I'm frequently coming across recipes for Thai lettuce wraps (ala P.F. Chang's) but always find myself disappointed when the ingredient list is a mile long and so involved that there's just no way I'm going to tackle them for a weeknight meal. When Cooking Light printed a ridiculously easy and fast version in the current issue (August 2008) I simply had to share it, with some of my own little tweaks (see my recipe notes).
I took another cue from Cooking Light and made some sticky sushi rice to go along with these; in fact, the rice is actually good inside the wraps and topped with the chicken. It also makes the meal a little more substantial.
Thai Lettuce Wraps (Adapted from Cooking Light)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1 lb. ground chicken breast
3 tbsp. fresh mint, chopped fine
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped fine
3 tbsp. fresh lime juice
4 tsp. Thai fish sauce
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
16 lettuce leaves
Lime wedges for serving
Wash lettuce leaves thoroughly and lay on paper towels or clean dish towel to dry.
Heat a 12 inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add water, onion and chicken. Cook until chicken is cooked through, breaking up the cooked pieces with a spoon. Drain, if needed, and remove from heat. Stir in mint, cilantro, lime juice, fish sauce and pepper. Stir well.
Spoon about 3 tablespoons of chicken into each lettuce leaf. Service with lime wedges, if desired.
Cooking Light's "Thai Chicken in Cabbage Leaves" recipe called for using napa (or Chinese) cabbage, not lettuce. I opted for lettuce, mostly because the napa cabbage at my farm stand was enormous and the Picky Eater at home won't touch cabbage with a 10 foot pole. As an alternative, a small head of Boston lettuce works, since it's kind of cup-shaped to begin with, or the larger outer leaves of endive make for a crunchy boat that holds its shape well (just save the smaller inner leaves in the fridge for your next batch of salad).
Lets talk about Thai fish sauce for a minute. Its a fabulously stinky brown liquid made from the juice of fish (typically anchovies) that have been salted and fermented over a period of time. Scared yet? Well, if you've ever had Thai food, Cambodian food, or Vietnamese food, chances are you've tasted Thai fish sauce. If it's not in your fridge, you can usually find it in the international aisle of your local grocery store for about $4. Don't worry thought, if you're throwing these together and don't want to drop the dough, soy sauce is a perfectly acceptable substitute (because its so salty, start off with about 2 tablespoons and gradually add a little more according to your taste preferences).
If you hate cilantro, leave it out. I have a love-hate relationship with it. I hate it in my guac, but happen to love it in these wraps.