When I think about lettuce wraps, what comes to mind is not necessarily authentic Chinese--more like something to appear on a P.F. Chang's menu under the general moniker of "Asian." But turns out, lettuce wraps are an authentic Cantonese dish called sung choy bao (and delicious things wrapped in lettuce also makes appearances in Thai and Korean cuisines). They're quick to prepare and fun to eat, besides being delicious. The rich flavor of the meat against cool, crisp lettuce is a fantastic combination. I had a blast eating it and reliving childhood memories of ordering this dish as an appetizer from my local Chinese restaurant.
The preparation is kind of a cross between a sauté and a stir fry (it's not nearly as hot-and-fast as a stir-fry, but the idea is the same), made up of browned onions, ginger, pork, carrots, peppers, potatoes, water chesnuts, and plenty of garlic. After tasting it at a friend's house, they wrote this recipe out for me to recreate at home. The seasoning trick is to take hoisin sauce and reduce it until syrupy with loads of chopped garlic. It flavors the entire mixture with a sticky-sweet-garlicky goodness that plays perfectly against the crisp leaves of lettuce used to wrap it.
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 cup hoisin sauce
- 4 tablespoons oil, divided
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 red pepper, finely diced
- 1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
- 1 medium red potato, finely diced
- 1 8-ounce can sliced water chesnuts, chopped
- 2 small heads bibb lettuce or 1 head iceberg lettuce
In a small saucepan or skillet, combine half the garlic and the hoisin sauce. Over medium heat, reduce the sauce until thickened and beginning to turn syrupy, 2-5 minutes depending on the pot used.
In the meantime, in a large (12-inch) skillet, heat half the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion, ginger, and remaining garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally, until golden and soft. Add pork and break up with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the moisture has evaporated and the pork is cooked through and tender.
In a second skillet, heat the remaining oil over medium-high heat until shimmering and add the carrot and potato. Cook until almost tender, then add pepper and water chestnuts and cook for a few minutes longer. Add this mixture to the pork along with the reduced hoisin sauce. Stir well to coat the pork and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Set out the pork and serve with lettuce leaves.