With beautifully seasoned ground pork and mushrooms nestled in crunchy lettuce leaves, these Sichuan-style lettuce wraps can be made in less than 15 minutes. It’s also low-carb, gluten-free and vegan adaptable.
Sichuan-Style Lettuce Wraps
Lettuce wraps, known as San Choy Bow/生菜包 (or Sheng Cai Bao) in Chinese, are super delicious, fun to eat, and healthy to boot! It is a simple dish made of minced meat and veggies tossed in various Asian seasonings served with fresh lettuce leaves. With its worldwide popularity, there are quite a few variations of this dish out there.
This homemade Sichuan style lettuce wrap recipe will get you totally hooked with its unique flavours. Unlike the standard versions in any Chinese menu, I made it with a delicious twist. Sichuan chili bean paste and Sichuan pepper give the dish an amazingly savoury taste that is distinctive of Sichuan cuisine: spicy, numbing and full of umami flavour.
Making a quick trip to your local market or Chinese/Asian store to grab these ingredients will be well worth your while!
For the pork filling
- Minced pork – the classic protein source for this recipe. Stir-fried ground pork with spices often appears in Sichuan dishes. The classic examples include Dan Dan Noodles, Garlic Sauce Eggplant, etc.
- Shiitake mushrooms – Use dried ones as they provide a more intense flavour than fresh ones. Soak them in water beforehand to rehydrate. Other types of fresh mushrooms, eg. king oyster mushrooms, can be used as substitutes.
- Celery – An addition of crunchy texture. You may replace it with water chestnuts, bell pepper, baby corn, etc.
- Sichuan chili bean paste, aka Doubanjiang/豆瓣酱 – A fermented mixture of broad beans and chili pepper. It’s a staple seasoning in Sichuan cuisine which adds tons of umami flavours and an aromatic spiciness to dishes like Mapo Tofu, Twice-Cooked Pork, Sichuan Boiled Fish, etc.
- Sichuan pepper (Hua Jiao/花椒) – A unique Chinese spice that gives you a tongue-tingling sensation. You can use shop-bought powder but for a more intense flavour, it’s best to use freshly ground Sichuan pepper.
- Garlic, ginger and scallions– Quintessential elements to any Chinese stir-fry dish.
- Fresh chili– Choose from mild to scorching hot. It is up to you.
- Cooking oil – Use a neutral-tasting oil with a high smoke point like sunflower, peanut, corn, soybean, canola, or rapeseed oil.
Which lettuce to use
Many lettuce varieties work for this lettuce wrap recipe. As you can see in the image above, I used two types: little gem lettuce which has small, crispy leaves and butter lettuce (aka bibb lettuce) which has a softer texture.
Romaine or Batavia lettuce are also great options if you prefer large cupped leaves. I find iceberg lettuce too crispy for this purpose as it breaks easily when separating the leaves.
Substitutions & Dietary Variations:
- If you cannot find chili bean paste (Doubanjiang), do not fret! You can use my homemade recipes for Pickled Chili Garlic Sauce or Spicy Black Bean Sauce as substitutes. Or, other chili sauces of your choice.
- Keep it kid-friendly by reducing or omitting the chilies used in this recipe. You can always serve it with a side of hot sauce, e.g. Chinese Chili Oil, for those who prefer their wraps with a spicy kick in them.
- For a low-carb diet, swap the pork with ground chicken or turkey breast.
- To make it vegetarian/vegan friendly, use crumbled tofu instead to make it meatless! Or, any mock meat brands that you like.
- For a gluten-free diet, you’ll need to replace chili bean paste, which contains gluten, with alternatives mentioned above. Or, use a mixture of Sriracha and tamari.
How to make it
Wash the Lettuce Leaves
Separate the leaves from the stem and submerge them in a bowl of water for a few minutes to loosen any dirt attached. Then rinse them under running water to get rid of any clinging dirt.
Place them in a colander to drain then pat dry with paper towels. A salad spinner works more efficiently but it can sometimes crease soft leaves.
🛎TIP: If your lettuce leaves have wilted, place them in iced water for a few minutes to revive their freshness and crispiness! Pat them dry before serving.
Cook the Pork Filling
Start by heating your wok or frying pan/skillet over high heat. Once it’s heated, pour in the oil (N.B. If using non-stick cookware, pour in oil before turning on the heat). Add garlic, ginger, and Sichuan chili bean paste. Allow them to sizzle for a few seconds to bring out their flavours and aroma.
Add the minced pork. Loosen it using a spatula and stir fry until it loses its pinkness.
Mix in the chopped shiitake mushroom and celery and stir for 1-2 minutes. The celery should be slightly wilted on the edges but still crunchy.
Sprinkle the chopped scallions, fresh chili, and ground Sichuan pepper. Combine everything quickly together, then remove from the heat and transfer to a serving bowl.
🛎 TIP: Make sure that all your ingredients are prepared and are within arm’s length before you start stir-frying. You will not have time to chop or wash any of them once you start, or you will risk burning the ingredients already in the wok/pan.
Two Ways to Serve
You can serve the stir-fried filling in a bowl with the lettuce leaves on the side. This is perfect for a family meal set up where everyone gets to assemble their own lettuce wraps to their liking taco-style.
Alternatively, serve this dish with the filling already nestled in the lettuce leaves. This is ideal if you plan to serve it as a party appetizer to make sure that you control the serving size.
You can cook the meat filling ahead of time and store them in a tightly lidded container for up to 3 days. Simply reheat it in the microwave for a few minutes until warmed through. Or, use your stovetop and reheat over medium heat.
In case you have leftover wraps where pork mixture is already in the lettuce, it is best to separate them before storage. It’s always best to use fresh lettuce for this recipe.
Other Meat & Veggie Dishes
There are many other ways to combine meat and vegetables into delicious dishes. Here are a few examples on my blog:
Lettuce Wraps, Sichuan-style (生菜包)
BEFORE YOU START
- 1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon Sichuan chili bean paste (aka Doubanjiang)
- 250 g minced pork/chicken, or crumbled firm tofu, about 9oz
- 60 g rehydrated shiitake mushroom, finely diced, about ½ cup
- 100 g celery, finely diced, about ¾ cup
- 1 stalk scallions, finely chopped
- Fresh chili, finely chopped, to taste
- ¼ teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper
- 20 small lettuce leaves, e.g. little gem lettuce, butter lettuce (bibb lettuce)
- Heat up oil in a wok/pan. Stir in garlic, ginger and Sichuan chili bean paste. Sizzle for 10 seconds or so.
- Add minced pork. Use a spatula to loosen and fry it until it loses its pinkness.
- Put in shiitake mushroom and celery. Stir-fry until they’re cooked but the celery remains crunchy.
- Throw in scallions, fresh chili and sprinkle ground Sichuan pepper. Give everything a quick stir then transfer to a serving bowl/plate.
- Serve with lettuce leaves. You may either have the lettuce on the side (let the diners assemble) or fill each leaf with the stir-fry then serve.