4 new ways to make little leafy sleeping bags for your protein and toppings.

By Rebecca Firkser
August 22, 2019
Aaron Kirk; Food Styling: Ivy Odom; Prop Styling: Christina Daley

On lazy summer days (and let’s be honest, there are lazy winter days too) when I’ve invited over a few friends but don’t feel like preparing a meal, I turn to lettuce wraps. Endlessly riffable, lettuce wraps cater to meat-lovers, vegans, and every type of eater in between. Plus, considering that they’re basically deconstructed salad, the price point stays low. 

Lettuce wraps can be simplified into a three-pronged formula: lettuce, protein, and accoutrements. You don’t really need a formal recipe as much as you need a flavor profile and vague idea of how many people you’re serving. From there, head to the farmers’ market.

Get the recipe: Korean Chicken Lettuce Wraps

The Lettuce

While I take pride in selecting specific lettuces for different applications, for the most part, a lettuce wrap is a lettuce wrap. Though I wouldn’t use iceberg, as that’s more like crunchy water than a leaf, anything from sturdy red and green leaf lettuce to tender butterhead and Bibb lettuce make excellent sleeping bags for your protein and other toppings. Feel free to move beyond lettuce as well: cabbage, collard green, and Swiss chard leaves all work as wraps as well.

The Protein

Of course you can take care of this part at the grocery store, but most farmers’ markets have at least one stand with high-quality (and affordable) eggs and meat. When it comes to lettuce wraps, I typically go for ground meat (chicken, turkey, pork, lamb), as it’s quick-cooking and easy to season. For the hot sauce, I tend to go for a mixture like Sriracha, gochujang, and sambal oelek, and soy or fish sauce. Though they take a bit more work, thinly sliced steak or pork do super well in wraps as well. The only element I often include in lettuce wraps that I wouldn’t find in a farmers market is tofu, which I like to press super-dry, slice into planks, and bake or pan-fry until crisp. (After that, toss the tofu in a premade sauce like a cilantro chutney, peanut sauce, or chili paste thinned with lime juice.) I also have been known to purchase and shred a rotisserie chicken when craving lettuce wraps yet am short on time and energy.

Get the recipe: Kung Pao Chicken Salad

The Accoutrements

Here’s where the real fun happens. Shopping for lettuce wraps accoutrements brings me the same joy a small child might feel when handed an empty bag at Dylan’s Candy Bar and told to go wild. You can put any sliced vegetable into a lettuce wrap and it will be wondrous. Cucumbers? Yep. Radishes? Absolutely? Carrots? Tomatoes? Summer squash? Scallions? Hot peppers? Yes! Yes! Yes! Though you may want to reign it in to stick to a preconceived flavor palate (I’ve outlined some ideas below), there’s nothing wrong with simply slicing up a few pounds of rainbow jewels from the market and telling your friends to go with their guts come dinnertime.

Watch: How to Make Southwestern Pork Lettuce Wraps

Here are some more ideas:

Red leaf lettuce + thinly sliced cooked pork + thinly sliced pineapple + minced white onion + sliced jalapeños = Al Pastor Lettuce Wraps

Bibb lettuce + shredded rotisserie chicken + crumbled bacon + halved cherry tomatoes + halved hard-boiled eggs + sliced avocado + dijon mustard = Cobb Salad Lettuce Wraps

Green cabbage leaves + cooked ground meat/sautéed mushrooms tossed with sambal oelek and fish sauce + chopped cilantro + sliced scallions + lime wedges  = Almost-Larb Lettuce Wraps

Green leaf lettuce + baked tofu + sprouts + sliced cucumber + sliced avocado + green goddess dressing = Green Goddess Lettuce Wraps

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