Last Minute Inspiration: Grilled Lemongrass Beef Lettuce Wraps

When Brad and I are both working in the studio together, an all too typical evening as we approach dinner time usually goes down like this:

While basking in the glow of our computer monitors…
Me: Hey it’s getting late, what do you say we shut down and go have a life. Brad: Uh huh…
Me: Have you seen the time? We really ought to stop. Brad: Yeah, OK…
Brad: Whoa, it’s 8:00. Me: Yeah, I know, we really ought to quit working. Brad: What are we going to eat for dinner? Me: I don’t know, I didn’t have anything planned…
Me: I’m starving and we really need to go home. Brad: OK… Me: I’m packing up. Brad: Me too.
Brad: Hey, can I just show you something real quick? Me: Dude, I thought you were packing up…
Me: Seriously, I’m leaving. See you at home. Brad: OK, yeah… I’ll be there soon.

Needless to say, many meals at Chez T get started late. And while sometimes I have a plan and supplies in the fridge, last Friday was an even worse case where I had no plan and and no groceries to improvise with. Typically I would suggest “The Pasta” or some other household staple, but it being Friday night and all, we were both in the mood for a little something special. You know, the kind of something special that you can start shopping to cook at 9pm.

Brad flipped through some of our cookbooks and suggested a grilled pork and green papaya salad with rice noodles. I liked the idea, but with a quick glance over the ingredient list I knew we’d never find half the stuff. But we wrote it down, and headed out, in search of last-minute grocery store inspiration.

Sure enough, there was no green papaya or jicama to speak of. And the pickings for pork (which our Food Coop sources from local farms, so you tend to get what cuts you can get on any given day) were slim. But there were some good looking grass-fed skirt steaks. And the lemongrass and ginger for the marinade could both be had. We liked the idea of rice noodles and crisp, leafy butter lettuce, but we needed additional fresh accents. While trolling the produce section I spied a box of kumquats. These tiny little citrus fruits can be eaten whole (the rind is sweet and the fruit is sour), and I love to slice them and use them in salads. Confident that we now had a solid plan, Brad scooped up some passion fruit sorbet for dessert, then we checked out and headed home.

Despite the lengthy ingredient list (several of these items are staple pantry goods for many Asian dishes), this meal came together for us in about 45 minutes. We drank some sake, put on a movie, and sat around our coffee table on pillows assembling lettuce wraps and happily licking out fingers. The leftovers kept well, stored in separate containers, and the next day we enjoyed everything again as a wonderful cold lunch on a warm spring day.

Grilled Lemongrass Beef Lettuce Wraps

Serves 4

  • 1 lb. skirt or flank steak, thinly sliced
  • 10 ounces dried rice noodles
  • 1 head butter lettuce, washed and separated into leaves
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon grated garlic
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass, halved, sliced and minced
  • 1/4 cup Japanese soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 4 teaspoons sake
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • Cilantro leaves
  • Thinly sliced kumquats
  • Thinly sliced red onion
  • Also consider: green papaya, cucumber, jicama, mango, roasted and chopped peanuts
  • 6 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoon Chinese chili paste
  • 1 teaspoon nam pla (fish sauce)

Make the marinade by combining all ingredients in a bowl or large ziploc bag, add the sliced beef and toss to mix well. Cover (or seal) and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, set a pot of water to boil for the noodles and prepare the toppings. Prepare the dressing by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine.

Heat a grill or grill pan (I use our cast iron grill pan which works nicely) over high heat.

Cook the noodles in the boiling water according to package directions, transfer them to a colander, rinse them under cold water and drain well.

Working in batches, grill the beef for about 1 minute per side (this will leave it beautifully medium rare, but give it more time if you desire) and transfer to a platter to rest. *If you’re using a grill pan, the sugar in the marinade may start to collect and burn on the ridges after your first few batches, carefully wipe the pan clean with a damp paper towel if this happens and continue).

Place the noodles, lettuce leaves, and toppings on plates to share and serve, along with the plate of grilled beef and the bowl of dressing (put a little spoon in it). Give everyone a small plate and chopsticks, or necessary serving utensils. Using a lettuce leaf as a wrapper, pile a bit of noodles and a piece or 2 of grilled beef into it, then add the toppings of your choice and a drizzle of dressing. Fold, stuff, chew, enjoy, and repeat!

This recipe was adapted from a completely different, but also delicious looking recipe for Grilled Pork with Green Papaya Salad and Rice Noodles from “Takashi’s Noodles”.

2 Responses to “Last Minute Inspiration: Grilled Lemongrass Beef Lettuce Wraps”

  1. #

    Amrita says:

    My ex-housemate, Vietnamese with god-awesome baking skills, used to make me these especially during the summer months! We used to elbow away – very rudely elbow away – other shoppers from the fruit aisles just so we could grab most of the rosy mangoes and then we’d walk home to make these lettuce wraps. Although I must admit, we had those mangoes more as fruit-after-the-meal than with the wraps.

    Yours look gorgeous!

    • #

      Heather says:

      Thanks Amrita! Perhaps you should to throw some elbows and make some wraps of your own. Rosy mangoes are worth it.

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