Thai-Style Lettuce Cups
by Adam Pechal, Chef, Tuli Bistro, Sacramento, California
This is a light but very flavorful dish that could be served either as an appetizer or an entrée. It’s also low in fat and gluten-free.
- Poaching Liquid
- 2 stalks lemongrass, cut into 3-inch lengths and smashed
- 1 piece ginger, cut into ¼-inch coins and smashed
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- 4 quarts water
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons salt
- Nuoc Cham Vinaigrette
- ¼ cup fish sauce
- ¼ cup lime juice
- ¼ cup warm water
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 4 to 8 Thai chilies, sliced into thin rings (use more or less to taste)
- Olive oil
- 1 head lettuce (many varieties will work; use your favorite)
- 1 cup bean sprouts
- 1 cup green papaya, peeled and shredded*
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 bunch Thai basil, leaves torn
- 1 bunch cilantro, whole leaves
- 1 bunch mint leaves
*Green papaya is an immature variety of papaya with an inedible lime-green skin and a pale green flesh. Look for it at Asian markets.
In a pot, combine the lemongrass, ginger, garlic, water, fish sauce, and salt and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes to create a court bouillon (poaching liquid).
Meanwhile, prepare the Nuoc Cham Vinaigrette: Dissolve the sugar in the warm water, then combine with the remaining ingredients and reserve.
Strain the poaching liquid and return to a simmer. Add the chicken breasts and simmer for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the chicken is fully cooked. Remove the chicken and let cool. Once the chicken is cool, shred it using your fingers and/or a fork, or cut into cubes or strips if you prefer. (I find that shredding the chicken creates the best texture for this dish.)
Combine the chicken with the green papaya and dress with the vinaigrette (all of it won't be needed), then refrigerate until ready to serve.
Remove the leaves from the head of lettuce to form usable cups.
To serve, either combine all of the ingredients and build the lettuce cups, or serve Thai-style, creating an arranged platter with all of the garnishes so diners can build their own. Either way, serve with the remaining vinaigrette on the side.