Lettuce wraps are the best. We absolutely love them in this house. They’re so delicious and satisfying with with all kinds of different textures and flavors. When I was working as a personal chef, I made all kinds of different lettuce wraps for my clients, and they were always a big hit. Lettuce wraps are light and healthy, while still being super flavorful, and kids love being able to make their own at the table. It’s one of those situations where everyone wins.
Last week I mentioned how simple greens and lettuces are great little starter crops for a first time garden. This is the perfect time of year to pick out a few seedlings at a nursery and get them into the ground. No green thumb required, just some dirt and a desire to dig. Over the next two to three months you’ll be able to watch them grow, pick the leaves, eat the leaves, and then watch them grow some more. Boston bibb is one of my favorite varieties of lettuce to grow. The leaves have the perfect balance of tenderness, crispness and flavor, not to mention, they make the perfect vehicle for lettuce wraps.
You can put just about anything in a leaf of lettuce and call it a wrap, but not everything will necessarily work. Like, ice cream. Don’t do that, ya goof. I find following a simple formula makes for the best results: One part substantial and meaty, one part bright and tangy, and one part crisp and crunchy. Oh, and tons fresh herbs. The more, the better. And if you’re growing them in your garden, you get extra points. And by points, I mean money, because growing your own saves you sooo much.
For these wraps, I cook up some ground chicken to be so crispy and flavorful, it barely needs any accouterments. But it’s a lettuce wrap, so of course it’s going to have them anyway. A mix of quick pickled carrots and shallots adds a nice crunchy texture and a big pop of acidity. I also make some puffed rice noodles, which is easily one of the coolest, funnest thing you can do in the kitchen (besides setting things on fire with a blow torch, but that goes without saying).
To make puffed rice noodles, all you have to do is heat plenty of oil in a big pot until super hot, then drop in a handful of thin vermicelli rice noodles and watch them puff up in a matter of seconds. That’s it. I’ve done it 100 times and it never gets old. I still squeal like a child every single time. Speaking of children, if they’re around, they will likely want to get involved. But kids + hot oil = bad idea jeans. I suggest having them watch from a safe distance, or save it for when they’re a little older.
These puffed rice noodles are light and crispy and make a great snack or salad topper, but they add especially great crunch to these lettuce wraps. It’s a different kind of crunch than what you get from the carrots, shallots and lettuce. This is fried crunch, and I think we all know that fried crunch trumps all other kinds of crunch.
Even though I woke up to 30 degree temps this morning, it’s still quite evident that spring has officially sprung. Luckily, most lettuces and greens can survive a light frost, so long as it isn’t too intense or prolonged. Fun fact! Lettuces and greens grown in cooler weather actually taste a whole lot sweeter. Once the temps start climbing into the 80’s and 90’s, they turn bitter, so take advantage while you can. These lettuce wraps are the perfect light and flavorful meal to dish up using one of spring’s finest first crops.
One Year Ago: My Mama’s Fish Chowder
- Vegetable oil for frying
- vermicelli rice noodles
- 1 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and julienned
- 2 shallots, halved and thinly sliced lengthwise
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-3 Thai bird chiles, minced, seeds removed for less heat
- 1 1/2 lbs ground chicken
- salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- 2 packed tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/4 cup chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced on a bias
- Boston bibb, butter or iceberg lettuce, leaves separated, washed and dried
- fresh cilantro, fresh mint, fresh Thai basil or a combination of all three, washed, dried and large stems removed
- Sriracha hot sauce
- Heat vegetable oil in a medium heavy bottomed pot with high sides. Do not fill the pot more than 1/4 of the way up with oil. Heat until very hot and almost smoking, then drop in a small handful of rice noodles. They will puff up instantly. If they are not fully submerged in the oil, use a pair of tongs to flip them over so they puff up on the other side. Remove from the oil immediately and set on paper towels to drain. Make as much or as little as you'd like. They will keep in a zip top bag at room temperature for up to one week.
- Bring the vinegar, salt and sugar up to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from the heat. Add the carrots and shallots to a bowl or mason jar and pour the vinegar over top. Allow to pickle for at least 15 minutes, or cover and refrigerate for up to two weeks. Remove from the brine before serving.
- Heat vegetable oil in a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add the shallots and stir until just starting to turn golden, about 30 seconds. Add the garlic and chiles and continue stirring for another 15-30 seconds, being careful not to let it burn. Quickly add the ground chicken and use a wooden spatula to break it up into little bits. Season with salt and plenty of black pepper, then use the back of the spatula to press down on the chicken to help it get brown and crisp, about 10 minutes.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, chicken broth, soy sauce, fish sauce and lime juice until the sugar is dissolved. Pour it into the pan with the chicken, and stir. Allow it to cook until the liquid has mostly evaporated, about 5 minutes. Stir in half of the scallions and remove from the heat.
- To serve, transfer the chicken to a serving bowl and top with the remaining scallions. Serve family style at the table along with the pickled carrots and shallots, puffed rice noodles, lettuce leaves, fresh herbs and Sriracha.