor I wanted); I also used dry sherry in place of the rice wine.
These wraps are quite messy, but I can guarantee you’ll be dredging up every last ounce of it(even if you’re stuck using tiny pieces of lettuce to do so!) I omitted the shiitake mushrooms given their exorbitant cost, and even though I love mushrooms, they were not missed. The water chestnuts, though, are crucial – they are the “texture factor” of this dish. The recipe says it serves four to six, but I’d safely say no more than four given that three small women practically killed the entire thing ourselves. To see how to make these addiciting wraps, click HERE.
This dish…oh my GOD was it good! I mean, these vegetables would have any stickler coming back for seconds. I wouldn’t omit a thing from the recipe (maybe the cilantro, but still). I was caught by surprise on the day of with the miso paste. My initial reaction was to forget it, but I just so happened to have a packet for miso soup mix in my pantry. Granted, that’s miso powder and also has pieces of dried seaweed and scallions; but I figured that a simple sift and addition of water would be a great substitute for the paste; it worked almost perfectly. The Thai chilies are a must, but if you choose to leave them in for color (which I did), then DON’T let your guests eat them…unless they’ve eaten a habanero by itself before, but then I’d question your friend’s sanity. Click HERE to see how to make this showstopping side.
In considering the Thai pepper, I began to think about pieces that could create the similar affect of increased heartrate and adrenaline. That brought me to the composer who can send any performer’s heartrate soaring: J.S. Bach. Though many consider Baroque to be “old-fashioned”, Bach’s music is in fact some of the most challenging of the classical repertoire. His works require a thorough understanding of the complex harmonies, innate phrasing, and technical demands. Whenever I stood on a stage to perform Bach, you could guarantee my heart was pounding – thus I chose a piece from my own repertoire: the Corrente from Partita in A minor for Flute Solo, BWV 1013. I chose this movement (second of four total) given its adrenaline-like pace; the title literally means “running.” The performer here is Emmanuel Pahud (man of my dreams), and as always it is a stunning performance. Enjoy!