I have a funny relationship with lettuce wraps.
On one hand, lettuce leaves are not sandwich bread, nor are they tortillas. I’m sorry, but if I’m going to have a loaded shrimp taco, I’m going to have a loaded shrimp taco on a (preferably) white corn tortilla. Don’t try to fool me into thinking a vegetable is going to satisfy my need for carbs.
On the other hand, when I find a good lettuce wrap I tend to become obsessed with ordering them. There’s a restaurant here in Chicago that used to have these phenomenal vegetarian lettuce wraps on their menu. One day, I went there for lunch and found that they were no longer available. Naturally I asked what happened to them and the server replied that “they just didn’t sell enough so they were taken off the menu”.
I cried a little, I won’t lie to you.
People don’t know a good thing when they see it.
Anyway, I cooked up a little version of a lettuce wrap that I have to say, exceeded my expectations. I used lean ground beef, but you can sub in any kind of meat that you like, or even tofu or extra vegetables if you prefer to keep it vegetarian. These come together very quickly and are pretty durn close to my beloved restaurant lettuce wraps of yore.
Asian Beef Lettuce Wraps
1 pound lean ground beef (I used 96%/4% lean)
5 oz cremini mushrooms, finely diced
1/2 small bell pepper (any color, I used red), finely diced
1 large carrot, shredded
1 8-oz can water chestnuts, chopped, divided
3 scallions , chopped, divided
1-2 T less-sodium soy sauce
1 T less-sodium teriyaki sauce
1 t toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup broth (any kind), optional
1/4 t ground ginger
1 head bibb (or butter) lettuce
1 cup uncooked brown rice
1. Cook brown rice according to package directions, omitting any added fat, while you prepare the rest of the dish. Once cooked, fluff with a fork and add 1 chopped scallion and about 1/4 of the water chestnuts.
2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Add mushrooms and bell pepper and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute until tender and mushrooms are beginning to sweat and deepen in color, about 5 min. Add carrot and remaining scallions.
3. Add beef to the skillet, season with another pinch of salt and pepper, and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon as the meat browns. (I like to use the back of the spoon to break it up into pretty small pieces – a personal preference, but I find that the texture in this dish is best when everything is a uniform size)
4. Once meat is fully cooked, add garlic, water chestnuts and ground ginger and saute until fragrant, 1-2 min.
5. Add soy sauce, teriyaki sauce and sesame oil and stir to combine. If you like your lettuce wraps a little “saucier”, add the broth, one tablespoon at a time, until the sauce is the consistency that you like.
6. Remove from heat and serve with lettuce leaves and rice.
You could really serve this meat mixture any way you like – over spaghetti squash, on a roll like an Asian-style sloppy joe (uh…that sounds pretty fantastic, actually), or even plain.
There’s just something about the flavors and textures that I think the lettuce compliments. It brightens the dish, if you will.
No, these aren’t tacos.
And no, they aren’t sandwiches (although, I’m really kind of digging that sloppy joe idea).
But they’re really satisfying for a light, yet hearty, meal.
Try them. Let me know if you become as obsessed as I am. The best part? They can’t be taken off the menu if you’re making them at home. 😉