Asian Lettuce Wraps Let the Good Food Roll
Many popular restaurant chains serve a version of lettuce wraps but nothing can beat the homemade version.
I am a fan of food that requires assembly at the table. As a diner, it makes me feel involved and responsible for the outcome of my meal. I'm talking about fajitas that need to be stuffed and rolled or Vietnamese dishes that offer a filling and vegetable garnish to be wrapped in rice paper at the table. In fact, Asian cuisines commonly offer such dishes.
One authentic dish I remember vividly I first tasted decades ago in a little Szechuan restaurant in Boston. This fabulous dish was fiery minced chicken or tofu that arrived at the table steaming hot topped with toasted pine nuts and cilantro. It was served with ice-cold lettuce leaves, which we used to roll the filling in little packages.
I was intrigued not only by the amazing taste, but also by the contrast of hot and cold food on the same plate. I've never forgotten this dish and have made it many times. In fact, many popular restaurant chains now serve a version of it. Of course, it never tastes as good as that first time, because the chain places don't duplicate authentic flavors well. If I want a tasty version, I have to make it myself.
The original recipe calls for chicken or tofu and dried shiitake mushrooms, which add a pleasant smoky flavor and chewy texture that holds up against crisp lettuce leaves. Of course, now I just use tofu. I like serving my recipe with iceberg lettuce, this being the only time I use iceberg in my kitchen. I find Boston lettuce a bit soft for this dish.
The pine nuts are a must. I've had this dish with cashews, peanuts and even walnuts, but the pine nuts are authentic. Toasting them is also important to bring out their nutty flavor.
–By Chef Steve Petusevsky
Tofu and mushrooms all rolled up in a crispy iceberg lettuce leaf.