Healthy vegan lettuce wraps filled with ‘meaty’ bulgur, mushrooms, water chestnuts, and scallions with PF Chang-inspired flavors. Could it be better? Yes – meet our quick firecracker dipping sauce.
It’s been decades since I found myself in PF Chang's, surrounded by a big plate of lettuce leaves. Since that time, I’ve been on a mission to recreate those yummy lettuce wraps with all the flavor, but entirely plant-based and oil-free. Finally, by George, I think I’ve got it!
You need 10 ingredients for lettuce wraps, including the lettuce (we’ll talk about that later). Then we’ll get to that firecracker of a sauce.
I bucket the process into 4. Nothing complicated, but being a sequential thinker, it keeps my muddled mind clearer to compartmentalize. Here’s what you’ll need:
1. Garlic – 3 cloves is my preference, but that really depends on your love of garlic. That’s about 1 tablespoon minced or pressed.
2. Ginger – peel about 1 inch of fresh garlic and then mince it. That will give you about 1 inch of a tablespoon.
I hear you asking, ‘why is ginger measured in inches?’
Am I the only person who finds measuring fresh ginger inconvenient? Inches, centimeters, knob, thumb. Ginger itself isn't straight. It’s bendy, and well, knobby. Measuring it isn't straightforward.
Although you often buy ginger in ounces or grams, most recipes will refer to the length measurements or (hopefully) grated or minced tea-or-tablespoons. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a recipe that requires grabbing the kitchen scale.
As explained to me, because ginger is a long root with a uniform thickness, it is traditional to use length as the culinary measure. I don’t know if ‘they’ have shopped in some of the same markets as I have, but the length measurement makes an easy enough guide.
The standard conversion is that 1 inch of ginger, grated or minced, is about one tablespoon. On a more practical point, make a first guess at the 1 inch part, then peel it, mince it, and then measure out that it's a tablespoon.
A little bit more or less will be fine. Especially if you are using a hoisin sauce that already contains ginger. My recipe doesn’t.
3. Dried porcini mushrooms. I used ¼ of a cup diced. Porcini (pour-CHEE-nee) are deep and earthy and pare well with bulgur if you are going for a ‘meaty’ themed dish.
Porcini mushrooms are usually sliced before they are dried. This makes them convenient to dice. Cut them small so that they can rehydrate right along with the bulgur.
If you can’t find porcini mushrooms, Shiitake mushrooms are another suitable option.
If you want to use fresh mushrooms, use 3 button mushrooms (about ½ a cup) and dice them small. Add them with the ginger and garlic and cook them for a minute or two so they release their moisture.
4. Bulgur – 1 cup of dry bulgur will make more filling than you think. Enough for 8 wraps and maybe more.
I know, I can’t stop talking about bulgur. It’s my favorite substitute for mince. I love it more than the pre-packaged, full of additives vegan stuff. And although red lentils are great for curry and dals, they get mushy in a recipe like this.
Bulgur takes on the other flavors and does a marvelous job of holding all the ingredients together. That makes it easy to spoon into lettuce leaves, get them in your hands, and ultimately, to your mouth. I won’t promise they are mess-free, but you'll get more into your mouth than on the plate.
I’ve used cauliflower 'meat' for lettuce wraps. If you like that, it's an appropriate substitute, although it may not hold together as well.
That's why bulgur stands as my first choice. Besides, it takes 15 minutes to cook, and the prep is just pouring it from the bag.
5. Vegetable broth or water. Yes, I am including the darned veggie broth! It’s an ingredient, and for goodness sake, you need liquid to get that bulgur cooked. Because you are adding the sauce, scallions, and water chesnuts after cooking the bulgur, stick to the ratio of 1 cup to 2 cups of liquid.
There is a lot of flavor going on with the wraps. For this reason, the decision to use broth or water is up to you. All the liquid will absorb once the bulgur is cooked.
6. Once the bulgur is done, the mushrooms that have simmered along with it will be rejuvenated. And now, sauce time!
I should have suspected I was on a bit of a mission with the wraps. It started with homemade date paste. That lead to hoisin sauce, and well, why deny it? I was thinking lettuce wraps all along. I’ll admit that.
The mixture of hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and rice vinegar is added to the pot once the bulgur is cooked. Then, it’s just a matter of folding (mixing) in the water chestnuts and sliced scallions.
As noted above, I relied on my homemade hoisin sauce. It’s my preference because I know exactly what’s in it and what’s not – that would be oil and fish sauce. Both are used in some off-the-shelf brands, so check the labels if you are buying it. That keeps you in plant-based compliance. Bend any rule you like, but we rock and roll plant-based in this kitchen.
There are 3-ingredients in the simmering sauce. Combine hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. I added 2 tablespoons of soy sauce because I used the full force stuff. It has a lot of salt.
Mix the sauce before you add it to the filling. This allows you to taste it and adjust if necessary.
7. Water chestnuts. Despite the name, they are not nuts. They are aquatic, Chinese vegetables. They have an unusual, mild flavor that is slightly sweet. They are also reliably crunchy no matter how long they are cooked.
They are best if you dice them a bit small for the wraps. The larger ones, straight out of the can, are best for popping into your mouth. I’ll admit it. I did that.
8. Scallions. Spring onions, green onions, whatever you call them. Take 3, slice them, and include a bit of the green part if you like.
I mixed all of them in with the water chestnuts right at the end. You might also want to add half of them to the pot and then use half for a garnish on top of each wrap.
When I prepare scallions, I always rinse them, then cut off the ends and the top of the green part. Then I peel the thin outer skin.
You can slice them on the bias (on an angle) or straight down. It makes no difference to the flavor, although sometimes it’s cool to tell people you cut the onions 'on the bias.'
9. Lettuce. I have used romaine, 'little gems,' butter lettuce, and iceberg as wrappers. Here’s my advice on that. Use what you can find that has decent leaves. Big Romaine can be really long, so you may want to cut them in half (across). Otherwise, you end up with mega-wraps that are difficult to handle.
To prepare the lettuce, separate the leaves, and rinse them. Cut any of the thick stemmy ends off. Gently pat it dry and put them on a plate and, if you have room, put it in the refrigerator. This crisps the lettuce, so it’s a bit sturdier. That’s all about maximum leaf stuffing, friend.
This is a quick prep, quick-cook recipe (another reason I love it). I recommend that you prepare everything starting with the lettuce before you start bulgur. Make the sauce and set it aside. You can dice the water chestnuts and scallions. They can go into the same bowl if you are adding them all to the filling.
Use the bulgur cooking time to whip up the 10th ingredient. Is the dipping sauce an ingredient? I’m not sure, but don’t miss out on it. Just grab a small bowl and mix up soy sauce, rice vinegar, and chili paste. That’s a 2 -minute job.
I used my favorite Sambal Oelek because it’s just chili, but you can use another chili paste. The idea is a thin, spicy sauce to sprinkle over the wraps. It doesn't take much unless you crazy eaters who are serious about hair-raising spicy foods.
There are a few additional toppers for the wraps, depending on how creative you want to get. Add the other half of the scallions, grated carrots, maybe even bean sprouts. I am always so excited to get a wrap heading toward my mouth that I rarely remember anything past the hot sauce. Perhaps you have more discipline. That’s not really my jam, but I’ll jam on another lettuce wrap any ole’ time. Peace.Print
Vegan lettuce wraps, with ‘meaty’ bulgur and mushrooms, are a healthy version of a PF Chang's favorite and even better with firecracker dipping sauce.
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
- 1-inch of fresh ginger, minced (1 Tbsp.)
- ¼ cup dried porcini mushrooms, diced small
- 1 cup dry bulgur
- 2 cups vegetable broth or water
- 3 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
- 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 1- 8 oz. (227 gm.) can of water chestnuts, diced
- 3 scallions, white and green parts sliced
- 8 – 10 lettuce leaves, separated, rinsed, and chilled if you prep these first.
Firecracker dipping sauce
- 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. chili paste
- Heat a medium pan to medium heat. Once it’s hot, add the ginger and garlic. Sauté them for 20 seconds, just enough time to soften them.
- Add the mushrooms, bulgur, and vegetable broth or water.
- Bring the pot to a simmer, then cover it and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the bulgur is tender. It takes about 15 minutes.
- While the bulgur cooks, grab a small bowl. Mix together the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar. Taste this and adjust the ingredients if needed.
- In another small dish, mix up the dipping sauce (2 Tbsp. soy sauce, 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar, 1 Tbsp. chili paste). Set this aside for serving on the table.
- Mix the sauce into the bulgur.
- Mix in the water chestnuts and scallions. Leave out half the scallions if you want to use them to garnish the wraps.
- You can either prefill the lettuce leaves and serve them up with the dipping sauce on the side or allow diners to fill their own.
- Store leftover filling in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop. Add water or broth so that the bulgur separates and doesn’t stick.
- You can substitute dried Shiitake mushrooms for the Porcini in equal measures. If you use fresh, dice them small and cook them with the ginger and garlic so that they have a moment to release their moisture.
- For the crispiest lettuce wraps, wash and dry the lettuce leaves before you start cooking. Place the leaves in the refrigerator to chill.
- Making hoisin sauce is easy, but if you buy it, be sure you read the label to ensure that it's vegan and doesn’t contain oil or added sugars.
- The preferred chili sauce is Sambal Oelek, but you can use any chili sauce you prefer, including Sriracha. You can also use 2 teaspoons of crush red chili flakes.
- Category: Burgers & Wraps
- Cuisine: Asian
Keywords: vegan lettuce wraps