You may think lettuce wraps are something new, but street vendors in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand have been wrapping crisp leaves of lettuce around minced pork or chicken for centuries. For fans of Asian flavors, they offer light, fresh ingredients with distinct textures and flavors.

Lettuce wraps are perfect for warm-weather meals because they take practically no time at all to cook. The work is in the preparation: slicing, dicing and making the sauce. A typical sauce is a mixture of Asian fish sauce, chiles, garlic, sugar and lime juice.

Lettuce rolls are practically a blank canvas:

– For protein, use sliced grilled steak, stir-fried or poached chicken, marinated and seared tofu, ground chicken or turkey or flaked poached salmon.

– For crunch, choose carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, celery, daikon radish and/or jicama, grated or cut julienne style.

– Cooked, drained bean thread or rice noodles are good additions.

– Fresh basil mint and/or cilantro are traditional accents.

Wraps are well suited for quick weekday dinners or for cocktail or dinner parties. You can assemble them in advance or set out the components and let your guests do it themselves. It’s a little messy, but nothing a few extra napkins can’t take care of.

Here are more tips:

– The lettuce leaves must be soft enough to be pliant. Boston, Bibb and iceberg are good choices; romaine is not.

– Rinse and dry the lettuce leaves, place them on a platter, cover with a damp towel and refrigerate until needed.

– There isn’t much room, even on a large lettuce leaf, so don’t overload the wraps.



3 tablespoons light brown sugar (packed)

1?4 cup Asian fish sauce

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 small hot red or green chile, minced, or 1?4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

1 garlic clove, minced


1-1?2 tablespoons peanut oil

1 finely chopped onion

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 garlic clove, minced

1 pound ground chicken

1 carrot, cut in julienne

4 green onions, thinly sliced

1 cup finely chopped water chestnuts (or raw, peeled jicama)

5 button mushrooms, finely chopped

2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1?4 to 1?2 teaspoon cayenne


1?4 cup chopped peanuts

1?4 cup chopped cilantro

16 Boston or Bibb lettuce leaves

For the sauce: In a small serving bowl, whisk all ingredients together.

For the chicken: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the peanut oil. Saute the onion, ginger and garlic about 3 minutes, stirring often. Add chicken and cook, stirring to break up lumps, about 5 minutes, until cooked throughout.

Add carrot, onion, water chestnuts and mushrooms; cook 3 minutes. Stir in the fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil and cayenne, and remove from heat. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary. Stir in the peanuts and cilantro.

Transfer meat mixture to a large serving bowl. Place lettuce leaves on a platter. Have each diner spoon about 2 tablespoons filling onto a lettuce leaf, drizzle with reserved spicy sauce and roll up to eat with their fingers. Makes 4 servings.

© 2006, The Miami Herald.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.