Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps

Hello Readers and wish you a very Happy New Year! This must be the only blog that slumped down before it ever took off.. And I have yours truly to blame for that. I was travelling extensively the past two months and blogging took a backseat. But I am back with good intentions and greater resolutions to not go on a hiatus anytime soon.

Lettuce wraps have always seemed magical to me. I first came across them at PF Changs where they seemed something exotic at first glance. They are a dieters' delight, promising to satisfy almost any criteria like low carb, meat only, vegetarian, salad centric etc etc. The restaurant rarely served a veggie version, although lately both Changs and the local Peking deigned to provide us a meat free one. So maybe its based on their mood, or they are thinking 'healthy', or they just pull straws to decide what to do. Either ways, I decided the time had finally come to take the mystery out of it and finally try this seemingly simple but scrumptious dish at home.

When you think Chinese ( at least Indo chinese), you automatically think of certain vegetables like cabbage, carrots, french beans, capsicum etc. But this was a day when I was running short on fresh veggies, and there was also a big half-used bag of Asian stir fry in the freezer that I had to use soon. That gave rise to an idea and also the base of my vegetarian filling. The sauce, we decided should be inspired by Chang's. If you have ever been to this place, they have a trademark method where the server comes and creates the signature sauce for you. Basically, they just have mustard, vinegar and chilli oil on the table and explain how mixing these in varying proportions will either burn your tongue or clear your sinuses ;). The filling in the restaurant is very dry and smoky and you have to add the sauce on top. I wanted to shorten the journey from plate to mouth and reduce the steps in between, so I decided to make a jumbo superset of a filling.
I slightly thawed the stir fry veggies and put them in the food processor. A few pulses and it yielded 3-4 cups of very finely chopped veggies. I used TVP or Nutrela to add some protein component. I actually used Nutrela granules but you can also use any TVP you get in the bulk bins, I suppose. Crumbled tofu would also be a good option here. I just used what I had on hand.

So we start with a tbsp of optional oil - optional as you will not taste this at all, and not using it will make no difference. Add about 2 tbsp of chopped garlic and crushed red pepper flakes to this oil. Once that changes colour a bit, add the chopped veggie mixture and the soy granules ( soaked in hot water for a few minutes till they soften) and fry for a few minutes. Keep frying till the veggies are half cooked. Now this is a point where you can decide how far you want to go according to your personal taste. Since I was using frozen veggies, they were soft anyway, but if you are using fresh crunchy ones, you can just saute them for a few minutes on high heat and keep them crunchy. I also added a few chopped scallions to the veggies.

The sauce - I think the sauce is important in this dish and makes this dish very versatile. You can vary the taste every time by changing the sauce. I mixed some dijon mustard, some sriracha hot sauce, some ketchup and some soy sauce, and as weird as it may sound, this gave a really lip smacking taste to the whole thing. The ketchup added a hint of tomato and some sweetness. I also added some fresh lime juice. The crunch came from toasted peanuts, toasted sesame seeds and chooped scallions that I liberally garnsihed the dish with.

Now lets talk about the wrap aspect of this dish. I think iceberg lettuce is the best for this, but you may try other kinds if you want. They key is to freeze the lettuce leaves a bit so that they are cold and crispy. Also, the veggie mixture should be really hot and steaming. I am sure we all know how to proceed next, but in case of doubts, let me explain. You peel away one or two layers from the iceberg and make a sort of shallow dish of it on your palm. Then you spoon the steaming mixture in it and add any hot sauce etc. you want. Then close the two ends like a soft taco or wrap and Dig In !!

You can now proceed to gorge on this spicy treat w/o any guilt whatsoever ! I hope you try this simple dish and enjoy it at home. It's a crowd pleaser too, and needs about the same effort whether you make it for 4 people or 8. The recipe is as follows. Photos are coming soon, as soon as I get rid of some upload error I am getting.


  • 4 cups finely chopped vegetables

  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions or green onions ( both white and green part)

  • 2 tblsp chopped garlic fresh

  • Iceberg lettuce - 1 head or as needed

  • 1 cup soaked TVP or Nutrela granules

  • Crushed red pepper


  • Dijon or chinese mustard - 1 tbsp or to taste

  • Soy sauce - 1 tbsp

  • Hot sauce - 1 tsp acc to taste

  • Vinegar - 1 tsp


  • Toasted peanuts - 2-3 tbsp

  • Toasted sesame seeds - 2-3 tbsp

  • Scallions

  • Chopped cilantro

  • Lime or lemon wedges


  1. Pulse Veggies in the food processor. You may also chop them finely by hand if desired.

  2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in the wok and add chopped garlic and crushed red pepper. Saute for half a minute and add all the vegetables. Saute till vegetables soften slightly.

  3. Add the TVP/soya granules. Saute some more and add all the sauce ingredients. Mix it well till it is heated through.

  4. Garnish with peanuts, sesame, scallions etc.

Serve piping hot with chilled lettuce leaves.