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Growing Good Food at Home

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3 Lettuce Cup Recipes

Appetizer or entrée, these lettuce cup recipes give you multiple options for serving lettuce before dinner, or for boosting the flavor profile to make it a meal.

Lettuce gets a bad rap sometimes. Rabbit food. Mostly water. Flavorless. OK, sometimes that’s true. But also true: there are more delicious varieties of lettuce available than you can shake a fork at: Bibb, Radicchio, Romaine, Arugula…the list goes on. And when you’re making lettuce cup recipes, you can use all of the above.

One of the things I love about lettuce is its versatility. One of my joys every spring is planting lettuce, knowing that in a few short weeks, I can start enjoying an early harvest of bright green leaves (or sometimes red, or a little of both).

Growing leaf lettuce is about as easy as taking a walk in the park. It practically grows itself! Sure, you need to keep it watered and weeded. But it’s not a difficult crop to grow, and the effort you put into keeping your lettuce growing pays off with an ongoing harvest of delicious greenery.

Lettuce has the potential to go way beyond salad. For those of us who are carb-conscious, lettuce can let us enjoy some of our favorite dishes without the bread. What? A sandwich without the bread? Why not? If you’re trying to cut carbs and calories, swap out your whole wheat with a couple big, juicy leaves of Romaine, and you’re all set.

I can hear you scowling, but it’s true. I’ve tried it and lived to tell the tale. I ditched my sandwich wraps for leaf lettuce and Romaine ages ago, and I’ve never looked back. Bread is just kind of meh and bland. When you make lettuce cup recipes, you are getting all the flavor from what’s inside the cup.

Take a look at restaurant menus and you’ll see lettuce cup recipes filled with flavor. A lot of them are dishes that used to use wontons, rice paper, tortillas, tacos, and even hamburger buns as their holders. Lettuce serves as a delicious replacement—and it’s less filling.

This recipe is a culinary adventure in using lettuce cups. Try one or all of these recipes that feature full flavor while keeping things on the light side. You may find more ways to serve up delicious dishes with lettuce in a supporting role.

You don’t have to be following a low-carb diet to appreciate the fresh, crisp, light (and not too filling) taste of an appetizer or entrée that uses lettuce as its foundation. This recipe has several variations on the theme of filling your lettuce leaves with something delicious.

In terms of making lettuce cup recipes, the outer leaves of iceberg lettuce work fine, but you’ll find that bibb lettuce and romaine work well too.

All recipes start with a head of your favorite lettuce, separated, washed, and blotted dry. Ready? Lettuce begin…

This first lettuce cup recipe would make a great appetizer or main course, and it’s similar to the type of lettuce cup you might see when you go out to a restaurant. Sure, the hoisin sauce takes away some of the “healthy” properties of switching from bread to lettuce, but it’s required for that familiar flavor. If you prefer, you can replace it with honey!

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Far Eastern Chicken Lettuce Cups

These Asian-inspired lettuce cups feature hoisin-sweetened ground chicken, garlic, onions, and water chestnuts atop fresh lettuce cups with a spicy kick from sriracha.

  • Author: Norann Oleson
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4 to 6 1x
  • Category: Appetizers

Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 head of your favorite lettuce
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound ground chicken (or turkey)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/3 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, grated
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
  • 1 can (8 ounces) water chestnuts, diced
  • 2 green onions, sliced

Instructions

  1. Wash lettuce leaves and blot dry. Set aside.
  2. Heat olive oil in a wok or saucepan over medium-high heat.
  3. Add the ground chicken (or turkey) and cook until it’s fully browned. Break up the pieces as it cooks to make sure the meat cooks thoroughly.
  4. Drain excess fat from the pan and return to the heat.
  5. Add garlic, onion, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ginger, and Sriracha.
  6. Cook until onions are translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.
  7. Add water chestnuts and green onions; cook until tender, 1 to 2 minutes.
  8. Scoop several spoonfuls of the mixture into the center of a lettuce leaf. You can also wrap the cups, depending on the type of lettuce you’re using. Serve.

The next lettuce cup recipe features quick-pickled veggies that we all have abundant in our gardens. Fennel, shallots, and especially beets and radishes are always available to me at the end of the season, so I love to make this quick brine and buttermilk dressing for an easy vegetarian-friendly lunch option or appetizer.

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Pickled Veggie Lettuce Cups

Quick-pickled fennel, shallots, beets, and radishes take center stage in these lettuce cups, topped with a tart buttermilk yogurt dressing.

  • Author: Norann Oleson
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4 to 6 1x
  • Category: Appetizers

Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 head of your favorite lettuce
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
  • Small shallot, sliced thinly
  • Small fresh baby beet, sliced thinly
  • 2 radishes, sliced thinly (watermelon radishes are a great choice!)
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt (whole milk)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

For garnish:

  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 cup mint leaves, torn/chopped

Instructions

  1. Wash lettuce leaves and blot dry. Set aside.
  2. Combine apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, salt, and 1/2 cup water in a large bowl.
  3. Add the fennel, shallot, beet, and radishes to the bowl.
  4. Stir to fully cover the vegetables and let them sit in the mixture for 10 to 15 minutes, then drain them and set them aside.
  5. Whisk the buttermilk yogurt, and lemon juice in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper as desired.
  6. Put a spoonful of the dressing onto the center of a lettuce leaf. Top with some of the pickled veggies. Garnish with cilantro and mint.
  7. Serve any leftover dressing in a bowl.

Finally, for the absolute punch of flavor in your lettuce cup, make these Piquant Pork Pockets. The pork is simmered in garlic and chili paste to start, then you’ll be making the most incredibly sweet and savory sauce from limes, fish sauce, brown sugar, and chili. To cool it down I’m using a slaw of onion, mint, and cucumber tossed all together in a fresh crisp lettuce cup.

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Piquant Pork Pockets

Chili-spiced pork is tossed with a fresh sweet and savory brown-sugar marinated onion and cucumber slaw.

  • Author: Norann Oleson
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4 to 6 1x
  • Category: Appetizers

Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 head of your favorite lettuce
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 teaspoons hot chili paste
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 2 teaspoons lime zest
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped mint leaves
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and diced

Instructions

  1. Wash lettuce leaves and blot dry. Set aside.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a skillet or wok over medium-high heat.
  3. Add garlic and 2 teaspoons of the chili paste. Cook for about a minute, until the garlic has softened.
  4. Add the ground pork and cook, stirring, until the pork is cooked through, no more than 10 minutes.
  5. Set pork mixture aside on a plate to cool.
  6. Whisk together in a bowl the lime zest and juice, fish sauce, brown sugar, and the remaining oil and chili paste.
  7. Combine the onion, mint, cucumber, and dressing in a medium-sized bowl.
  8. Add pork mixture and toss to combine.
  9. Scoop portions of the mixture onto lettuce leaves and serve.

Have you tried any of these lettuce cup recipes? What’s your favorite way to make them? Lettuce know how they turned out for you.

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