If you're a fan of pork, you can't beat pork tenderloin as a go-to for a quick meal. Having pork tenderloins stashed away in the freezer means you can whip up a meal quickly, usually with little effort.
What I like best about pork tenderloin (besides a good sale price) is that if you buy them prepackaged, most contain two tenderloins. If they are not frozen, remove the tenderloins from the package and freeze separately. Well-wrapped pork tenderloin keeps about nine months in the freezer.
Most pork tenderloins typically weigh a pound or more. By freezing them separately you can take out only what you need. Another reason to like pork tenderloin is that it's considered one of the leaner cuts of pork. A 3-ounce serving of roasted pork tenderloin has 120 calories and 3 grams of fat, according to the National Pork Board.
After eating at a popular Chinese bistro chain, I had a craving for lettuce wraps. And I knew I had frozen pork tenderloin tucked away.
This recipe is adapted from the May 2013 issue of Cook's Country magazine. Unlike the chain's crunchy lettuce wraps, which use chilled iceberg lettuce, these use Bibb lettuce. I find using the softer lettuce makes the wraps easier to hold. For crunch, I topped them with a slaw made from purchased broccoli-slaw mix and the same sauce I used for the wraps. The slaw is totally optional.
Instead of buying ground pork, I ground the tenderloin. The key is to make sure the meat is super chilled. Better yet, it can be barely frozen.
To grind meat without a meat grinder, use a food processor. Cut the chilled tenderloin into chunks and pulse it several times in the food processor. Don't pulse too many times or the meat will clump together.
Or you can dice it by slicing the well-chilled meat into ¼-inch-thick medallions. Stack medallions, slice into strips and then dice.
Meat — and poultry too — that is still somewhat frozen is easier to process or dice. When the meat is too warm, it tends to mush together instead of chopping evenly in the food processor. The meat should be just solid enough for you to easily cut through it with a sharp knife.
This recipe can be adapted to your tastes and spice level. You also can use ground chicken or turkey. Look for Sambal Oelek, an Asian-style chili paste condiment made with ground chiles, salt and vinegar, in the ethnic section of most grocery stores.
You only need a small amount for this recipe, but it will keep at least six months in the refrigerator.
And you can substitute one minced clove of garlic and ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper for the Asian chili-garlic sauce.
Spicy Asian lettuce wraps
¼ cup hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon Asian chili paste (Sambal Oelek) or chili-garlic sauce, or to taste
1 pork tenderloin (16 ounces), trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 large red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into ¼-inch pieces
1 (8-ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1 head of Bibb lettuce, leaves separated
For serving sauce:
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil, optional
1 to 2 teaspoons Asian chili paste
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
Cilantro-mint slaw, optional (see note)
In a large bowl, whisk hoisin sauce, soy sauce, water and chili-garlic sauce; set aside. In a food processor pulse pork until it's just coarsely chopped, about 5 to 10 pulses. Do this in two batches if your food processor is small. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook until no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Transfer pork to bowl with hoisin mixture. Stir to combine.
In the same skillet, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add bell pepper and water chestnuts. Cook until bell pepper softens, about 3 minutes. Add ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add pork mixture to skillet, bring to simmer, and heat through, about 1 minute. Transfer to serving dish.
In small bowl mix together sauce ingredients, adjusting to taste. If you want it spicy, add more chili paste.
To serve, spoon pork mixture into lettuce leaves. Serve with sauce on the side for drizzling over pork. Makes 4 servings.
Note: To make cilantro slaw, in a medium bowl mix purchased broccoli-slaw mix with ½ cup sliced green onion, ½ cup chopped cilantro leaves and about 1⁄3 cup mint leaves. Double the sauce mixture from above and drizzle it over the slaw; toss to coat. Top the lettuce wraps with the slaw.
Nutrition information per serving: 365 calories, 16 g. fat, 20 g. carbohydrates, 34 g. protein, 932 mg. sodium, 90 mg. cholesterol, 3 g. fiber.