Asian Lettuce Wraps for Almost Meatless Potluck

Asian Lettuce wraps

Many years ago, my grandmother coined a phrase the women in my family haven’t been able to let go. My grandmother, the women noticed, would describe certain dishes — certain dishes she really liked — as “light light.” If Gramma declared a meal “light light,” the women knew she approved.

Since noticing the pattern, my mother and aunt have strived to make everything they serve to their mother “light light.” Buttermilk panna cotta and orange and olive oil cake pass the “light-light” test with flying colors. Well, when I took a bite of these Asian lettuce wraps made with ginger-marinated chicken thighs topped with a simple slaw of carrots, cucumbers, celery and scallions, I instantly thought of my dear Gramma mou and, of course, of my mother and auntie who will be so pleased to add another “light light” recipe to their repertoire. I know Gramma will approve.

This recipe is fabulous! What’s more, it comes from a book that one of my very own friends wrote! Yeah, I know, I have famous friends. This past April, my friend Tara Mataraza published a book, Almost Meatless, with co-author Joy Manning.  Tara and I met way back in Philadelphia while working at Fork, which recently received Three Bells from Craig Laban of the Philadelphia Inquirer … a huge deal. (Congrats Ellen and everyone at Fork!)

Almost MeatlessAnyway, when Tara invited me to participate in a virtual potluck on her blog, Crumbs on my Keyboard, I jumped. The hardest part about partaking in this event was picking the actual dish. So many of the dishes — crab pad Thai, steak salad with blue cheese dressing, and Thai coconut curry soup — I saw in the table of contents caught my eye. And if the recipe I’ve made here is any measure of goodness for what’s in the rest of the book, I am in for a real treat once my copy of Almost Meatless arrives.

I am most looking forward to making this recipe for company. It is simple to prepare, stunning to serve, and exceptionally satisfying to eat. Both the slaw and the meat are incredibly flavorful and the combination of the crunchy cool slaw with the tender hot meat is so yummy. Make it. You’ll be happy. I promise.

Slaw Ingredients:

Slaw Ingredients

Marinade ingredients:

Marinade Indredients

Asian Lettuce Wraps

Source: Almost Meatless by Tara Mataraza and Joy Manning (Ten Speed Press, 2009)
Reprinted with permission from Ten Speed Press and the authors.
Serves 4

For the marinade:
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes
1 scallion, green and white parts, sliced
8 to 12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 4 thighs, or 2 thighs and 2 legs), cut into small cubes or strips

For the slaw:
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 teaspoon dark (asian) sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 thick carrot (about 4 ounces), cut into 1/8-inch strips
1 cucumber, cut into 1/8-inch strips
2 stalks celery, sliced 1/4 inch thick diagonally
2 to 3 scallions, white and green parts, sliced on the diagonal
16 lettuce leaves (romaine, Boston, Bibb, or green or red leaf)
2 tablespoons roasted salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

1. Make the marinade. Combine the fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, orange juice, 2 tablespoons oil, the ginger, garlic, chile flakes, and scallion in a medium bowl. Add the chicken and stir to coat the meat. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator, letting the chicken marinate for at least 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the slaw. Whisk together the vinegar, orange juice, sesame oil, salt, and ginger in a large bowl. Toss the vinaigrette together with the carrot, cucumber, celery, and scallions. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

3. To prepare the lettuce, rinse and pat the leaves dry. Transfer to the refrigerator until ready to use. (If you choose romaine, use the leafy top part of the lettuce for the wrappers. You can tear off the stiffer bottom stem half, chop it up, and add it to the slaw for extra crunch if you like.)

4. Cook the chicken. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the marinated chicken and marinade and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring often, until the chicken is firm to the touch and beginning to brown. Stir in the peanuts.

5. To assemble and serve, set out the slaw and chicken in bowls along with a platter of the lettuce. Wrap a scoop of slaw and chicken in each lettuce leaf. Have a napkin handy!


  1. says

    Lovely photos! I would love something like that made with tofu. I know this isn’t your book, but as a veg, I kind of have a problem with this concept. What does “almost meatless” mean? And what is the point? Either you are eating meat or you aren’t – there is no almost in there. OK, rant off. :)

  2. says

    Your pictures are beautiful! What gear do you use? Did you do a lot of color correction or is that what you got with natural light? It is SO hard to get good overhead food shots, you did it with such vivid colors. There’s drool all over my keyboard. Wow!

  3. says

    Stunning photos. These look like a wonderful item for a summer patio party.

    This potluck has been so much fun and I am once again impressed by the wide range of recipes Joy and Tara have created.

  4. says

    cool, crunchy slaw. hot, tender beef. frankly, you couldn’t have described it any more enticingly or captured it any more appealingly. that’s my adverb-happy way of saying that this is definitely a phenomenal dish!

  5. says

    Congrats to your friend on her book! I’m so glad you posted this. Ben’s been wanting to eat less meat b/c of high cholestoral and he would LOVE this!

    And there were ducks at the aquarium in Tampa!

  6. says

    Like everything you make, these sound fantastic! I wish I had your gift for food photography.

    I’m not a vegetarian but I much prefer veggies, beans, chicken, seafood to red meat. So I love the title of this book!

  7. says

    The book sounds wonderful- thanks for bringing it to my attention! So, the only criterion for “light light” is if grandma likes it? I’m not going to pirate your family’s trademark phrase, so let me just say these lettuce wraps looks scrumptious! :)

  8. says

    That looks beautiful! I bet it tastes wonderful, as well. Can’t wait to check out that cookbook-I’ve been trying to find some ways to go light on meat.

  9. says

    If you say these wraps will make me happy, I totally believe you. The colours! The beautiful strips of vegetables! I’m an embarassing fan, heh.

  10. says

    Love the ingredients in that. The colors are wonderful and I can just taste the flavors and the crispiness of the lettuce. YUM!

  11. says

    All the colors are stunning. It sounds really tastey. I just had some slaw tonight, it has an Asian flair as well. It’s so refreshing and “light light”.

  12. says

    Well this looks light-light in every aspect of the term. delicious and nutritious! Lovely recipe, I adore lettuce wraps!
    Gorgeous photos too :)

  13. says

    Hey Alexandra, I’ve been traveling this summer so I’m just now catching up on the blog reading. These look perfect- exactly the sort of meal that I enjoy. My husband, not so much! You must be standing on top of your kitchen table and shooting down onto your food from above… these are gorgeous shots :)

  14. says

    Looks great. I’ve had a lettuce wrap combo floating in my head for a few weeks and this looks like a good starting place for me to try. They look so healthy too.

    Thanks for sharing.

  15. keria says

    I can’t wait to try this! I went to a restaurant 2 hrs away and had some wraps…but I’m excited to this recipe, even though I do not cook :-) OBTW beautiful pics!!!!

  16. Shanz says

    I just made these for lunch. Marinated the chunked chicken (breast) for 2 days. And now I’m in foodie heaven! Delish! Thanks for sharing your talent with food!

  17. Patrick Cusack says

    Just found this recipe while searching for a healthy weeknight dinner. This was delicious. I added some fresh poblano pepper for even more crunch to the slaw. I went with stir frying thigh meat. The chicken thighs really absorb the marinade. Glad I found Alexandra’s Kitchen and your recipe. Thanks!

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