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That’s A Wrap!

Looking back at my pre-shiatsu/yoga life résumé, it seems I once spent the better part of a year working at a South American owned and themed café, in Toronto’s west end…

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(Is this going to be another one of your backstories? I’m in a bit of a hurry, where’s the recipe?)

Ah yes, it’s all coming back to me now…those 7 hour, weekend, kitchen-bound shifts, many of which were spent coping with nagging sciatic pain that would course down my leg and make my heel go numb. Oh, and the wraps. So very many, many wraps. Wraps were the house speciality; black bean-based, with fillings like sweet potato, caramelised onions, roasted eggplant, avocado and goat cheese. As a prep cook, and thus designated head of the wrap assembly line, I’d venture to say that I made over 6000 of them during my time there.

On top of the great experience described above, the café had some wonderful people on staff, it served decent quality espresso, and they paid reasonably well for work of that sort.

Now, for most, being shackled to a counter, with an aching lower back, while churning out a seemingly endless stream of wheat tortilla sandwiches would hardly qualify as a “great experience”, but were it not for that gristmill of a job, today I would not be in possession of two immensely valuable skills: Shiatsu Therapist and Healthy Lunch Maker Extraordinaire.

How did I become a shiatsu therapist by way of South American food and coffee? After vocalising my physical discomfort about a dozen too many times, a compassionate co-employee referred me to her therapist; the awesome and inspiring Carol Culhane. Carol, it turned out, was also the assistant teacher at Living Earth, the shiatsu school Tavia and I eventually attended. The rest, as they say, is applied theory…

The second of the valuable skills came via a somewhat more obvious route. As mentioned, I made more wraps than Eric B. and De La Soul combined, speedily filling and folding with ruler-like precision. I carried this food origami expertise into my marriage, which quickly called for nutritious and filling, no-prep lunches for two rather busy people. Compared to the undersized, overpriced, heat-and-serve options in the freezer section at the grocery store, homemade batches of vegetarian wraps were a no-brainer.

What’s that? You’d like to concoct your own batches of custom-made wraps? Why, surely…

First off, you’ll need to prep your filling. Depending on how many extra ingredients you add and the size of your tortillas, one cup of dried black beans will make anywhere from 2 to 4 wraps. You can buy your beans canned, but it’s a good idea to invest in a pressure cooker – in the long run, you’ll save money cooking your own beans, and they’re also handy for making quick soups and stews.

Filling (measurements approximate, these would be used with about 3 cups of beans):

3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 large bay leaves
1 red onion or a handful of scallions, chopped coarse
2 medium carrots, fine shredded
1-2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
palmful of fresh coriander, chopped
salt and black pepper, to taste

Brown rice. Not mandatory, but it tastes awesome with the beans and will make your wraps more nutritionally complete. 1 cup of rice will work well paired with about 3 cups of beans.

VEGETABLES! Including, but not limited to: chopped bell pepper, cauliflower, chard, corn, kale, sweet potato, zucchini and anything else that tickles your taste buds. Add as little or as much suits.

Tortillas. After much experimentation, I can comfortably say that large (10″ – 12″) wheat tortillas work best for these wraps. They freeze and heat up well, and aren’t prone to crumbling like their less pliable rice counterparts. I usually make 10 to 12 wraps at a time; the tortillas are packaged by the half-dozen and the resealable bags they come in can be used to store the finished product in the freezer.

Cheese and hot sauce. Again, your mouth, your call. I shred a cup or two of organic mild cheddar, but there are plenty of non-dairy cheeses out there if you’d like to go full vegan.

Start by sautéing the garlic and bay leaf (remembering to remove them after they’ve browned) in a couple of tablespoons of sunflower oil in a large pot. Add the onions and lower the burner temperature. When the onions have become soft, add the shredded carrot and fresh coriander and stir in. At this point, you can add your vegetables, in order of cooking time (e.g.: kale, first). Pro tip: if you’re using sweet potato, it’s best to bake it before adding it to the mix. This is also a good time to toss in your spices. Raise the heat to medium, and stir the mixture until it begins to soften, but still retains some texture. Add the cooked beans and stir everything together, then stir in the cooked rice. The finished mix should look something like this:

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 Set the filling aside and allow it to cool. During this time, you can lay out your tortillas and tinfoil sheets (each one about 10” across) in layers. When the filling is closer to room temperature, you can now begin to spoon it on to the tortillas, shaping it into rectangular boxes and topping with the cheese and a few dashes of hot sauce:

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Folding your wraps takes a little practice, but after a while, you’ll be able to put them together with Jedi-like efficiency. To assist in this journey, I’ve prepared this complex and detailed diagram:

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 Fold the two sides marked ‘1’ in toward each other. Then fold side 2 toward side 3. Finally, fold side 3 back over side 2. Et voilà:

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 To finish, bring the top and bottom ends of the foil toward each other and then fold them end over end until the foil is tight against the wrap. Fold the sides of the foil underneath, bag it and freeze it!

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You can heat up your wraps in a conventional oven (50 minutes @ 400C) or a toaster oven (add 10-25 minutes at the same temperature). For instant gratification, you can also set aside one or two of them to serve fresh, adding avocado or chicken before reheating.

Now that’s a wrap!