These quick Vietnamese beef lettuce wraps are my new go-to light dinner for spring. They’re gluten free, dairy free, paleo friendly, and easy to put together.
I am a huge fan of Vietnamese food. When Ben and I lived in Boston, our neighborhood had a lot of Vietnamese families and businesses. There was a great little supermarket within walking distance where I could pick up everything from fish sauce to rice paper wraps to long stalks of fresh lemongrass. One of our favorite restaurants, Pho Hoa, was just blocks away. I usually ordered the house special vermicelli plate. It had pretty much everything: grilled pork, shrimp on sugarcane, meatballs, grilled scallions, pickled carrots, chopped peanuts, and even a sliced spring roll all on top of vermicelli. It also came with rice paper wraps and a bowl of hot water so you could make your own fresh rolls.
These fast and easy Vietnamese lettuce wraps are loosely based on the flavors of that dish. Instead of vermicelli and rice paper wraps, we’re using fresh leaves of lettuce with a little jasmine rice inside to soak up the saucy beef. You could definitely use rice noodles or cauliflower rice instead if you prefer! The beef is quickly cooked with a little garlic and a sauce that combines tamari (or coconut aminos), fish sauce, honey, and sambal oelek. The result is an umami-packed flavor with just the right balance of sweet, salt, spice, and funk.
For toppings, we’ve got quick-pickled carrots, fresh radishes, and scallion oil. I spiralized the carrots so they’d look pretty (I use this spiralizer), but you can julienne them by hand or shred them with a grater or food processor if you prefer. They soak in rice vinegar seasoned with a little honey and salt while we prep the other ingredients, and are just tart enough by the time we’re ready to serve.
I included Easter egg radishes here because I’ve been getting them in my CSA basket and I love the pop of color, crunch, and bitter flavor they add. You could also use sliced cucumbers or even bean sprouts to add freshness and crunch if you prefer!
The final finishing touch is the scallion oil. If you haven’t tried this stuff, you are in for a treat and should prepare yourself to want to drizzle it on absolutely everything. It’s just scallions and oil with a pinch of sea salt, but the taste would have you believe it’s so much more. It provides both a richness and a vegetal, savory quality that really tie this dish together. To make scallion oil, you just heat your oil of choice (I recommend avocado oil because it’s neutral but good for high-heat cooking) until shimmering, pour it over the sliced scallions, and add a little salt. It’s as simple as that! The hot oil will sizzle in a satisfying way when it meets the scallions–they cook a tiny bit but still maintain their vibrant hue and fresh taste.
I hope you find a few minutes to give these Vietnamese beef lettuce wraps a try! If you’ve got a little more time on your hands, you’ll also love my Vietnamese caramelized pork meatball “vermicelli” bowls.
- 2 large carrots, spiralized
- Pinch of sea salt
- 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 2 tablespoons tamari (or coconut aminos)
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce (I recommend Red Boat)
- 1 teaspoon sambal oelek, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- ¼ cup avocado oil
- ¼ cup thinly sliced scallions (white and green parts)
- Pinch of sea salt
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 head lettuce (such as bibb or butter), separated into leaves
- 2 cups cooked jasmine rice, warm (or sub cauliflower rice)
- 6 small radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
- To make the pickled carrots, toss all the ingredients together in a medium bowl and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.
- To make the sauce, whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl.
- To make the scallion oil, place the scallions in a small, heatproof bowl. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Carefully pour the hot oil into the bowl with the scallions, leaving enough in the skillet to coat the bottom of the pan. Add a pinch of salt to the scallion oil and stir.
- Next, return the pan to the heat to make the beef. Add the garlic and cook for one minute, then add the beef. Cook, breaking up the meat with a spatula, until browned and nearly cooked through. Add the sauce and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes, until the sauce is thickened and clings to the meat. Remove from the heat and let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.
- To serve, layer the rice, beef, pickled carrots, and radishes in the lettuce leaves. Spoon a little scallion oil on top and enjoy.
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