Leaf Wrappers Rejuvenate and Refresh

Leaf Wrappers Rejuvenate and Refresh

By Tim Hazell

Lettuce, scientifically known as Lactuca Sativa, has been harvested for millennia, depicted by ancient Egyptians on the walls of their tombs dating back to 2,700 BC. The earliest versions resembled two modern greens, Romaine and Cos lettuce, believed to have been found on the island of Kos, along the coast of modern-day Turkey. Greeks and Romans cultivated the plant as well, using it in the Roman salad Oxyporum.

Modern health benefits include lowering cholesterol levels, protecting neurons, moderating sleep, controlling anxiety, and reducing inflammation.

Lettuce and other leaf wrappers for preparing fish, seafood, and meats are common in Vietnamese cooking, greatly admired for its fresh ingredients, complementary textures, and reliance on herbs and vegetables. Many Vietnamese dishes include five fundamental taste senses: spicy, sour, bitter (aligned with fire), salty (water), and sweet (earth).

Bamboo leaves serve as the wrappers for Zongzi, a traditional Chinese glutinous rice dish stuffed with different fillings. Steamed or boiled, they are familiar to Westerners as sticky rice dumplings.

Asian countries apply principles of yin and yang when composing meals. Contrasting textures and flavors are important, but greater emphasis is placed upon the “heating” and “cooling” properties of ingredients. Certain dishes are presented only in their respective seasons to fully integrate mind and body with the environment.

Oriental vegetable preparations are vibrant and flavorful, with liberal uses of garlic, shallots, and fresh herbs. Leaf wraps occupy a category by themselves and are renowned for their rejuvenating properties. Romaine lettuce gives this dish an exhilarating crunch! There are countless variations for the fillings, including vegetarian.

Asian Lettuce Wraps:


16 leaves Romaine lettuce

2 tbsp. oil for frying


1-1/2 pounds pork, chicken, or turkey, chopped or ground

8 oz. jicama or canned water chestnuts, finely chopped

1 cup diced mushroom caps

1/2 cup minced onion

1/3 cup chopped green onion

1 tbsp. Kikkoman soy sauce

1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger

2 tsp. brown sugar


1/4 cup stock

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar (mirin)

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp. ketchup

1 tbsp. Kikkoman soy sauce

2 tsp. sesame oil

2 tsp. brown sugar

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp. dry mustard

Finishing touch:

2 tbsp. chopped fresh coriander

2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil

2 tbsp. chopped green onions


In a bowl, combine meat, jicama/water chestnuts, mushrooms, onion, green onion, soy sauce, ginger and brown sugar. Cover and refrigerate until ready for use. For glaze: whisk together stock, rice wine vinegar, garlic, ketchup, soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, and dry mustard until well mixed. Heat oil in a heavy nonstick skillet over high heat. Add chopped or ground meat and toss until no longer pink, about three minutes. Pour in half of the glaze mixture. Cook, stirring over medium flame, until meat begins to caramelize–about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, stir in remaining glaze and cook until heated through and slightly reduced, about 5 minutes more. Fold in coriander, basil, and green onion. Transfer filling to a bowl and serve in lettuce leaf wrappers.