Last month I filmed a segment for my local television station’s health feature, “Fit at Five” with Kelly LaBrecque. The concept came from a previous guest on Kelly’s show who expressed frustration and boredom with the bagged lunches that he packed for work. Kelly found a volunteer for a lunch bag makeover, and off we went to see how I could help.
You might be asking yourself, “How hard is it to pack something you like?” and indeed, that was my first response as well. However, all I had to do was look at my own busy life to realize that everyone gets bogged down in the complexity of daily responsibilities, and we all know that our diets are the first to suffer. And Michelle, the volunteer for our story, was keenly aware that something needed to change.
Everyone knows that if we ignore the healthfulness of our meals and snacks that our bodies and minds will suffer for the reduced nutrition. But additionally, we too often ignore the importance of enjoying the food we eat, and I think it’s as important to want the food that you make as it is to make it healthy. So I’ve worked hard over the last few years developing dishes that pack as much flavor into each bite as they do nutrition.
I honestly didn’t know what Michelle liked to eat. I just knew that she didn’t like the turkey sandwiches and packaged products she was toting to her job at a local school. I also knew she was busy and couldn’t devote tons of time to complicated recipes. So I decided to offer up a simple Asian Lettuce Wrap that could be prepared in fifteen minutes and was flexible enough to incorporate leftover meats, vegetables, and even rice if she had leftovers or excess ingredients from other recipes to use up.
This recipe is a cold mixture of ground chicken, aromatics like green onion and cilantro, and crispy cucumbers tossed with a sesame and soy dressing. A little lime juice adds acid and brings the flavor of the dish together. When I make this recipe at home,I like to stir in cold rice. I prefer the flavor of jasmine rice, but honestly, I usually just dump in whatever leftover rice I have on hand. If you have a handful of shredded carrots, throw them in. Even black beans are great, and they add a punch of protein and dietary fiber to an already nourishing meal.
I’ve provided instructions for wrapping the filling in lettuce leaves to serve, but use your noggin to come up with some other creative uses. You can stuff this into rice paper skins with cooked rice noodles for a cool play on spring rolls–just follow the instructions in my Fresh Spring Rolls with Sesame-Tamari Grilled Steak using your lettuce wrap mixture. A couple weeks ago I served it in little cups I carved out of a seedless cucumber. The mixture by itself will store well for about three days in the refrigerator. Michelle genuinely loved the lettuce wraps. Believe me, I was nervous she would be THAT girl who hated cilantro or didn’t eat meat, so I was relieved we hit a home run.
I hope you enjoy this dish and feel free to post your creative lunch ideas in the comments section below.
Chef Erin developed this for a “Lunchbox Makover” with Fit at Five. It’s designed to be packed with flavor and quick to make. Ditch your routine sandwich for something with a little more pizzazz for a packed lunch that you can look forward to.
Servings: 4 (329 G )
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Cook Time: 6 Minutes
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, finely minced or ground (or substitute finely chopped cooked chicken)
- 1 head of Romaine or Bibb lettuce, leaves separated and washed
- 1 cup Diced cucumber
- 1/3 cup Sliced green onion
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 1/4 cup Chopped cilantro
- 2 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
- 2 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- Pinch black pepper
- Heat vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan and sauté until meat is just cooked through but not browned, about 6 minutes.
- Remove pan from heat and allow chicken to cool for 15 minutes. Move chicken to a plate and refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.
- In a medium bowl, combine the cold chicken and the remaining ingredients and toss to coat evenly. Transfer mixture to a serving dish and refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Serve with lettuce leaves.