Today was a hot, hot day, in the middle of a heatwave in London.
Like, reeeeeally hot. Not wanting to do anything hot.
I spent most of the day in my shady backyard hammock reading. I read an entire book, front to cover, just to avoid having to get up and move, because it was too hot. I have clean laundry sitting in the dryer and clean dishes sitting in the dishwasher. Unloading either would require more physical exertion than is possible when it is so hot.
Safe to say, I did NOT want to cook anything. Oh no. I was feeling way too lazy and very close to just eating a piece of bread with a not-yet-ripe avocado for dinner.
I presented my dilemma to my brother during a Facebook chat. He lives in Phoenix so I figured he’d know a thing or two about cooking and eating in hot temperatures.
And I was right. Because a little brainstorming later, these chilli paneer lettuce wraps were born.
Two heads really are better than one, especially when they are on opposite sides of the world being influenced by their own local food scene. I may need to be consulting with my family members more often.
Because seriously guys, these are amazing. The spicy filling pairs so beautifully with the lettuce wrap, which cools it right down as well as ensuring that it felt like a light and summer-friendly meal.
This is my second experience with the lettuce wrap concept. The same brother introduced me to the famous PF Chang’s when I was last in the US (the tofu variety) and I was mega impressed. I am still so surprised at how lettuce could hold the filling in such a sturdy way, without wilting. And how using lettuce as a wrap can keep a meal from feeling too heavy and carby. I guess it’s just like having a warm salad.
Now let’s have a little chat about the filling. Soooo much flavor.
Chilli paneer is a dish I discovered at an Indo-Chinese restaurant called Maida on Brick Lane. Indo-Chinese wasn’t a cuisine I was familiar with before I found this place, but if you like Indian and Asian foods- you have to try this fusion! The chilli paneer stir fry was the obvious dish to go for, as a vegetarian. Paneer is a really solid cheese which goes crispy on the outside, and stays chewy in the middle. Coated in a sticky tomato and soy sauce, with onions and peppers, it is just heavenly. Paired with sag aloo, rice and nan, it was the best.
To make this filling, I took the basics of chilli paneer but cut some corners. My simplified sauce has just 4 ingredients (it was adapted from this BBC Good Food recipe) and by skipping the part where the paneer is fried in a cornflour coating beforehand, it comes together very fast. (This is done to make the paneer cubes extra crispy, but since the pieces in this dish are so small, I didn’t want them getting lost in the coating. Also, you know, too hot.)
You will only be standing over the hob for, like, 5-10 minutes. This is truly a 15 minute meal if you’re quick off the mark.
Put on a fan, and be strong. You will be back to relaxing with a mojito again in no time at all.
- 6-8 leaves of romaine lettuce
- 225g block of paneer (about 8oz) chopped into small cubes
- 1 green pepper, chopped finely
- 1 white onion, chopped finely
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 tsp minced ginger
- 2 Tblsps tomato puree
- 2 Tblsps soy sauce
- 1 Tblsp chili garlic sauce
- 1 tsp mirin
- First, whisk together the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
- Coat the bottom of a wok with oil, and heat to a high heat setting.
- Throw in the chopped onion and green pepper, stir fry for a couple of minutes, just to give them a head start before adding the paneer.
- Add the cubed paneer, and continue to stir fry at high heat, tossing regularly, until all ingredients are browned and crispy. It will be tricky to ensure that each tiny cube of paneer is browned evenly on all sides so don't worry too much- there will be a mix of textures, and that's good too!
- Add the garlic and ginger and stir fry for another minute. It should be smelling delicious at this point!
- Once the paneer, pepper and onions are nicely browned, turn the heat to low, pour in the sauce, and mix constantly to coat. It will sizzle and bubble a lot, but after a minute or two you will have a nice sticky mixture.
- To assemble the wraps, just spoon some filling into a lettuce leaf and eat taco-style! Delicious!