Ruggles Green is like my favorite pair of jeans: the perfect standby that I turn to when nothing else sounds good—the casual option that goes with anything and always satisfies.

Although I’ve had my individual love affairs with their veggie nut burger, pesto salmon pasta, margharita pizza and sweet potato fries, my latest love is an appetizer so ridiculously tasty that even my boyfriend was eyeing it over his burger: the hydroponic lettuce wraps. The three crisp, refreshing lettuce leaves are filled with a flavorful vegetable and quinoa mixture topped with crunchy quinoa strips—they’re so tasty, I don’t even bother with the sauce on the side.

The cashier assured me that people often order the appetizer dish as their entrée, but let’s be honest: I could have easily housed at least two appetizer portions as my entrée. I made my own version at home so I could do just that.

I used to be a mushroom hater, but I’ve since reformed. PLEASE don’t leave the mushrooms out of this recipe because they’re a key contributor to the umami-packed flavor and satisfying texture of the filling. The other key to these wraps is the sesame oil—yes, this recipe calls for two types of oil. The toasted sesame oil is the important one—rich, nutty and slightly smoky, this oil adds imitable flavor as a finishing touch. However, it has a very low smoke point, so it’s best to cook the vegetables in another oil—regular sesame oil (lighter in color than toasted sesame oil) would be the best complement, but any neutral oil or olive oil would work.

To mimic the crispy strips that Ruggles Green serves on top of the wraps, you could get away with using store-bought wonton strips. If you truly want to stick to the crispy quinoa strips, I’ve included instructions on how to make your own.

Ruggles Green’s Lettuce Wraps

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients

For the filling:

1 tablespoon sesame oil or olive oil
1 medium onion (white or yellow), diced
1 small red or yellow bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. white button mushrooms, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
2 cups quinoa, cooked
½ cup corn
½ cup loosely-packed cilantro, chopped finely
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
soy sauce

For serving:

1 head boston lettuce (iceberg lettuce will do in a pinch, but is harder to handle)
queso fresco
shredded carrots
wonton strips or quinoa tortillas

Instructions

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Once hot, add 1 tablespoon sesame or olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion, pepper and celery along with a tiny pinch of salt. Cook for about 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the vegetables just begin to turn translucent.

Add the garlic, mushrooms and zucchini with another tiny pinch of salt and cook for another 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little water or additional oil if the pan looks too dry.

Once the mushrooms have begun to break down and release some juice and the zucchini starts to brown, add the cooked quinoa, corn, cilantro, toasted sesame oil and a splash of soy sauce. Stir well until all ingredients are combined and cook for another 1-2 minutes, until the mixture is completely warmed through. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Rinse the lettuce and separate leaves to serve as the wraps. Place a few tablespoons of the quinoa mixture into each lettuce leaf and top with queso fresco, carrots and wonton strips.

To make your own crispy quinoa topping:

Slice the quinoa tortillas into very thin, short strips. Heat a pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the tortilla strips to the pan and spray with some cooking oil, then sprinkle with salt. Toast for a few minutes until the strips darken and become crisp.
(To make your own quinoa tortillas, you can combine ½ cup quinoa flour with ½ cup water and a pinch of salt. Cook in a lightly greased, non-stick pan over medium low heat, about 1 minute on each side. You can make quinoa flour by grinding dry quinoa in a food processor.)

Erika Kwee

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