Friday, April 4, 2014

Recipe: Thai Pork Lettuce Wraps

I love lettuce wraps. They offer the perfect combination of warm filling and cool crispy lettuce, and salty sweet tanginess. The combination of textures is really satisfying. However, they're something I usually only enjoy in restaurants; they seem too complicated to make at home. I had a craving for them, and a beautiful head of butter lettuce in the fridge, so I decided to conquer my fears and make them myself! Guess what? They taste just like what you get in a restaurant, and I used way less oil than a restaurant would. Success! 
Admittedly, there are a lot of ingredients and steps, but none of if it actually difficult. The key is tasting as you go and adjusting based on your personal preferences. More sesame oil? More soy sauce? More sweet mirin? Whatever you want - it's forgivable. 

When I read a few different recipes as a jumping off point, they were full of ingredients I didn't have, like fish sauce and lemongrass. From cooking asian dishes in the past, I knew these things weren't really necessary to create complex flavors. So here's what I put together:


  • 1 lb. ground pork, 80% lean
  • 1 head butter lettuce
  • 1 medium white onion, diced 
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup water chestnuts, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced very fine (I peeled the whole thing and then diced)
  • 1 tbsp. white rice
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. minced ginger root (always use fresh, not dried and powdered!)
  • 4 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup mirin (sweetened sake - you can find it in the asian section of most supermarkets)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground white pepper (this is important - it adds a different flavor from black pepper)
  • Sprinkle red pepper flakes to taste
  • Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds
  • Spritz fresh lime juice

  1. Separate the leaves of butter lettuce, being careful not to tear them. Wash, dry, and set aside.
  2. In a large, dry sauté pan, toast the rice over medium heat for about 5 minutes. You'll know it's done when the grains just begin to turn golden. 
  3. In a food processor or with mortar and pestle, grind the toasted rice until it's powder. This is the worst part of the whole process! It takes forever, but it's an important ingredient. If you have a child, get them to do this part! It's fun for them, but annoying for you!
  4. In the same pan, cook the pork until crumbly and no longer pink. Drain and set aside.
  5. Add 1 tbsp. of olive oil to the same pan, and once it's shimmering, add the diced onion, carrot, water chestnuts, ginger, and garlic. Sauté for a few minutes, and when the start to brown, add the mirin. Cover and turn the heat down to low. You want everything to get a bit soft; let it sit for 6 minutes or so.  
  6. Add the drained pork to the pan of veggies, stir to combine. Add soy sauce, sesame seeds, white pepper, and red pepper flakes.
  7. Serve with lettuce leaves for wrapping, and spritz with fresh lime juice. 

Not pictured: sesame oil, white pepper, lime

Yup, this part takes forever and makes your arm hurt. It's good exercise. :-)

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