Savory and slightly sweet… Crunchy and tender… Lettuce Wraps are great as both an appetizer, or a main course. They are not elegant by any means; don’t expect to eat these without getting sauce all over the place!
I first had lettuce wraps at an Asian/Fusion restaurant where my husband and I worked during college. I had never had anything like them, and I was instantly hooked! They served them with the crispy fried noodles on top… it is too bad I can’t recreate those at home. Many of the dishes at this restaurant were so delicious, and once I no longer worked there (and thus could no longer eat the food for a fraction of the menu price), I had to figure out how to make a few of my favorite things at home. I think I’ve come pretty close, though I’m sure I will continue to tweak it here and there!
Let’s pretend there’s a carrot or two in the picture above…
Wash the lettuce, and shred the carrot (if using). I love the extra crunch and color the carrot adds. The contrast between the green and orange catches your eye for sure.
Dice the onion. Of course it helps if you have a large knife from the local Chinese market, but to each his own. (Just kidding!)
Chop the green onion. Keep the greens and whites separate. Green onions are sometimes known as scallions. Supposedly, scallions are thinner and green onions are a bit bigger in diameter. I’ve only ever found one variety at my grocery stores.
Mince the ginger. I like to use a microplane to grate the ginger finely. It helps break up the fibrous center of the root. A tip for fresh ginger: it can be stored in the freezer. No need to even wrap it! Just slice a thin layer off of the end of the ginger and peel before using. If using frozen ginger, just grate it on the microplane. It turns into the finest ginger “snow” and infuses flavor magnificently. That’s right… magnificently!
Start by browning the ground meat of your choice. I would suggest beef or chicken; turkey might be all right (haven’t tried it). Stay away from a seasoned meat like sausage, however. You want the flavor to come from the sauce.
I normally wouldn’t post a picture of raw meat in a pan, but Sampson found it necessary to sneak into the corner of this photo… So I thought I would honor his hard work to appear on my blog.
Drain the meat and set aside. Put the onion in the pan, and let it cook for a few minutes. I also added the white and light greens of the green onion, but feel free to wait on those. Add the ginger and garlic after the onion turns translucent. Cook until it is nice an fragrant, and the garlic has softened.
Add the remaining ingredients, but save the greens of the green onions for just before serving. The dish won’t be ruined if you add them at this point, but they’ll lose color and flavor if they cook for too long. Once that’s bubbled for a little while, add the meat back in.
Around here, we like lots of sauce on our Lettuce Wraps. If the sauce seems like too much for you, cut it in half. Add the greens of the green onions about a minute or two before serving.
Don’t forget to serve with plenty napkins!
Lettuce leaves (Boston, Bibb, or Romaine)
1 pound ground meat (beef, chicken, turkey)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice (wine) vinegar
1 tsp hot chili oil (or red pepper flakes)
3 green onions, chopped (whites and greens)
Shredded carrots (optional)
Cilantro leaves (optional)
Brown meat, drain, and set aside. In the same pan, saute onion. Add ginger and garlic when onions are translucent, after about 3 to 5 minutes. Cook for 2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, except greens of green onions. Simmer all for 3 minutes. Add meat and cook about 3 to 5 minutes more. Just before serving, mix in remaining green onions. Serve on lettuce leaves with grated carrots and cilantro leaves (if desired).
Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 to 8 as an appetizer.