Marialisa Calta Photo
Cheese spread and vegetables combine in a tasty, easy-to-make wrap.
Wraps have something in common with muffins: Both promise way more than they deliver.
With the exception of freshly baked, homemade muffins, most muffins look totally delicious and taste totally blah. Likewise, wraps look good — so much healthier, so much cooler, so much more delicious than boring sandwiches. But when you bite into one, you taste a mucilaginous layer of cheese or mayo, too much bread and not enough filling.
Wraps (like muffins) are best made fresh at home, where you can keep an eye on what goes into them. But the trick is, um, wrapping them. Some of us (we know who we are) have tried many intricate techniques — the envelope fold, the package fold, the swaddling-the-baby fold — only to have our wraps unfold at the critical moment of the first bite. But I recently figured out how to make a wrap using the simplest method possible, one that does not require how-to diagrams or YouTube videos.
The method is this: Slather the wrap (a tortilla or whatever) all the way to the edges with something sticky like cream cheese or hummus. Then layer the extremely thinly sliced filling ingredients — shaved meats, matchstick vegetables, shredded lettuce — in the center of the wrap. Roll the wrap bread as tightly as you can — no folding necessary. Wrap the whole thing in plastic and chill it. When it’s time to eat, remove it from the fridge, unwrap and slice.
If you are transporting your wraps to a party, tailgate or picnic, put the slices in a plastic storage container or arrange them on a plate and cover with plastic wrap. If you are taking them for lunch to work or school, simply rewrap the individual pieces.
What you have made is known as a “roll-up,” and it is a brilliant way to make and eat any wrap. This method allows you to eat the wrap in smaller segments rather than trying to consume it in its log form, which saves you the embarrassment of having a quarter-pound of shaved turkey fall on the conference table during a brown-bag office lunch.
These small wrap pieces are perfect for kids’ lunches, as you can give them portions they might actually eat. You also can serve the colorful, attractive wrap segments as appetizers.
According to “The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink,” edited by Andrew F. Smith, wraps began in — where else? — Northern California in the 1990s and were inspired by Mexican burritos. Those free-spirited Golden Staters branched out, however, and wraps now might contain everything from peanut butter and jelly to Peking duck. Wrap breads have also evolved to include anything flat and pliable — not just tortillas, but lavash, naan, chapatis and more.
Once you have the method down, you hardly need a recipe. The one here is merely a guide to give you a rough idea of proportions. (You could add thinly sliced roast pork to this recipe.And there’s always peanut butter. Try it with banana, crisp bacon and shredded iceberg lettuce. Weird? Heck, no. It’s a wrap.
Basic Wrap Roll-Up
Yield: 24 pieces, or 6 to 8 servings
2 cups grated Monterey Jack or Mexican blend cheese
½ cup milk, sparkling cider or beer (a lager like Corona works well)
Several pinches cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
4 (10-inch) flour or whole-wheat flour tortillas (sold as “burrito size”)
4 large leaves romaine lettuce, ribs removed
2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large cucumber, thinly sliced
8 scallions, trimmed and halved or quartered lengthwise, depending upon thickness
1 ripe but firm avocado, peeled, pitted and thinly sliced
24 sprigs fresh cilantro or flatleaf parsley
1 lime, quartered
In a food processor, pulse cheese, milk (or cider or beer) and cayenne (if using) until creamy. You will have about 1 cup.
Lay a tortilla on a flat work surface. Spread ¼ cup of the cheese mixture thinly over the tortilla, making sure to spread it all around the edge. (This is key.)
Place 1 lettuce leaf in the center of the tortilla. Add about ¼ of the carrots, cucumber, scallions and avocado. Add 6 sprigs of cilantro or parsley. Squeeze lime juice over all. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
Roll up the tortillas as tightly as possible. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.
Remove the plastic wrap. You can trim the ends or leave the pieces of vegetables and cilantro sprigs sticking out. Cut each roll in half. Cut each half into 3 pieces (6 pieces per roll). Serve immediately or rewrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.
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