Friday, June 22, 2012

Chinese Lettuce Wraps

This dish is a great break from the usual potatoes or rice. Vary what you put inside these Chinese Lettuce Wraps by what’s in the kitchen cupboard - but don’t forget the “crunch” the water chestnuts and the vermicelli provide! It’s exactly that “crunch”that makes these wraps so interesting. If you’ve never worked with vermicelli, the photos and the method for this recipe will walk you through it. 
For another delicious dish based on this versatile noodle, see the Sunomono Salad recipe I posted Oct. 25, 2011. That recipe is so easy and delicious that it’s held steady for many months as the second most-popular dish I’ve ever posted. I plan to use the uncooked vermicelli left over from this dish to make this excellent Japanese salad, again. 
Chinese Lettuce Wraps:
16-to-20 iceberg lettuce leaves, rinsed, blotted dry, well-chilled
1 tbsp. cooking oil
1 lb. lean ground pork
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 tbsp. dark soy sauce
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. Chinese five-spice seasoning
2 tbsp. hoisin sauce
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
¼ tsp. Asian hot sauce (optional)
Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
One 8 oz. (227 mL) can water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
1-½ c. peanut oil (or other quality oil able to withstand high heat)
Approximately ¼ of a bundle of vermicelli noodles (also called mung bean or glass noodles), slightly separated
Slice large iceberg lettuce leaves in half, trimming off vein, and leave smaller, inner leaves whole (see Note). Wrap leaves in paper toweling, placing in produce crisper. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add ground pork (see Penny-Pinching Note), browning until no pink remains. Remove pork with slotted spoon; set aside. Drain most of fat from pan, stir-frying onion and garlic in remaining fat. Return cooked meat to pan, stirring in soy sauce, sesame oil, Chinese five-spice seasoning, hoisin sauce, rice wine vinegar, and Asian hot sauce, cooking just until onion becomes translucent. Stir in water chestnuts and green onions. Transfer to platter or bowl. Keep warm in oven set to low heat.
Let skillet cool slightly before wiping with paper towel. Heat 1-½ c. peanut oil over medium high, until oil is almost at smoking point. Drop uncooked vermicelli noodles into hot oil. Noodles will expand and explode within three seconds. Do not allow vermicelli to brown. Immediately remove from skillet with slotted spoon, blotting excess fat with paper towel (When oil in skillet cools, strain and add to lidded jar for future use). Lightly combine deep-fried vermicelli with meat mixture; serve at once. 
To serve, arrange lettuce leaves on large serving platter, spooning meat mixture onto lettuce leaves, one at a time. Fold leaves as a “wrap” to enjoy this messy, but delicious, treat. Serves 3 or 4.
Note: I recently came across a new product called “Lettuce Wraps” - essentially, pre-washed Romaine leaves smaller than regular Romaine. I bought it, but found their use in this recipe quite disappointing. These smaller-than-average Romaine leaves certainly have the desired elongated shape. Unfortunately, Romaine also has tough leaves and strong and sturdy center stalks. It is these stalks that - despite their name and in my opinion - make this product unsuitable for Lettuce Wraps. The product comes from Gonzales, CA. Although I wouldn’t use them as Lettuce Wraps again, I think they’d work very well for Chinese Fried Lettuce (see my recipe posted below this one). 
Penny-Pinching Note: I ground the pork myself, using some of the meat I sectioned for my post titled Miss Piggy Goes to Market (April 25, 2012). I’m pointing this out to reinforce how very economical buying a larger cut of meat can be. I’ve made many, many dishes from that 23-lb. slab of pork (even after slicing away its 10-lb. sheath of fat), and still have more pork in the freezer. When I finally use it all up, I wont be buying any more for awhile. We’ve had so much of it lately that, gee, at our house, pork is a four-letter word.

Use freshly ground pork

Here's what a pound of it looks like

Fry it until no pink remains

Drain meat by placing it in a sieve so excess fat drips off

Use about a quarter of dry vermicelli noodles

Add to heated oil

Stir them a second or two, ensuring they're soaked in hot oil

BOOM! Watch as they explode

Remove from heat; blot off fat; add to meat mixture

Work quickly, so noodles remain crisp

Chilled lettuce leaves on platter, meat mixture nearby

Spoon onto leaf, top with more hoisin sauce, and ...



  1. Great recipe. Would you be happy to put up a link to it in my Food on Friday – Asian Food Series.

    1. Thank you! I'm guessing your website will hold great appeal to readers interested in the home arts, including quilting, crocheting, knitting, cooking, gardening, and home decor. Readers can find you at

      xox Nicole


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