Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: Wrap it up for flavour

Cathi Litzenberger discovers the lettuce wrap and shares a couple of Thai-inspired recipes

With all the tragedies in the world in the past 10 days weighing down on so many of us, all I can think of is looking for some kind of comfort where there is none. And there is really nothing any of us can do about any of it, except perhaps to offer up our prayers for the lives lost, for the injured, and for the families forever changed.

For me, I have a bad habit of looking to food for comfort and with that in mind I’ll relate a new experience I’ve had. I don’t know how anyone could have lived for as long as I have and not  eaten any form of lettuce wraps, but until a few weeks ago I had never tried them.

Lucky for me, my first experience was at Temptasian Restaurant in Vernon where they were so delicious that I’m hooked, and have been looking for recipes ever since. The following pork and chicken wraps are a great place to start.

Thai Pork Lettuce Wraps

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3/4 lb boneless pork chop, cut with the grain into 1/4 x 2-inch strips

1 (16 ounce) bag coleslaw mix

2 cups shredded carrots

1 bunch scallion, trimmed and thinly sliced

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 cup sweet red chili sauce (such as Thai Kitchen)

10 large leaves bibb lettuce

1/2 cucumber, seeded, peeled and cut into matchsticks

Fresh mint

Lime wedge

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the pork and cook for 3 minutes until cooked through. Remove to plate and keep warm.

Add remaining tablespoon oil, the cole slaw mix, carrots, scallion and garlic. Cook 6 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Stir in sweet chili sauce and reserved pork and heat through.

To serve, place about 1/2 cup filling in centre of each lettuce leaf. Add some cucumber and mint. Spritz with lime, roll up and serve.

Note: Can also be served wrapped in rice flour tortillas.

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

16 Boston, bibb or butter lettuce leaves

1 pound ground chicken breast

1 large onion, chopped

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar or red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons Asian chili pepper sauce (see Note)

1 stalk celery, thinly sliced, then chopped

1 carrot, julienned

1 can (4 ounce size) sliced water chestnuts, drained, finely chopped

1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil

Rinse lettuce leaves, keeping them whole. Set aside to drain.

Cook chicken in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring often to break up the meat. Add onion, garlic, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger, vinegar and chili sauce. Add celery and carrot; cook until meat is crumbled and brown. Add water chestnuts and green onions. Cook until onions begin to wilt, about 2 minutes.  Stir in sesame oil.

Arrange lettuce leaves on the outer edge of a platter. Spoon meat mixture in centre. Allow diners to spoon meat mixture into lettuce leaves and eat like a taco.

Note: Asian chili pepper sauce can be found in the Asian section of most supermarkets. Some brands contain garlic, which is fine. You can use 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or 1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes instead.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every Wednesday and one Sunday per month.

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