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Tangled Up in Green: Lettuce Wraps

Julia Bainbridge

California fast food chain In ‘n’ Out offers “Protein-Style” burgers whose vehicle is a couple pale green leaves, not two pillowy discs of bread. Carl’s Jr. trademarked the phrase “Low Carb It” to encourage Opponents of the Bun to cross the threshold of its 1,100 restaurants worldwide. Just wrap your patty in lettuce!

But this cheats the potential greatness of a burger. The mix of thin, pale pink juices and clear, salt-rich grease leech from the patty with every southward move of your incisors, but you don’t lose those liquids. No, the bottom bun sponges them up, to be mixed with pickle juice and meat and anchored by more bread in your next bite. That’s why the top bun is also essential: without it, each chomp would be almost too juicy. You need some bread in the mouthfeel mix. 

We get that the lettuce fix is helpful for carb counters. And we get that “eat burgers in moderation” is annoying. But like: eat burgers in moderation. The right way, with buns.

Similarly, eat lettuce wraps the right way. The reason you see them in southeast Asian cuisine is that the cool, watery crunch of lettuce balances the heat in chilies and that Jolly Rancher-red fire oil should flow along the ravine of an iceberg spine and trickle straight into your gullet. Family-style service is key, here: If we were to be served one lonely lettuce cup on a plate, implying that’s all dinner was going to be, we’d be pretty hangry. Instead, sample from a platter of spicy meat, pickled vegetables, and fresh herbs, stuffing them into a folded lettuce leaf in whatever ratio you see fit, one after another after another. With your hands, not with a fork.

Try these recipes and see what we mean.

Chicken Stir-Fry Wraps

Tangled Up in Green: Lettuce Wraps

Pork Bulgogi

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Stir-Fried Turkey in Lettuce Wraps

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Asian Beef Lettuce Wraps

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Photo credit: All, Everyday Food