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I started gardening in a real, serious, way this spring and I have found myself with a plethora of lettuce. Lettuce of all sorts! And who knew it was going to grow so easily and quickly, especially since last year was such a bust with the mealy heads and lackluster flavor.
But fear not! I have found a delicious solution to my lettuce woes:
What, you say? Yes, it’s larb gai, a traditional Thai street food. And it is awesome. Quick, easy, flavorful, healthful. Basically, you sauté some ground poultry or pork, throw in some aromatic herbs, a little salt, and little spice, serve it with the lettuce vehicle to get it into your mouth, and you’ve got something special. And you don’t need the street brazier to cook it. It’s the best dinner you’ll make this week. Or any week, come to think of it. Take Jenn Segal’s word for it. So good. And you will think about all of those yin-yang flavors for days to come.
- 1 large head iceberg or butter lettuce, or any lettuce you can easily fold
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 large red onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger (you’ll need a thick 2-inch piece)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 pounds ground chicken (not all breast meat)
- ½ tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- ¼ cup light or dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons lime zest, from 2 limes plus 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, from 1½ limes
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 large scallions (green onions), white and green parts, finely sliced
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
- ¼ cup chopped cashews or peanuts
OPTIONAL FOR SERVING:
- Finely sliced carrots
- Lime wedges
- Cilantro and/or mint sprigs
- If using iceberg lettuce: fill a large bowl with cold water. Place the head of lettuce on a cutting board; cut off the stem, then cut around the inner core of the lettuce and remove (do not cut all the way through the lettuce; just deep enough to remove the core). Discard the flimsy, ragged outer leaves and then place the head of lettuce in the bowl of water. Gently pull apart the leaves, then place them on a paper towel to dry. Cut any large leaves in half. Chill the lettuce cups in refrigerator until ready to serve. (If using butter lettuce, you won’t have any issues pulling apart the leaves so this step is not necessary.)
- Heat the oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more.
- Add the ground chicken and turn the heat up to high. Cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until partially cooked through, about 3 minutes. Add the soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar, lime zest, lime juice and red pepper flakes and continue cooking, stirring frequently to break up the meat, until the chicken is cooked through, 5-6 minutes more. Off the heat, stir in the scallions, cilantro, mint and nuts. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Spoon into lettuce cups and serve with optional garnishes.
You can watch a video on how to assemble the lettuce cups here.
The meat mixture can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 3 months (yes, really) and reheated in the microwave on the stovetop until hot.