Whenever I feel this way, I just run back to the open arms of proteins. You see, proteins give good love. They devote themselves fully to you, and shower you with little treats like crunch, fat, tenderness, not to mention the vitamins and nutrients to make you feel on top of the world. Most of all, they keep you lean.
So here's a 15-minute meal tribute to proteins. With all my love.
When you live in Malaysia or Singapore, it is all too common to see minced pork tofu in Chinese restaurants. My version here is quite a cute twist of those, using Japanese cucumber for that crunch instead of the usual spring onions and cilantro. The duo is meant more as garnish, by the way. Beef is used instead of pork for a change, while the fresh shiitake mushrooms - unlike its dried variety - require no soaking. Oak leaf lettuce is used because there is no need for cutting and the leaves wilt just with the heat. You can use butterhead lettuce too.
Knife on chopping board on damp towel next to the stove. Large sauté pan and spatula on stove. Keep the ingredients closeby: one block of Japanese firm tofu, two garlic cloves, a small knob of young ginger, 240 g minced beef, six fresh shiitake mushrooms, one Japanese cucumber, one head of oak leaf lettuce, olive oil, hoisin sauce, light soy sauce, Shaoxing wine.
Drain the tofu, place it in the serving platter, run your knife through it to make eight equal portions then space them apart. Microwave on high for 30 seconds and set aside. Crush, chop the garlic cloves, slice the ginger then sweep them all into the pan. (That's when the setup photo was taken, hah.) Roughly slice up the mushrooms and stop there.
Go (aka The Point of No Return)
Heat up the pan on medium high heat with the olive oil, garlic and ginger in it. When it starts to sizzle, stir-fry it quickly while adding the minced beef. Add a tablespoon of hoisin sauce, a dash of Shaoxing wine and light soy sauce. Sweep the mushrooms into the pan, mix evenly and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Add a little water if you wish.
Here's my favourite part. Japanese cucumber. Trim both ends, cut into two shorter halves. For each half, quarter it length-wise and, resting each quarter on a flat side, remove the seeds with one diagonal cut into it. Finally, resting the quarter flat on the board, slice it at an angle, about 2-3 mm thin. All done, sweep them into the pan. Do it all at one go. Otherwise some would overcook and turn soggy while you're doing the rest.
Mix the cucumber evenly with the beef. Wash the head of lettuce under running water, shake it dry a little and quickly bring it back above the pan. Holding the lettuce by its base, twist the leaves off and scatter all over the beef. Turn off the heat while mixing the leaves with the beef and cucumber.
Tilting the pan over the serving platter, use the spatula to gently scrap portions of the beef and greens to cover the tofu. Serve immediately.
P.S. This is not just for 15-minute meals. You can make this one of the many dishes with rice (!) that could easily feed up to six people. The beauty of it is how fast you can make this one up in front of your guests, for a little "live" spontaneous cooking. Kids see this and they are convinced that cooking at home can be easy.