I had some ground beef to use up the other day, but wanted a light lunch that wouldn’t make us feel stuffed. I decided to make lettuce cups, a treat my friend’s mother used to make for us when I’d come over. My friend’s mom is Thai, Filipino, and Chinese, so I wasn’t sure what culture the lettuce cup recipe comes from. I tried doing some research but found similar recipes for both Thai lettuce cups and Chinese lettuce cups. I decided that, like most foods in Hawaii, it’s the result of a myriad of cultures living and eating together. So I’m calling them Asian Lettuce Cups.
One of my favorite things about these lettuce cups is you don’t have to have a lot of meat on hand to make them. I chopped up an onion, several mushrooms, celery and sliced a couple carrots to cook with the meat. This is a great way to use cheaper ingredients to bulk up your more expensive proteins. Your family feels like they’re eating a rich beefy meal, but actually they’re getting a lot of veggies too!
Eric and I had these as a main dish, but they also make amazing appetizers that will wow your friends and family. The recipe makes enough for 12-15 cups depending on how full you fill them. These are great for parties because you can fry up the beef filling even a few days in advance and simply heat it up when you’re ready to put it in the lettuce cups. The combination of the fresh crisp lettuce leaves with the sweet warm beef filling and tangy sauce is to die for!
You can also play around with this as a basic recipe. Some people like to toss in chopped water chestnuts for extra crunch, or mandarin oranges for juicy sweetness. I like garnishing mine with fresh chopped veggies for some color and crunch. This is a great basic recipe to get adventurous on. You’ll probably have extra sauce left over, so store it in the fridge and use it to drizzle on stir fry, rice, or chicken.
Asian Lettuce Cup Recipemakes 12-15
2 TBS soy sauce (I like Aloha Shoyu)
2 TBS rice vinegar
2 TBS ketchup
1 TBS lime juice
1 TBS sweet chili sauce
2 TBS sugar
2 TBS soy sauce
2 TBS sugar
1/2 tsp rice vinegar
3/4 lb ground beef
3 mushrooms chopped
1 stalk of celery chopped
1/2 large carrot (or one small one) sliced to matchstick size
1/2 red onion chopped
12-15 cup shaped lettuce leaves
additional sliced carrot and chopped scallions to garnish
Mix all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate.
Start on the filling by mixing the soy sauce, sugar and rice vinegar in a small bowl and setting aside.
Crumble the beef in a large pan and begin browning it. When it appears half brown, add mushrooms, celery, carrots, and red onion and mix well.
Continue cooking until the beef is well browned and the vegetables are softened. Add the sauce you set aside and mix well. Continue cooking another few minutes until sauce is absorbed.
Scoop a couple spoonfulls of warm beef filling into each lettuce cup and drizzle with the refrigerated sauce. Top with raw carrot slices and chopped scallions.
To eat, fold the lettuce cup like a burrito and hold vertically to keep the sauce from running down your arm!
Approximate cost/serving: You can make the whole recipe for about $4. If you’re using it as a main dish plan on it making 12 and serving 3 a person, so $1 a serving. If it’s an appetizer plan on making 15 (a little less filling in each) and two per person, so 53 cents a serving.
Vegetarian/Gluten Free: For vegetarian, use just vegetables, increase it to 12 mushrooms, a whole carrot, and a whole onion. Start with a couple TBS of olive oil to fry them in since you won’t have the fat from the beef. This can easily be a gluten free recipe, just make sure you check your ingredient labels (especially the soy sauce) to ensure they’re gluten free.