These pork lettuce wraps were inspired by a dish I had in New York at a magical restaurant called Up Thai. I ordered pork lettuce wraps as an appetizer and was so delighted with the taste that I swore I could make a meal out of those alone.
In this recipe, I use traditional Thai ingredients like shrimp paste, shallots, galangal, tamarind, and chile to bring about the salty, bitter, sour, spicy, and sweet tastes found in Thai cuisine. If you like Thai food, you will love these wraps.
Don’t be turned off by trying new ingredients. Going to the Asian market is exciting and trying new things is part of becoming a better cook.
If Thai flavors are new to you, prepare yourself for a bold, full-flavored experience. Thai cooking aims to balance more of the flavors equally so people often refer to it as loud or punchy. This just means, it aint bland.
When I was in Thailand for over a month, I definitely wanted a break from the strong flavors and would seek things like salad with oil and vinegar to give my taste buds a break. I guess these lettuce cups are the best of both worlds because the ground pork is very strongly flavored, while the raw lettuce gives it a light, crisp lift.
Tip: Pairing cooked and raw foods is a pleasant way to enhance the experience of a dish.
Textural Elements in these Thai Lettuce Wraps
- chopped peanuts
- diced shallots
- shaved carrot
- shaved green papaya/mango
- fresh or dry thai chili
Note: You can adjust the spice level to your preferences by sprinkling extra thai chili flakes on top. This recipe is only mildly spicy.
Thai Lettuce Wraps
- pinch of kosher salt
- 1 clove garlic
- 3 dry Thai chilies
- 1 shallot
- 1- inch piece galangal, ginger as substitute
- 2- inch piece lemongrass, tough outside layer removed
- 1 T shrimp paste
- 3 T palm sugar cream, unrefined cane sugar as substitute
- 1 T tamarind paste, sold as a solid block with seeds removed
- 2 T water
- 1 T cooking oil, refined coconut oil, palm oil, or lard
- 1 pound ground pork
- 2 heads butter leaf lettuce, cleaned and leaves separated
toasted peanuts, diced shallot, diced thai chili, shredded carrot, cilantro, and lime for serving
- With a mortar and pestle, pound the salt, garlic, dried thai chilies, shallot, galangal, and lemongrass to form a smooth paste. Add shrimp paste and mash to combine. In a small pot, bring the palm sugar cream, tamarind paste, and water to a simmer over medium heat. Use a spoon to break up any chunks as much as possible, then strain using a sieve into the mortar and pestle. Use your spoon to scrape the strained tamarind sauce off of the bottom of the sieve.
- Warm a saute pan over medium heat with the oil. When it's hot, add the ground pork and transfer the paste to the pan. Saute, mixing with a wood spoon, 3 minutes. Keep the hot pork separate until ready to eat so as not to wilt the lettuce. I recommend serving with lime, diced shallot, chili, peanuts, cilantro, and carrot. Green papaya/mango would also make a nice topping.
*Inspiration: Up Thai restaurant