Winter Lettuce + Local Elk

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Growing up in Chile, Gisela Ferguson was raised with the notion of eating whole, local foods long before the trend swept North America. In her home country, Gisela says, people shop daily for fresh groceries at mercaditos — little neighborhood stores found on every street — and “every day you have a home-cooked meal.” These are delicious affairs, usually including multiple courses of soup, salad, a main dish, and fruit. 

As children, Gisela and her brothers were tasked with sorting out the pebbles from bags of beans that were used for family meals. After a childhood of observing others in the kitchen, Gisela taught herself to cook when she moved to the United States at age 21. 

 Clockwise from top left: scallion-ginger salsa, kimchi, ssam sauce, steamed rice, winter lettuce, locally sourced elk. 

Clockwise from top left: scallion-ginger salsa, kimchi, ssam sauce, steamed rice, winter lettuce, locally sourced elk. 

Today, Gisela is a talented home cook who carries on the tradition of preparing wholesome daily meals for her family of four. She uses staples similar to those she grew up with —meat, potatoes, rice, vegetables, and fruit — but prefers to get adventurous with her flavors. “I like the spices of the East,” she explains. “We have Thai or Indian every week.”

Gisela enjoys planning meals around the produce and meat that arrive in her family’s weekly Rooted Gypsy farm box, or with fish she gets from Jammin’ Salmon Seafoods. Beyond that she doesn’t buy meat, relying instead on the elk and venison that her husband, Tadd, brings home from hunting every fall. 

Turning to cookbooks and online sources for inspiration, Gisela loves creating meals that incorporate whatever is in season. In the following recipe, she adapts a dish from famed New York City restaurant Momofuku to use elk and fresh winter lettuce. These Elk Lettuce Wraps are perfect for dinner parties, where guests can choose their own toppings — though we recommend trying all of them! The dish “always disappears,” Gisela promises. 

If you aren’t fortunate enough to have a freezer full of elk meat, look for it at Quality Meats and Fishers Meat Market in Grand Junction. Gisela recommends tenderloin for its tenderness and flavor, but the dish is also delicious with ground elk, beef, or pork.

The Recipes

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Elk Lettuce Wraps

 

Serves 6

One elk tenderloin (about 3 pounds), thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 scallions, chopped

5 tsp soy sauce

2 Tbs honey

5 Tbs grapeseed or other neutral oil, divided

1 Tbs sesame oil

¼  tsp black pepper

12 butter (or similar) lettuce leaves

Kimchi

Cooked white rice

1. Place elk in a large, shallow bowl. Combine garlic, scallions, soy sauce, honey, 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil, sesame oil, and pepper. Pour over the meat, stirring to coat it. Cover and refrigerate overnight. 

2. Wash, separate, and dry lettuce leaves.

3. When ready to cook, heat 2 tablespoons of grapeseed oil over high in a large sauté pan. Add half of the elk including any juices and sauté to desired doneness. Do not overcook, or meat will be chewy. Remove to a warmed serving dish. Repeat with second half of elk, using remaining grapeseed oil as needed. 

4. Fill lettuce leaves with meat. Top with Ssam sauce (recipe follows), Ginger-Scallion Salsa (recipe follows), and kimchi. Serve over rice to catch juices and overflow.

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Ssam Sauce

1 Tbs white miso

2 Tbs gochujang sauce, available in Asian foods sections of most supermarkets

¼ cup grapeseed oil

2 Tbs sherry vinegar

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Ginger-Scallion Salsa

 

2½ cups thinly sliced scallions and/or leeks, both green and white parts

½ cup peeled, minced ginger

¼ cup grapeseed oil

1½ tsp soy sauce

1 tsp sherry vinegar

½ tsp kosher salt