This recipe takes inspiration from two beloved cuisines: Thai and Mexican. The dish is a loose interpretation of the northern Isan dish: larb gai, which boasts an addictive combination of saltiness, heat, acidity, and herby freshness.
Traditionally, larb is eaten along with a side of steamed sticky rice, but it's substituted here with crunchy little gem lettuce, a small variety of romaine, to incorporate more vegetables and bring even more freshness to the dish. Larb gai is also traditionally made with chicken; however, here it is substituted with ground turkey, which has more protein and is easy to find at the supermarket.
For the sauce, a roughly chopped salsa fresca with mango complements the flavors of this dish and brings some sweetness and crunch. In keeping with the Thai theme, Thai bird's eye chile is used instead of jalapeños or serranos, but the recipe is flexible depending on what you have on hand.
This recipe is healthy and full of a complementary range of flavors and textures. It is a fun weeknight dinner to break out and serve alongside some Thai green papaya salad or double up on the mango salsa and enjoy some chips as an appetizer.
- For the Salsa:
- 1 mango (peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes)
- 1/2 shallot (diced)
- 1/2 red bell pepper (stemmed, deseeded, and diced)
- 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro (roughly chopped)
- 1/2 lime (juiced)
- 1/2 Thai bird's eye chile (finely diced with seeds)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- For the Wraps:
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 2 pounds ground turkey
- 1 shallot (thinly sliced; or 5 Southeast Asian shallots the size of grapes)
- 1 to 3 Thai bird's eye chile (finely chopped, to taste; divided)
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce (divided)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 limes (juiced, divided)
- 1 green onion (white and green parts chopped)
- 1/2 bunch cilantro leaves (roughly chopped)
- 6 sprigs mint leaves (roughly chopped)
- 3 heads little gem lettuce
Note: While there are multiple steps to these lettuce cups, this recipe is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation and cooking.
Make the Salsa
Gather the ingredients.
Mix all the salsa ingredients together. Taste and adjust as necessary. Once you are happy with the results, cover and refrigerate until serving, allowing enough time for the flavors to meld.
Make the Turkey Filling and Assemble
Gather the ingredients.
In a wide pot or sauté pan, heat canola oil on medium-high heat. Add the ground turkey, breaking up any large clumps. After it’s cooked, drain excess liquid.
Add the shallot, half of the chile, half of the fish sauce, and all of the sugar. Mix so everything is evenly cooked and evenly distributed. The shallot should wilt, and its layers should separate.
Turn off the heat. Add half the lime juice, all of the green onion, cilantro, and mint. Stir to mix. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary, adding more fish sauce if you want the dish saltier/savorier, lime juice if you want it tangier, etc. It should taste spicy, salty, sour, and fresh.
Once you are happy with the taste, spoon some larb on a piece of lettuce leaf and top with mango salsa. Alternatively, serve separately for more of a DIY night so everyone at the table can make their own lettuce wraps.
- The shallot can be substituted with red onion, keeping in mind that red onion is about twice the size of a shallot.
- Any cooking oil with a high smoke point will work.
- The ground turkey can be substituted with any ground protein, including drained and pressed tofu.
- Fresh Thai bird's eye chile can be substituted with chile flakes or chili powder.
What Kind of Lettuce Is Used for Lettuce Wraps?
A sturdy, crisp lettuce with tortilla-sized, cup-shaped leaves is best for lettuce wraps and lettuce cups. Little gem lettuce (a smaller type of romaine) used in this recipe works well, as does butter lettuce. Iceberg lettuce will also work but has less flavor and nutritional value than other varieties.
Do Lettuce Wraps Have Carbs?
The amount of carbs in a lettuce wrap will depend upon the exact ingredients. Overall, lettuce wraps are low in carbs since the typical bread or tortilla are replaced with lettuce. This makes most lettuce wraps a nice addition to a high-protein, low-carb diet.