Vegan Kung Pao Lettuce Wraps and a Review of President’s Choice Plant-Based Cheeses

On February 23rd, 2020, James and I met our friends in Vancouver at MeeT in Yaletown for a delicious vegan lunch and visit, after which we wandered around Yaletown, Downtown, and the West End for a few hours before picking the pups up at our hotel–The Sylvia–for a stroll through Stanley Park. The weekend was delightful, but after several days of eating every meal in a restaurant, I was looking forward to going home and enjoying home cooking again. What I didn’t realize was that our meal at MeeT would be the last for more than a year.

That’s right: no restaurant food–not even take-out–for THIRTEEN MONTHS!! I have not been away from restaurant food for that long probably since I was a toddler.

I recall that during our lunch out, Susan and Bob spoke about plans to travel to Italy in March and were trying to decide whether to cancel because the corona virus was just starting to wreak havoc in Europe. Susan mentioned that she had heard only that morning that this novel coronavirus had been christened COVID-19. I recall thinking that it would end up being something like the Swine Flu pandemic of 2009 or, at worst, the SARS epidemic of 2002, neither of which particularly affected the lives of most Canadians. How very wrong I was.

And not only did Bob and Susan cancel their travel plans, everybody cancelled everything. But I don’t have to tell YOU that now, do I?

In any event, last week as we made our plans to travel into Courtenay for our monthly shopping trip, and as we collected grocery lists from neighbours, and as we packed our face masks and hand sanitizers and extra face masks and extra hand sanitizers, I proposed to James that we stop on our way back home for a quick lunch.

We pored over various menus all evening before finally settling on a venue. The restaurant we chose opened at 11:00 AM and we were panting at the door when the host unlocked it to let us in. The server laughed as we told her we didn’t need menus–indeed, we were so excited to eat out that the evening before we’d consulted their online menu and decided on our meals! Our little restaurant adventure was delightful, and I will never take such things for granted again.

But I probably will.

One of the appetizers I noticed on the menu was Kung Pao Lettuce Wraps, and I recalled how much I used to enjoy that dish thirty-odd years ago before I became vegetarian. I decided to take a stab at making a vegan version of the dish.

After some internet research, I adapted the following from a damnedelicious.net recipe. I removed the oil and subbed chickwheat for chicken, iceberg lettuce for butter lettuce (for a better crunch), sambal oelek for garlic chili sauce, Medjool dates for brown sugar, and tapioca flour for corn starch. I also omitted salt and pepper and added a tablespoon of Better Than Bouillon vegetable base. I left the two teaspoons of sesame oil in because it adds so much flavour and two teaspoons is very little oil for an entire meal for several people. I also doubled the sauce recipe because chickwheat is pretty dry on its own–it needs a lot of sauce.

Vegan Kung Pao Lettuce Wraps

  • 500 grams chickwheat, grated or shredded
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 (227 ml) can water chestnuts, drained and diced
  • 2 sliced green onions
  • 1 head iceberg lettuce with core cut out (run under cold water to allow leaves to separate)
Sauce
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 Medjool dates (or 2 TBS date syrup)
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 2 TBS sambal oelek sauce (or chili garlic sauce)
  • 1 TBS Better Than Bouillon vegetable base
  • 4 tsp rice vinegar
  • 4 tsp tapioca flour
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

Garnish

  • 1/2 cup chopped peanuts
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • hoisin sauce

Directions:

  • Place Medjool dates in the Magic Bullet, pour 1/2 cup boiling water over, and let sit for fifteen minutes to soften. Blend for a minute until the dates are fully blended into the water. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth. Set the sauce aside. If you use date syrup (or brown sugar) rather than the dates, you can just blend all the ingredients at once.
  • Spray a saucepan lightly with oil and heat to medium; add grated chickwheat and cook until warmed through and slightly browned; stir constantly. Add garlic and zucchini to the pan and saute until soft. Stir in the sauce until slightly thickened. Stir in water chestnuts and green onions and saute until tender.
  • Cut the core out of an iceberg lettuce, place in colander and run cold water into the hole where the core was (this little trick was imparted to me by Bid). Separate the leaves by pulling apart from the centre:
  • To serve, smear some hoisin sauce onto each lettuce leaf and then spoon several tablespoons of mixture into the centre and garnish with chopped peanuts and cilantro.

The result is scrumptious!! It’s also surprisingly filling!

And while grocery shopping at Superstore, we noticed a few new President’s Choice plant-based cheeses and decided to try them out. We are not usually fans of commercial plant-based cheeses and find that they are often incredibly expensive for something that just doesn’t taste very good. However, the President’s Choice brand is usually pretty decent, so we thought we’d take a chance. We picked up the mozzarella shreds and the cheddar slices, at $4.99 each for 200 grams (a bit pricey compared to their dairy counterparts, but not expensive for plant-based cheese).

Both turned out to be quite tasty!

The mozzarella shreds don’t exactly melt, but they bend and do colour a bit. The texture, when melted, is quite nice–kind of crispy. I can’t say the shreds have a ton of flavour, but neither does dairy mozzarella. One 200-gram package was enough for two pizzas (which were excellent!):

As for the cheddar slices, I was skeptical. However, I gave one to James melted on a vegan egg McMuffin and he was very impressed, so I tried the slices myself today in a vegan grilled cheese sandwich. The slices take quite a bit of heat to melt properly, but the taste and texture is similar to Kraft slices (for which my hillbilly tastebuds have always had a weakness). I added a few slices of onions, a couple of slices of Yves vegan ham and a tiny smear of vegan mayo. The resulting grilled cheese sammy was delicious! Notice the bread made in my new bread maker!

And even though it’s highly processed, and even though I can easily make my own plant-based cheese, we’ll likely be buying these again for the convenience alone!

And the song of the day is Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me” because I have a such a terrible weakness for early 80s music: