Asian Lettuce Wraps

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If you've ever been to PF Chang's China Bistro, you likely know about and love lettuce wraps.  Before the first time I went to PF Chang's, everyone told me I HAD to try the lettuce wraps, that they were the best thing on the menu.  The lettuce wraps practically have their own cult following, and after I tried them, I understood why.  They're a great combination of satisfying but light, and the contrast of the cool, crunchy lettuce wrapped around the warm filling is a great sensation in your mouth.  Add the dipping sauce and you have a real crowd pleaser. 

Over the past couple months I have begun to see various recipes for lettuce wraps in magazines and on the internet, and Monday night I decided to try my hand at them.  Monday night was the first night I had cooked anything other than eggs and baked beans in over a week.  You see, all weekend and most of last week were devoted to a wedding cake (more on that later) and that didn't leave much time for cooking or eating on a regular schedule.  I am ashamed to say that I ate a lot of fast food, and I don't even really like fast food very much.  I felt like I needed something lighter and healthier, and the lettuce wraps were on my mind.  Lettuce wraps are a healthy food and easy to make, which are great qualities for a recipe to have when you're still feeling blah from the food you ate during the weekend.  These are great for a light dinner or an appetizer, as PF Chang's serves them.  For all you Atkins fans, I think they're decently low carb too.

I drew inspiration from recipes in the September issue of Cooking Light, and the June/July 2010 issue of Taste of Home.  One of the ingredients in PF Chang's wraps that people really love are rice noodles that have been broken into short pieces and then fried so that they're light and crispy.  You can't buy that in stores, and I don't really care to make those myself, so you have to find something else to make the crunch in your mouth.  Based off the TOH recipe, I went with peanuts.  I bet cashews would be great, too.  I think every recipe I saw recommended water chestnuts, and I don't like those, so in my version I have left those out.  I also wanted a little more vegetable presence, so I included a julienned carrot.  Next time I will probably include some bell pepper, too.  That's the beauty of cooking on your own- add or subtract according to your preferences.  These came out great!  They had the lightness I desired, the contrast of the cold, crunchy lettuce worked great with the warm filling, and the peanuts were a great crunchy and flavorful addition. 

All that to say that below is my own recipe for the lettuce wrap ingredients.  The sauce is taken directly from the recipe in Cooking Light.  I give credit where credit is due! 

Lettuce Wraps
1 lb ground chicken or turkey
1 pkg or 8 oz mushrooms, sliced or diced
1/2 to 1 large carrot, julienned or 1/2 c. shredded carrots
1 bunch green onions or scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. minced ginger
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 head Boston, Bibb, or Iceberg lettuce leaves
3 Tb. hoisin sauce
3 Tb. soy sauce
1 Tb. rice vinegar
2 tsp. Sriracha or hot chili sauce
1/4-1/2 c. chopped peanuts
2-3 Tb. vegetable oil

Heat 1-2 tb. vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and carrot (and bell pepper, if including); saut√© 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.  Remove mushrooms and carrot from the pan and place in a large bowl.  Heat another Tb of oil in the same pan.  Add the meat, ginger, and garlic to the pan.  Cook 6 minutes or until the meat is fully cooked, stirring occasionally to break up the meat.  Once the chicken is cooked, add all but about 2 tablespoons green onions and stir.  Sprinkle 1-2 tsp soy sauce over the meat and onion and stir around to distribute.  Add the peanuts and meat mixture to the mushroom mixture in the bowl and stir to incorporate all ingredients. 

In a small bowl, make the sauce: stir together the hoisin, soy, vinegar, sriracha, and remaining green onions. 

Spoon about 1/2 of the wrap filling into each lettuce leaf and spoon over desired amount of sauce.

Cook's Notes
  • I am intentionally leaving the mushroom variety out.  The Cooking Light recipe called for shiitakes, which would have been great, but I am pretty sure my local grocery store's produce guy would think I was cussing him.  I used portobellos.  They were on sale and delicious.  I am sure button or white mushrooms would work great here, too.
  • Next time I will increase the vegetable to meat ratio because I like vegetables.  This time I used 1/2 a big carrot.  Next time I'll likely use a whole one. 
  • I'll probably also add 1/2 to 1 whole bell pepper.  Red is my favorite. 
  • Don't try to get too healthy or fancy with the lettuce.  You're looking for a fairly neutral flavor with a flexible leaf and some crunch, so endive or arugula won't be great.  You could try romaine or green leaf.  If you do let me know how that works out for you.
  • The sauce by itself is a little funny tasting, but over the filling, it works.  I am not as familiar with Asian ingredients, so I did follow the amounts somewhat carefully.  I still didn't use measuring spoons. 
  • This is a slightly more expensive dish than others I've made, so be forewarned.  I spent about $15.  I am, however, getting 4 good sized meal portions.
  • I ate this as a main course and had no side dishes.  If you can't live without a side, go for brown rice or edamame. 
If you make this, please post in the comments section and let me know what you think!

BONUS: How to julienne your carrots, in a completely amateur sort of way

Step 1: Cut your carrot in half lengthwise so you're left with two semi circles. 

Step 2:  Thinly slice each of those semi circles lengthwise so that you have little carrot planks

Step 3: Thinly slice each of those planks lengthwise so that you're left with match sticks.

Now you have julienned your carrot, and it's perfect for this and other recipes!

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