Fake Fancy Dinner: Asian Pork Lettuce Wraps
Cooking dinner feels stupid.
Don't misunderstand; it's important and sometimes even fun. But most days, it's exhausting. Whether you're at the end of a long day of work or at the end of your rope with Afternoon Children, it can chip away at your soul. And while Pasta Monday is one of my favorite mental hacks, sometimes a Wednesday feels like a Monday, and please don't make me eat spaghetti again.
When you need something quick but also need to feel like an adult person who eats green things, you will fall in love with Asian Pork Lettuce Wraps.
You brown some ground pork, sauté some mushrooms, stir in a three-ingredient sauce, and serve it with big plates of lettuce leaves and white rice. The combination of filling, rice, and lettuce is like the perfect television ensemble cast; you need to balance Michael's complexity (filling) with Pam's unassuming plainness (rice) and Jim's brightness (lettuce). They're never as good apart as they are together.
Bonus lazy genius tip? The filling freezes like a dream, so make a double batch and save the other half for later.
Asian Pork Lettuce Wraps
This feeds our family of four with a solid serving of leftovers.
- 1 regular package of ground pork (about a pound, and you can use beef, turkey, or chicken, too)
- 1 regular package of mushrooms (choose whatever variety you like, and feel free to save a step and buy them already sliced or chopped since you'll have to eventually)
- soy sauce
- sugar or mirin (an Asian sweetener that's delicious)
- white rice (brown is fine but doesn't balance the flavors the same way, and I cook about 2-3 cups for this meal)
- big lettuce leaves
OPTIONAL BUT AWESOME INGREDIENTS
- fresh garlic and/or ginger
- sesame oil
- sambal, Chinese hot mustard, or some kind of heat
- green onions/scallions
HERE'S WHAT YOU DO
- Cook the pork. Heat a big skillet over medium-high heat, add a swirl of flavorless oil like vegetable or canola, dump in the pork, sprinkle over a couple pinches of salt and some black pepper, and brown the pork. Well, cook the pork. Pork doesn't always brown the way beef does, so if it's pale gray, you didn't mess it up. Just make sure it's not pink and you're good. Once it's cooked, dump the meat on a plate covered with a couple of paper towels to drain the fat, but leave the hot pan as is.
- Cook the mushrooms. Add the chopped mushrooms to the pan. You might need a little extra oil; mushrooms are sponges and soak up everything within a five mile radius. Don't salt them yet; they brown better if you wait. If the mushrooms start popping and freak you out, just turn down the heat a little. And did you see Julie & Julia? Remember when Julie said she'd been cooking mushrooms wrong her entire life? She had been. Don't crowd the pan. If you have to, you're not going to mushroom jail. They simply won't get any brown edges which is where flavor hangs out. Do what makes you the most sane, but if you can manage to keep the mushrooms from touching as they cook, it's worth it. Once they're done, add a little salt, and dump in the cooked pork.
- Stir in a sauce. Now we need to bring it all together, and the sauce is how you do that. If you're afraid of making things up, then do this: 2 tbsp soy sauce, 2 tbsp water, a dash of sugar or mirin, and a tsp or so of cornstarch to make the sauce thick. If you have them, add a drop or two of sesame oil or freshly chopped ginger and/or garlic. If you like experimenting, there are no rules with this; Asian products are magical that way. You could use a bottled teriyaki or your favorite Asian marinade, or make your own with whatever ingredients you have around. The goal is to hit the salty, sweet, hot, and fresh flavors if you can. And you must stir in cornstarch to thicken the sauce as it cooks, or else everything will be too liquidy to scoop into wraps. Stir the sauce into the mushroom meat mix, and let the sauce bubble. Cornstarch is its thickest at the boiling point, so once you see bubbles, it's as thick as it'll get.
- Serve it up. I individually pile the filling, rice, and lettuce on big plates and put them in the middle of the table. My husband likes to put sambal on his wraps, and if I have fresh green onion or cilantro around, those are on the table, too. Again, you can't go wrong with too much or too little in terms of flavors. It's delicious all the ways. How do you assemble them? Put some rice into a lettuce leaf, filling next, and then any extra flavors you like. Everything stays together the best in that order.
- Leftovers? Put any extra filling in a freezer bag, and you're set for the next dinner. I often just microwave it if I don't want to dirty a pan, and all I have to do for dinner is cook rice. Full disclosure, my kids absolutely do not put theirs in lettuce leaves. Apparently green things are evil. But they make a bowl of rice and filling, and I believe one day they'll get on board with the wrap.
As always, I just gave you a lot of words, and as always, that's not because this is complicated. It is NOT. I simply want you to feel like I'm in your kitchen with you, helping you troubleshoot as you make something new. Even the simplest recipes can be intimidating when they're new, so take heart. You can 100% do this.