Savory, salty, spicy, sweet, and sour– these Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps have it all. The classic fresh, flavorful, and easy-to-make filling is also known as Larb Gai, and it’s so delicious that you’ll almost forget that it happens to be healthy, too.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE THAI FOOD, BABY
The most common question I’m asked when I first tell people about my job is, when I’m not actively cooking and testing recipes for the blog, what do I make– and crave– the most?
It’s a hard question to answer (because I make a lot of things!) but my gut answer is almost always Thai food.*
- Thai food is all about balancing flavors and textures. There’s a little sweetness, a little acidity, a little salt, a little spice, and a little umami in nearly every dish. You can also count on there being some fresh herbs, crisp vegetables, and crunchy toppings for added variation, which makes the act of eating the food an experience in itself. That balance is what makes the cuisine so delicious and satisfying without overloading on rich ingredients, which brings me to my second point.
- It’s light and healthy. I mean, sure, there are individual dishes that can be made with fattening ingredients, and people’s definitions of “healthy” certainly vary, but Thai food usually relies on spices for flavor rather than loads of butter or cream, and it makes it makes it very easy to incorporate extra healthy ingredients. And on that note…
- You can use what you have on hand. In most Thai dishes, it’s easy to substitute the produce or proteins you have on hand. Tofu, pork, and chicken are all easy to swap in for each other, and if you have veggies sitting in the back of the crisper jar that need to be used up, odds are, you can throw them into your curry, soup, or stir fry. There’s so much room for personal preference,
And these Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps are no exception. They’re so flavor-packed, easy to make, customizable, and diet-friendly, they always fit the bill for what I’m looking for when meal planning.
* I’ve written up a list of more Thai-inspired recipes that I love to cook later on in this post!
THE RISE OF LETTUCE WRAPS
You might not have had Larb Gai before, but odds are you’ve had some sort of Asian lettuce wraps in your life. They’ve become especially popular in the U.S. in recent years, largely due to the introduction of lettuce wraps to chain restaurant appetizer menus. (PF Chang’s Lettuce Wraps, anyone?!)
As you probably would have guessed, like most chain-restaurant, Americanized versions of Chinese dishes, PF Chang’s lettuce wraps aren’t totally authentic or traditional. However, they’re not as far off as you might think, and lettuce wraps actually are believed to be Chinese in origin.
While lettuce wraps originated in China, they’ve since migrated throughout Southeast Asia, and they’re especially popular in Laos and Thailand. Which brings us to Larb, an uber-popular meat salad from Laos and Thailand, and my personal favorite variety of lettuce wrap filler.
WHAT IS LARB?
Larb (sometimes called Laap, Larp, or Laab), is a variety of stir fry or meat salad that is traditionally flavored with fish sauce, lime juice, roasted rice powder, chilis, and fresh herbs such as mint, cilantro, and/or thai basil. It’s usually served with rice or in lettuce wraps, and can include a variety of meats. Depending on the protein used, it’s sometimes even eaten raw!
Larb made its way to Northeast Thailand from Laos, where it’s considered the unofficial national dish. This particular version of Larb uses cooked chicken as the protein, and is therefore called Larb Gai. (The Thai word gai means chicken.)
HOW TO MAKE THAI CHICKEN LETTUCE WRAPS (LARB GAI)
MORE THAI-INSPIRED RECIPES TO ENJOY
If you love Thai food, you’re going to love these recipes!
- 15 Minute Thai Basil Chicken
- Sheet Pan Thai Peanut-Chili Chicken
- Thai Cashew Coconut Rice with Ginger Peanut Sauce
- Thai Coconut Curry Butternut Squash Soup
- 30 Minute Thai Beef Stir Fry with Sriracha Roasted Peanuts
- 1/4 cup uncooked jasmine rice, plus more cooked jasmine rice to serve, if desired
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 pound ground chicken (use thighs and chop for best texture)
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from 2–3 limes)
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 4 shallots, thinly sliced
- 2 Thai bird’s eye chiles, or to taste.
- 3 scallions, sliced
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 10 whole mint leaves, more for serving
- Butter, bibb, or boston lettuce leaves
- In a dry wok or pan over low heat, toast the rice, stirring often until they turn a deep golden color and smell nutty, about 10 minutes. Grind to a coarse powder using a mortar and pestle, coffee grinder, spice grinder, food processor, or blender. Set aside.
- Return the wok to high heat and add oil. Once hot, add the ground chicken. Stir fry until the chicken is browned and crisp, then add in the sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice.
- Stir fry for another minute, and add the toasted rice powder, chilies, shallots, and scallions., cilantro, and mint. Stir fry for one more minute, then adjust seasonings to taste.
- Serve in lettuce cups or with rice.