Pretty. Easy. Thai-Style Lettuce Wraps

I’d like to dedicate this recipe to my youngest brother.

He’s on a mission to start cooking. I know so because he paused momentarily from inhaling his food at the Thai restaurant we were at the other day and told me. He’s seriously talented, has a great career, and is really good at throwing amazing parties (side note: if you ever meet him, definitely finagle an to invite one of his parties), but he hasn’t spent much time in the kitchen.

But the lack of cooking skills, well, it’s not his fault. We cook a lot in my family, but he somehow missed that boat. Likely because when he was younger, I had my own budding cooking ambitions and was too busy using him as my human guinea pig — forcing him to taste my latest macaroni-and-cheese or cheesecake concoction — to teach him to cook. So, now, when he says he wants to cook, I listen. We’re starting out with this recipe because this is precisely what he was stuffing in his face back at that Thai restaurant.

Ok, that’s not the only reason we’re starting with this recipe. It’s because lettuce wraps are easy and healthy yet aren’t another bland, boring recipe found in most beginner cookbooks. My thinking is to teach him what he already likes eating, so he’s way likely to make it again (like, when I’m not over his shoulder coaching him through his kitchen conquests).

Another bonus? This recipe takes well under 20 minutes to make, so kitchen newbies won’t be overwhelmed. And, this recipe is in itself a lesson, showing important cooking stuffs like why you don’t want to overcrowd your food (hint: the meat will steam instead of saute and be anemic looking). Also, these lettuce wraps are pretty healthy. True, it quickly becomes unhealthy if you add too much fish sauce and sugar but those ingredients are easy to keep in check.

One last word about these wraps: these are not those glazed, sweet, goopy things you find at PF Changs — these are a simplified, not-that-authentic twist on larb, a sort of meat salad (though that description doesn’t do it justice) found throughout Thailand and Laos. The result is a dish with bright flavors, made with ingredients you can find pretty much anywhere. (The fish sauce may be a curve ball in some parts but it’s worth the hunt). Turn to this anytime you’re in need of something easy and quick but want more of a meal than a box of cereal.

A big bonus is that you can easily fancify it for summer entertaining. All you have to do is serve it in bite-sized portions, because, honestly, mini portions make anything fancier. I use itty bitty lettuce pieces, fill them with a tablespoon or so of the meat and serve it as an easy finger food — perfect for summer entertaining (like, say, at one my brother’s fast-approaching pool parties).