When you order lettuce wraps as a starter, you probably think you are being virtuous. No refined carbs, high protein, vegetables…right? Well, wrong. A single order of chicken lettuce wraps at P.F. Changs contains 640 calories, 28 g of fat and 2,600 mg of sodium. The upper limit of sodium recommended in 2,300 mg per day and about half of us should eat no more than 1,500 mg per day because of various health concerns and risks. All that sodium equals bloat and raises your risk for developing high blood pressure in the long run. It can also make you forget what real food should taste like, so you constantly crave restaurant creations that are high in calories and fat, but low in nutrients.
Don’t take this the wrong way. Lettuce wraps are a great way to add crunch and texture to a meal. You can make your own with a Thai style marinade that is easy and delicious. Use chicken, tofu, pork tenderloin or flank steak as well. Any type of leaf lettuce will do – Romaine, Red Leaf, Green Leaf – but I prefer Boston (also known as Butter) for the round shape of the leaves and its sweet flavor.
In a small saucepan, mix:
- 3 Tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp. sugar
over medium heat, stir until sugar is dissolved. Add:
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
In a large bowl, mix
- 2 Tablespoons of the above vinegar mixture
- 3 teaspoons minced garlic
- ¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons finely grated FRESH ginger
- 1 ½ teaspoons Asian sesame oil
Set aside 2 Tablespoons of this marinade. Add:
- Four 6-ounce boneless chicken breasts (pounded to ½ inch thickness), or about 1.5 pounds of chicken “tenders”
to the bowl with the marinade and refrigerate at least one hour, or preferably overnight.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and let drain, then grill or broil for about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and rest it about 5 minutes before cutting into thin strips. Chop it too soon and you will lose the juices and have chewy cardboard.
In a medium bowl toss:
- 1 cucumber, peeled and diced
- remainder of the sweetened vinegar from above
Serve the chicken and the cucumbers with a variety of garnishes laid out in small bowls:
- 1 cup mung bean sprouts
- ¼ cup mint leaves – chopped
- ¼ cup cilantro – chopped
- shredded carrot
- 2 Tablespoons chopped, roasted peanuts
- Reserved 2 Tablespoons of soy marinade + 2 Tablespoons water
- 1 head of leaf lettuce – leaves separated, rinsed and patted dry
Wrap the chicken, cucumbers and garnishes in the lettuce leaves and dip in the soy marinade. The recipe serves four to six, depending on appetites.