We have had two big developments of our summer so far. One is that I went back to work (and we can skip discussing that) but the other is much more exciting: We moved! Somehow some people in the world thought that it was okay for this pair of silly babies to actually, honest-to-goodness own a home. Now that we’re done screaming in terror over the biggest purchase of our lives, we are so excited. It’s over on the east side of Los Angeles, and although we’re still new to this part of town, we’re closer to (1) Costco and (2) dim sum so we’re already smitten.
The house has a little more room for our growing family–the grandparents will finally not have to share a room with Luke when they visit, although I’m pretty sure Grandma is secretly sad about this. It also has a koi pond in the backyard! B2 has dived into taking care of it with gusto (sometimes literally, he bought these waterproof wade shoes/socks things to get right in the pond). This is extremely fortunate for the koi, because they would have been screwed if it were just me. Luke says “Let’s go see fish!” every morning and screams with delight when he feeds them, which I’m sure is not annoying to the neighbors at all.
I always feel like a place feels more like home the first time you make a meal that’s not just takeout or delivery. That’s only more true when it’s one of those special, transport-you-instantly-to-your-childhood nostalgically delicious meals like this one. The recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks to come out this year, Hetty McKinnon’s third beautiful, plant-based book, Family. I’ve raved about Hetty before when she came out with her last book, Neighborhood, and with this book, she’s done it again. We’ve been trying to be a bit more thoughtful about what we eat, both in how it affects us and affects things bigger than us, so we’ve slowly been cutting back on the meat we consume, trying to eat chicken when we do eat meat, and upping the good greens and grains where we can. Hetty’s books have been such a fantastic guide, full of plant-based recipes bursting with flavor and texture and staying power.
This dish is a case in point. There’s so much I love about it, but foremost is the fact that it stars stir-fried lettuce. Stir-frying lettuce is an idiosyncrasy of Chinese cooking that I’d forgotten all about until I saw Hetty’s recipe, but it tastes so vividly of my childhood that I wondered how I ever could. It seems odd and antithetical to every way you think lettuce should be enjoyed, cold and crunchy and crisp in its raw form, but giving it the quickest stirfry does something alchemically magical. You want the lettuce to wilt just a bit, so that its thicker core stays crunchy but its edges turn silky, the bright bitterness in its leaves melts away to a vegetal sweetness and, at the same time, soaks up the savory soy-sesame-ginger goodness of the sauce.
On top of that, Hetty takes a flavor that I’m normally a little ambivalent on–ginger–and makes it absolutely craveable. I grew up with thin matchsticks of ginger in my mom’s dishes cropping up when I least expected them, an unwelcome punch of fire when I’d accidentally bite into them. Here, though, finely grated and stir-fried in both the lettuce and the fried rice, it mellows out into a flavorful warmth, managing to be–as Hetty perfectly puts it–both “dominant and delicate.” With a buttery fried egg on top, yolk molten and rich, the result is the perfect mix of vibrant textures and flavors. Hetty calls it a cure for an unsettled tummy, but I think it could cure any ailment at all.
I love Hetty’s work so much in part because her food philosophy resonates so much with me and what I was hoping to capture in my own cookbook–that food is as much about the people you are feeding and the family (or community, or neighborhood!) that you bring together when you cook as it is about what you are actually eating. The thoughtfulness that Hetty brings to her recipes, the sense of connection between memories and people as created by food, shines in how nourishing and delicious they are. For that reason, I especially love that Hetty says this recipe reminds her of home, because in the moment I tried it, I was transported back to my own childhood, too. It epitomizes everything Hetty’s book Family is all about. Thank you, Hetty, for this gift!Print
stir-fried lettuce bowl with ginger fried rice and egg
Reprinted with permission from Family: New Vegetarian Comfort Food to Nourish Every Day, by Hetty McKinnon (Prestel 2019).
1 iceberg lettuce head (1 3/4 pound / 750 grams)
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
extra-virgin olive oil or sunflower oil
3/4-inch (2 cm) piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped (I generally just give my ginger a scrub and then grate rather than chop)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
4–6 large eggs
4 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons sesame seeds (white, black, or both), toasted
sea salt and white pepper
ginger fried rice:
extra-virgin olive oil or sunflower oil
2-inch (5 cm) piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped (or finely grated)
5 cups (925 grams) cooked cold brown rice (or white rice, if you prefer)
sea salt and white pepper
iceberg lettuce: romaine, cabbage
hoisin sauce: vegetarian oyster sauce, kecap manis, soy sauce
omit eggs for vegan
To remove the core of the lettuce, take a sharp paring knife, run it around the core, and then gently pull it out. Remove the outer layer of the lettuce and discard. Now tear the lettuce into large chunks. Wash the leaves and allow them to dry in a colander.
In a small bowl, whisk together the tamari or soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and a pinch of sea salt and white pepper. Set sauce aside.
Heat a large frying pan or wok over medium-low heat, add a drizzle of oil, along with the ginger and garlic, and cook for 30 seconds. Increase the heat to medium, add the lettuce, and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes, until the lettuce is wilted. Pour the sauce over the lettuce and stir-fry for a further 60 seconds. Take care not to overcook, as you want the lettuce to retain some crunch. Remove from the pan and set aside. Once the pan is cool enough to handle, rinse it out and dry.
For the ginger fried rice, reheat the pan on high heat and add a good drizzle of oil. Toss in the ginger an dcook for 30 seconds, then add the cold rice and stir-fry for 4-5 minutes, until the rice is heated through. Season with sea salt and a small pinch of white pepper., then remove from the pan and set aside.
Wipe the pan clean once again and place over a medium-high heat. Add another drizzle of oil and add 1 egg to the pan (cook 1 egg at a time). Season the egg with a touch of salt and immediately cover with a lid. Cook until the white is just set and the yolk is to your liking. Repeat with all the eggs.
To serve, scoop the ginger fried rice into individual serving bowls and top each with the stir-fried lettuce and a fried egg. Scatter with the scallions and sesame seeds and season with a little sea salt and white pepper.