Wraps – usually utilizing a flour tortilla or equivalent that encompasses some sort of sandwich or burrito-esque filling – are ubiquitous throughout America today.
But lighter, even elegant, wraps have been around for centuries in Asia – especially Southeast Asia – that act as a vehicle for getting the food into your mouth: Lettuces, either soft-leaved or smaller crispier types that add flavor and a bit of crunch to every bite.
Lettuce wraps are so ubiquitous throughout SE Asia that almost anything grilled or fried is often served with lettuces to enclose the main event. It is garnished with herbs, pickles, etc. before dipping the packet into a sauce (or two) before consuming.
Lettuce wraps are good anytime, but I’m especially appreciative to have them in my recipe repertoire when the thermometer and heat index go ballistic, as they’ve done far too frequently this summer. And although I have several Asian/Southeast Asian favorites, I’ve also discovered that lettuce wraps can make a wonderful meal from All-American leftovers, such as grilled steak and vegetables (including potatoes or grilled corn), Mexican components (salsa, pico de gallo or other salsa, shredded leftover chicken, or even crumbled leftover burgers tossed with “taco” seasonings). Or you could use those leftover hamburgers, thinly sliced steak, chicken, or tofu a la Grecque (Greek style), with yoghurt or sour cream mixed with thinly sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet onions, and fresh dill. Vegetarians will enjoy grilled or pan-fried tofu, mushrooms and grilled vegetables. South American seafood ceviches such as the one I wrote about June 7 (available on IT’s website) are also ideal. The possibilities really are endless. And if you’re entertaining, preparing a simple week-night meal or just feeding a bunch of finicky kids, it’s a great way to set out a feast that’s both simple and luxurious with choose-your-own components everyone can enjoy.
Pork or Chicken Satés
• 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken or pork loin
For the marinade
• 1 tsp. coriander seeds
• 1 tsp. cumin seeds
• 1 T. fish sauce (Preferably the Vietnamese Three Crab Brand; it’s easily identifiable by the three crabs on the label, available in some groceries, and at Little World Market.)
• 2 T. minced garlic
• 1 T minced fresh ginger
• 1 tsp. cayenne pepper, optional or to taste
• 1/3 c. chopped shallots, preferable, or red onion
• 1 T. light brown sugar
• Approximately 2 T. lime juice (about 2 T.)
• 1 tsp. turmeric
• 1/2 c. regular coconut milk, NOT “lite” (shake the can to thoroughly combine the “milk” and “cream.” Reserve the rest for the accompanying peanut sauce.
• 1/3 c. pineapple juice
• Bamboo skewers, soaked in hot water for at least 30 minutes
• Thai Cucumber Salad, recipe follows
• Peanut Saté Sauce, recipe follows
Slice the chicken or pork very thinly across the grain or cut into bite-size morsels. Partially freezing the meat makes this easier to do. Set aside. Toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a small skillet until fragrant. Place in a blender or food processor with the other marinade ingredients and purée. Put the meat in a resealable plastic bag and add the marinade. Squish out the air and seal the bag, turning until the meat is coated thoroughly. Marinate at least 30 minutes and up to two hours. Remove the meat reserving the marinade. Thread the meat onto the skewers.
Combine the reserved marinade with the pineapple juice. Grill the meat over hot coals until done, about 10 to 12 minutes, basting frequently with the pineapple juice marinade. Serve warm with lettuce leaves for wrapping; pass the Thai cucumber salad and peanut sauce for diners to add as they wish.
Thai cucumber salad
• 2 T. fresh lime juice
• 1 T. fish sauce
• 1/4 c. light brown sugar
• 4 thinly sliced fresh Thai hot chiles OR Serrano chiles, or to taste, optional
• 1-2 “burpless” cucumbers, unpeeled
• 2 T. minced shallots
• 2 T. chopped fresh cilantro
• 1 T. chopped fresh mint
• 2 T. chopped unsalted dry roasted peanuts, optional
Cut the cucumbers in half. Scrape out the seeds. Slice thinly, yielding 1 1/2 to 2 cups.
In a bowl or resealable plastic bag, mix the lime juice, fish sauce and brown sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the chiles, cucumber, shallot and half the mint and cilantro. Let stand for about 15 minutes. Garnish with the remaining herbs and peanuts.
Saté peanut sauce
• 8 T. natural crunchy peanut butter
• 3/4 c. minced white onion
• 1 tsp. minced garlic
• 1 c. coconut milk, reserved from above
• 2 T. light brown sugar
• 1 tsp. cayenne or to taste
• 1/4 c. finely minced lemongrass, tender parts only
• 1 T. fish sauce, see above
• 1 T. soy sauce, preferably Kikoman
Combine everything in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Check seasoning. You may want to add more sugar, fish sauce, or soy sauce. Cool completely before serving.
Hacked Chinese Chicken with Szechuan peppercorns
• 1-2 lbs. boneless, skinless poached or grilled chicken, cooled
• 1 T. minced garlic
• 1/4 c. cilantro
• 4 T. soy sauce
• 6 T. smooth, natural peanut butter
• 3 T. shao hsing (Chinese cooking wine), or substitute dry sherry or vermouth.
• 3 T. honey
• 2 T. Chinese (toasted) sesame oil
• 1 1/2 T. seasoned (a.k.a. sushi) rice vinegar
• 1 T. Chinese hot chilli oil, OR ground hot pepper, or hot sauce to taste, optional
• 1/3 c. minced scallions
• 1/2 - 1 tsp. Szechuan peppercorns, or to taste
Shred the cooled chicken into bite-sized shreds. Combine the remaining ingredients in a resealable plastic bag, then add the shredded chicken and gently toss to coat the chicken thoroughly. Let stand for at least 1/2 hour and up to two hours before serving. Mound on a platter and surround with lettuces to serve.
Crab and sweet corn salad
• 2 c. crabmeat (or substitute small cooked shrimp or larger shrimps cut into bite-sized pieces)
• 2 c. cooked sweet corn kernels (4 ears should yield about 2 c.)
• 1/2 c. chilli sauce, bottled or homemade
• 1/2 c. mayonnaise ,preferably Duke’s or Hellman’s, mixed with 1 T. minced scallion, and 1 T. minced jalapenos (optional)
• Approximately 16 small lettuce leaves, about 3 inches long, from little gem lettuces (sometimes call “sweet gems”) or leaves of Boston or Bibb lettuce, washed and well dried
• Minced scallion, chives, flat leaf parsley, and/or edible blossoms for garnishes, optional
Combine the chilli sauce and mayonnaise with the minced scallions and jalapenos . Add the crabmeat and corn and mix very gently so the crabmeat breaks up as little as possible. Divide the mixture among the lettuce cups, garnish, and serve. Alternatively, spoon the crabmeat/corn mixture onto the middle of a large platter, sprinkle with any garnishes, and surround with lettuce leaves so diners can make their own.
Contact Julianne Glatz at firstname.lastname@example.org.