Picky eaters and hot weather don’t always mix. While Harry’s always down for fruit, which in summertime opens a huge window of opportunity, when it comes to dinner most of my barely-cooked options aren’t exactly met with enthusiasm. He refuses Black Bean, Corn, and Tomato Salad before it hits his plate: too many ingredients touching each other. A Quick Sauté of Corn, Zucchini, and Tomatoes garners whines and scorn. Watermelon Gazpacho flat-out angers him: How dare I adulterate perfectly good melon with tomatoes?
But Make-Your-Own Taco Salad has been such a hit, I thought perhaps a different ethnic variation might work equally well. And halle-freaking-lujah, it did. These Korean-Style Beef Lettuce Wraps are another example of how well it works when you give your challenging eater a little bit of control.
In this case, thinly sliced beef marinates briefly in a Korean-inspired mix that includes soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and brown sugar. Once the beef hits that sauce, you soak a package of bean threads in very hot water (no need to cook!), then move on to the vegs. I used what I had on hand (Boston lettuce, carrot, cucumber, scallions, basil, and celery leaves), but feel free to add and subtract whatever you like.
After all the vegetable prep is complete, drain the noodles, rinse, and drain again, then toss with the dressing. Fire up a wok or large skillet and flash-cook that beef—we’re talking a minute or two per side since it’s so thin, not enough time to heat up the kitchen. Put that on its own little plate to avoid contaminating the other ingredients with its yucky (yummy) molecules, and you’re good to go.
You may be wondering what Harry ate. He sampled the dressed noodles (we insist he tries something before he can say he doesn’t like it) and gave them a thumbs-down, which frankly I believe is just spite at this point because they’re super-awesome. But I’d anticipated that and withheld a kid-sized portion without dressing. A couple nibbles each of carrot and cucumber, and he had dinner. It wasn’t much, but it enabled Stephen and me to devour one of the most stress-free meals we’ve had in ages.
This is the true pleasure of an assemble-it-yourself meal: Even if your picky eater balks at almost everything, there’s bound to be one thing he’ll eat. Which means he’s happy, and you get to eat all the good stuff.
Korean-Style Beef Lettuce Wraps with Ginger-Lime Noodles
Serves 4 to 6
For the beef:
1 pound steak, such as flat-iron or blade
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 scallion, white part only, finely chopped (you’ll use the green below)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon neutral-flavored oil
For the noodles:
1 small package (around 4 ounces) bean threads (aka cellophane or glass noodles—they cook up translucent and slippery and kinda chewy. If you can’t find them, thin rice noodles are fine too)
2 tablespoons neutral-flavored oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from around 1 lime)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
For the wraps:
8 to 12 large, tender lettuce leafs, such as Boston
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into matchsticks
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 scallion, green part only, chopped
15 to 20 basil leaves
15 to 20 cilantro or celery leaves
- Before you do anything else, if you have the time, freeze your steak for 15 to 20 minutes—it’ll make it easier to slice. If not, go ahead and slice it as thin as possible, across the grain.
- In a bowl, whisk together the garlic, ginger, scallion whites, brown sugar, soy sauce, and sesame oil, then add the sliced steak. Toss to combine, then set aside while you prep the rest of the components.
- Make the noodles: Put the noodles in a bowl that will fit them in one layer, then pour very hot water over them. Let them sit for 10 to 15 minutes while you do the next step.
- Prep all the vegetables, then arrange on a platter, and ask someone to set the table—you’re minutes away from dinner.
- When the noodles are pliable drain, rinse with cold water, drain again, and transfer to a serving bowl. In a small container with an air-tight lid, shake the dressing ingredients until the sugar dissolves, then toss with the noodles.
- Now, cook the beef: Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat, and add the remaining tablespoon of neutral-flavored oil. When it’s nearly smoking, add the beef in a single layer (you may need to do this in two batches). Cook for 1 or 2 minutes on each side, until just cooked—it’s fine if the edges start to brown, but the longer it cooks the less tender it’ll be.
- To serve, let everyone start with a lettuce leaf, then pile in whatever they like from the array of noodles, vegetables, and beef. Don’t overstuff, or you’ll have a lap full of noodles.
MAKE BABY FOOD: This meat is very tender, so it should puree nicely along with some noodles (add a splash of the dressing if it needs moisture). The raw vegetables will be a challenge for the very youngest eaters, but slightly older babies can often handle shredded raw carrot and cucumber.