Chicken lettuce wraps or larb gai are a great summer meal. Light, fresh, crunchy, and delicious. This is the kind of dish you crave when the mercury rises and heavy foods are out of the question. For those who are looking to curb the dreaded carbs, they are perfect.
What are Thai lettuce wraps?
This is a stir fry dish of ground chicken that brings bold fresh flavors of ginger, garlic, sweet, tangy and spicy chili! Many dishes I have tried from Southeast Asia have this wonderful combination of sweet, sour, bitter, salty and spicy. Drop this incredibly flavored ground chicken into a lettuce leaf and you have an amazing dish with great flavors and textures. You can also serve the chicken over rice. I have had parties and served just the chicken with the scoop type chips on the side. Everyone loved it!
I first tried Thai lettuce wraps years ago in NYC at a Thai restaurant with my cousin, a huge fan of Asian cuisine. My daughter Erika traveled through Thailand. She soaked in a tremendous amount of cultural experience, including a cooking class. She also sent me a really cool book on Thai cooking.
Typical Thai flavors:
In this recipe I'm using typical Thai ingredients. Tamarind paste and fish sauce or nam pla. If you can't find either, you can use lime juice and soy sauce respectively. I have substitutions listed below in detail. Although the tastes differ, you will achieve the sweet, sour and saltiness. Apart from Thai cuisine, tamarind paste is used in Indian and Jamaican cuisine and to make Worcestershire sauce.
The origins of lettuce wraps are thought to be Chinese. Today, they're found throughout Southeast Asia. They are very popular in Thailand. There is a small restaurant in my city that makes a mean lettuce wrap. I like to sprinkle mine with chopped cilantro and shredded carrots for taste and color. Food should be pretty, remember?
Erika has raved about the food, people, and stunning beauty of Thailand. She has told me that the street food of Thailand is amazing with each vendor offering delicious grilled meats, fruits, soups and other tasty eats. Best of all, it is unbelievably cheap.
- I prefer bib or small hearts of Romaine, iceberg tends to crack and I end up with a lap full of fillings.
- Use soy sauce in place of fish sauce.
- Replace the chicken with tempeh or tofu to make it vegetarian.
- Tamarind paste has a sweet and sour taste that is slightly more sour. You can make a mixture of lime juice with some brown sugar. Equal parts of each typically works well.
Step by step photos to make spicy Thai lettuce wraps:
- Step 1: Gather all your ingredients: bib lettuce, ground chicken, vegetable oil, diced onion, minced garlic, black pepper, ground ginger, brown sugar, tamarind paste, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, chili garlic sauce and sesame oil.
- Step 2: Heat the vegetable oil on medium, add the onions and garlic. Cook until translucent.
- Step 3: Add the ground chicken and break it into small pieces while it cooks.
- Step 4: In a small bowl mix the black pepper, ground ginger and brown sugar then mix into the chicken.
- Step 5: Mix the tamarind paste, fish sauce, chili garlic sauce and rice vinegar then mix in.
- Step 6: When the chicken is fully cooked add the sesame oil and mix well. Serve on lettuce leaves, garnish with cilantro and shredded carrots. Enjoy!
Frequently asked questions:
Once it has completely cooled you can store it in an airtight container for 3-4 days.
Yes, wrap it tightly in a freezer bag after it has cooled. You can freeze it for 2-3 months when properly stored. Be sure the expel the air from the freezer bag to help prevent freezer burn.
Reheat the chicken in the microwave for 2-3 minutes and stop to stir every 30-45 seconds until hot. Once reheated do not cool and store again in the refrigerator, consume it right away. So only reheat the amount you will consume.
Dishes from South East Asia to try:
- Thai style chicken pot stickers
- Thai stye pork loin with peanut sauce
- Thai red curry chicken
- Thai coconut chicken soup
- Thai beef salad with peanut lime dressing
- Bun Cha - Vietnamese pork meatballs with sauce and noodles
- Vietnamese Beef Stew (bò sốt vang)
- Vietnamese tomato fish (cá sốt cà chua)
- Vietnamese coconut braised pork (Thit Kho Tau)
Thai Lettuce Wraps - Larb Gai Recipe
Super simple to make Thai lettuce wraps. In this recipe I am using a couple of ingredients that are typical of Thai cuisine: tamarind paste and fish sauce or nam pla. If you can’t find either, you can use lime juice and soy sauce respectively. Although the tastes differ, you will achieve the sourness and saltiness tamarind paste and fish sauce offer.
- 1 head Bib lettuce
- 1 lb ground chicken
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 onion diced
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- ¼ tsp pepper
- 2 tsp ginger fresh ground
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp tamarind paste See notes
- 2 Tbsp fish sauce See notes
- 2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 2 Tbsp chili garlic sauce
- 2 tsp sesame oil
Chopped cilantro and diced carrot for garnish
- In a non stick skillet on medium, heat the oil, add onions, garlic and cook until translucent. Add the ground chicken and stir breaking it apart.
- In a small bowl mix together, pepper, ginger, and brown sugar. Add to the chicken. Mix well
- Mix tamarind paste with fish sauce, chili garlic sauce, and rice vinegar. Add to the chicken mixture.
- Mix well until fully cooked. Add the sesame oil, and stir to combine.
- Serve on lettuce leaves. Garnish with cilantro and shredded carrots.
- You can use ground beef instead of ground chicken if you prefer beef.
- Tamarind paste can be substituted with equal parts of lime juice and brown sugar. In this case use ½ Tbsp brown sugar and ½ Tbsp lime juice.
- Soy sauce can be substituted for fish sauce.
Frequently asked questions:
- How long can I store the chicken filling in the refrigerator? Once it has completely cooled you can store it in an airtight container for 3-4 days.
- Can I freeze the cooked chicken filling? Yes, wrap it tightly in a freezer bag after it has cooled. You can freeze it for 2-3 months when properly stored. Be sure the expel the air from the freezer bag to help prevent freezer burn.
- How do I reheat the chicken? Reheat the chicken in the microwave for 2-3 minutes and stop to stir every 30-45 seconds until hot. Once reheated do not cool and store again in the refrigerator, consume it right away. So only reheat the amount you will consume.
Originally published July 2015 and updated March 2019.
Yum this looks good! Thailand is definitely on my bucket list but I can start with the food at home 🙂
Thanks Valerie! My daughter loves Thailand and its food.
Love Thai food. I want to start making more at home. Thanks for sharing your recipe with us at Merry Monday!
You're welcome Sherry!
Love this idea of using lettuce leaves as bowls. Would be great for summer party finger food
Yes it would. It is so light and refreshing.
These lettuce wraps look wonderful! Thanks for linking up at the Bloggers Brags party, I pinned your post to our group board.
Thanks! they make a great summer dish.
I've had lettuce wraps in restaurants and loved them, but haven't tried them at home. Thanks for reminding me that a homemade version is always welcome. Can't wait to try these.
Hi Laura! Yes, lettuce wraps are so easy. I think you will love them. Let me know how they turn out.
Have a great weekend.
Going on my meal plan asap Analida! Love the flavors here! And I love hearing the history behind foods when I read your post!
Thanks Kristen. I really enjoy researching the food history, it helps to establish a deeper connection. Have a great day.
Beth (OMG! Yummy)
Another fun dish Analida - Love the flavors in this. And it's worth getting the real ingredients - the nuanced flavors are wonderful.
Thank You Beth, yes I agree with you that the nuanced flavors are wonderful. 🙂
Southeast Asia is rich in cultural heritage, and that also reflects in the variety of food they prepare very well.
You are so right Linda. The variety in their food is so amazing. I am now trying to learn more about Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. Soon I will delve into the foods of Myanmar, an then Cambodian. Thank you for your 5 star rating.
Gloria | Homemade & Yummy
We are Thai food lovers. Love this healthy and delicious recipe. Perfect for entertaining with. I know the guests would LOVE it.
Carrie | Clean Eating Kitchen
These are perfect now the weather is warming up, and I will never turn down anything with all those Thai flavors! I look forward to trying these!
I want to make more Thai food at home, and this recipe is a perfect start for me!
Yum! Lettuce wraps are so good, and I love all of the seasonings you have used in these!
Dominique | Perchance to Cook
Yum! These lettuce wraps look so fresh and tasty! Fresh ginger makes everything better :). My husband has been into lettuce wraps lately, and I am adding this to my recipe to-try list!
My family LOVES lettuce wraps! Pretty much anything you can wrap in lettuce, we will! 😉 I'm loving all the light and fun flavors you include -- so yummy for summer!!
Thai food is my fave! When I think lettuce wraps I always think Chinese, but Thai is much more fun. Thanks!
Sounds like your daughter had an amazing trip -- and how great that she shared some of her cooking knowledge with you! These thai lettuce wraps sound delicious.
I love lettuce cups! Thank you for giving me a recipe to make at home!
I love lettuce wraps and I'm always looking for new and different variations!! This one sounds amazing! I especially love that you used fish sauce and chili garlic sauce!! Can't wait to try this version!
What an awesome experience that your daughter was able to have in Thailand. I would love to go there someday and try their street food firsthand! But in the meantime, these lettuce wraps sound delish! Thanks for sharing the recipe!
She had a great time sampling foods and taking in some cooking classes.
I am going to write this recipe on one of my cardboard recipe cards so that I can quickly access this recipe again and again. I had never had lettuce wraps before, but I investigated several recipes on the internet and decided to try this one. This particular recipe is fantastic. I did garnish it with fresh basil and fresh cilantro.
Thanks Barbara! This recipe is one of my family's favorites too!