As so many recipes happen in my life, this one was the result of improvisation (read: desperation). When one night I found myself with the intention of making tacos but lacking in avocados or tortillas or chiles (poor planning, I admit), I decided to change continents and try some lettuce wraps instead. I’ve never been exactly adverse to lettuce wraps, but they never excited me either (perhaps their popularity during the Atkins craze left me suspicious). Whoa; I had been missing out. The crisp and cool lettuce was the perfect counterpoint to the warm and spicy filling. I was hooked.
Don’t be intimidated by the seemingly long list of ingredients here. There’s a good chance that you already have a lot of the staples in your pantry or garden. The recipe is broken down to make things really easy. First, wash your lettuce. Obvious, I know, but for me, this is by far the most annoying part. I have a love-hate relationship with my salad spinner, and therefore only use it once a week. As soon as I get home from the market on the weekend, I wash all my greens, wrap them in paper towels and store them in reusable veggie bags in the fridge. That way, they’re ready for me all week. First step, done.
The next step is to whisk together a quick “sauce.” Then, just chop as you go. Dice the onions as the ground beef browns; chop the garlic, ginger and scallions as the onions sweat; and zest and juice the lime right into the pan. It’s a one-skillet dinner. Just remember the golden rule: chop once if using twice. So when you’re chopping your scallions and cilantro, be sure to cut extra for the toppings. When it’s time to eat, put the toppings in the middle of the table, divide up the filling and lettuce, and let everybody create their own wraps. It’s hands-on, and it’s just plain fun.
A key component here is the Sriracha (or you can use hot sauce, but Sriracha is really good here). Since I have a toddler, I go easy on the heat and add more at the table. On the kid note, if you have a picky eater, you could serve the filling over steamed rice or even in a bun like a sloppy joe. Interestingly, Ella loved the filling the first time I made these but wouldn’t touch the lettuce or toppings. I tested the recipe again the following week (having decided that lettuce wraps were indeed worth my time) and was astonished to see her completely imitate us, adding some of each of the toppings and eating a “wrap” (with my help). It was an interesting lesson in repetition when feeding kids (although, I’ve served her broccoli about a hundred times but still have yet to see her devour it with the same gusto…).
By the way, if Boston or Bibb lettuces aren’t available, red leaf lettuce works in a pinch. Oh, and I’m sure ground turkey would be a fine substitute for the beef. Improvise with what you have: it’s how the best kitchen discoveries are made.
Beef Lettuce Wraps with Mint, Cilantro & Peanuts
- 1 head Boston or Bibb lettuce
- 2 tablespoons low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil , divided
- 1 pound grass-fed ground beef
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium onion , finely diced
- 2 large garlic cloves , minced
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 2 large scallions , thinly sliced, plus additional for serving
- Sriracha or hot sauce to taste , plus additional for serving
- Zest from 1 lime
- Juice from ½ lime , or more to taste
- ¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro , plus additional for serving
- Torn mint leaves for serving
- Coarsely chopped roasted peanuts for serving
- Separate the leaves from the head of lettuce and clean. Transfer to a kitchen towel and gently pat dry.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the tamari or soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil and honey with ½ cup water.
- In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the beef with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until browned and cooked through, 6-10 minutes. Transfer to a strainer to drain.
- In the same skillet (don’t clean it), add the remaining tablespoon of oil, along with the onions. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, 8-10 minutes (if the pan starts to look too dry, add a splash or two of water).
- Add the garlic, ginger and scallions; cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Put the meat back into the pan, and stir in the tamari/fish sauce mixture. Cook 3 minutes, stirring and scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add a dash or two (or three or four…) of Sriracha or hot sauce to taste, the lime zest and the juice from ½ lime. Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro. Taste and season with additional salt, Sriracha and/or lime juice as desired. Keep warm.
- To serve, put some chopped mint, cilantro, peanuts and sliced scallions in separate bowls in the middle of the table. Transfer the meat to 4 bowls and divide the lettuce leaves among 4 plates. Let each person build his or her own wrap. Spoon some of the meat mixture in the middle of a lettuce leaf; add a drizzle of Sriracha; sprinkle with some herbs, scallions and peanuts; wrap the lettuce around the filling; and devour.