You don’t have to be on a particular diet to eat lettuce wraps. While they’re a great option for gluten-free or low-carb eating, they’re also a cool, crisp way to enjoy a variety of fillings. Lettuce wraps are often associated with Asian ingredients, but why limit yourself? If it can go on a sandwich, it can go in a lettuce wrap. Learn what types of lettuce work best in wraps, how to prep and serve them, and get some ideas for tasty fillings.
Choose and Prep Your Lettuce
Where it comes to lettuce wraps, not all lettuce is created equal. Your best bet is butter lettuce (also known as Boston or Bibb lettuce) because it’s sturdy yet tender, and the leaves fold easily without snapping. Iceberg lettuce is also a good choice, although it doesn’t offer much in the way of nutrients or fiber. We don’t recommend Romaine lettuce or kale; the thick ribs in both of these greens make them difficult to fold. Leaf lettuce is too delicate to stand up to the filling in most lettuce wraps. Finally, while endive can’t be folded into a wrap, it makes for a sturdy cup.
While butter lettuce leaves separate easily, iceberg leaves are tightly packed. To prep them for wraps, start by coring your head of iceberg lettuce. This video from Saveur shows how:
Yes, it’s really that easy. Slam the head of lettuce, core side down, on the counter. Then turn it over and pop the core right out. But don’t start peeling away the leaves yet. Instead, put a colander in your sink and run water on the underside of the head of lettuce. The water will flow between the leaves, and they’ll peel apart easily. You can also fill a deep bowl or stockpot with water and place the head of lettuce in it. The water will loosen the leaves so you can peel them off. But don’t try doing this without the water, or the leaves will likely tear.
After you’ve removed the leaves you plan to use for lettuce wraps, wash and dry them carefully. Then put them back in the refrigerator to keep them cool and crisp until serving. Part of what makes lettuce wraps so delicious is the hot filling paired with the cold wrap.
Did you take those lettuce leaves out of the refrigerator? Put them back and keep them cold until it’s time to set the table. In fact, serve the filling and the leaves separately. Even the coldest lettuce will wilt when you top it with hot filling.
Allow everyone to wrap their own, or help children assemble theirs as needed. Epicurious offers two common ways that you can roll your lettuce wrap: burrito-style or purse-style. To make a burrito wrap, fold both sides of the lettuce leaf over the filling and then roll the top and bottom. To make a purse wrap, pinch all sides of the lettuce leaf up to the center, like a drawstring bag. A purse wrap is better for smaller leaves, while a burrito wrap works for larger leaves.
Fill ‘Em Up!
If it can go in a sandwich or a tortilla or piled on top of rice, it can go in a lettuce wrap. You don’t have to stick to a recipe. Make it up as you go along by stir frying meat and vegetables with some aromatics like garlic and onion. You’ll find most recipes call for ground or diced meat. Big chunks of chicken or beef are difficult to wrap. They’re also more likely to tear lettuce leaves and spill your filling. Add sauce -- homemade or bottled -- and heat everything through before piling it onto lettuce leaves.
What if you’d rather follow a recipe than wing it? We have a few suggestions to offer. Check them out below.
Honey Beef Lettuce Wraps
This recipe from Creme de la Crumb calls for butter lettuce to hold a mixture of beef, carrots, mushrooms, and water chestnuts. Slice the beef very thin, and finely dice all the vegetables. Then whisk together soy sauce, hoisin sauce, honey, rice vinegar, garlic, and ginger. Stir the sauce into the beef and vegetables until the filling is heated through. Scoop the filling into a serving bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds and sliced green onions.
Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps
This recipe from Carlsbad Cravings combines diced chicken with red onions, carrots, bell peppers, celery, and pineapple. Feel free to swap out ingredients based on what’s fresh from your garden or on special at the grocery store. Chicken breast is a fine option, but chicken thighs are less likely to dry out. You can also use ground chicken with a mix of light and dark meat. Similar to the recipe above, whisk the sauce together and stir it into the filling. We love how you can customize the amount of peanut butter you add to the sauce. Garnish your wraps with green onions as specified in the recipe, or try cilantro which pairs well with Thai flavors.
PF Chang’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps
We know how closely people associate lettuce wraps with PF Chang’s, so we couldn’t leave out this copycat recipe from Damn Delicious. Cook the ground chicken first, then combine with minced garlic and diced onion, along with all the sauce ingredients: hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, and Sriracha. Then mix in diced water chestnuts and sliced green onions. This recipe comes together quickly and makes an impressive appetizer for guests.