Sunday, April 18, 2004

It's a wrap

Lettuce folded around just about anything finds fame in low-carb spotlight

By Karen Fernau
The Arizona Republic

Asians invented the lettuce wrap, but that doesn't mean they own it.

"When it comes to wraps, I say let it rip," says restaurateur Deirdre Pain. "Wraps can be as creative as you are, and work for any cuisine."

Created centuries ago in Vietnam, lettuce wraps are especially appropriate this time of year. Crunchy lettuce just sounds like spring.

They are easy to make and double as low-carb sandwiches. A serving of iceberg lettuce has a measly three grams of carbohydrates.

The key to memorable wraps is the contrast of warm, flavorful fillings with the cool crunch of lettuce. The most familiar wrap is the Chinese version - minced chicken, bamboo shoots and mushrooms in a soy-hoisin sauce. But Southwestern and Italian fillings work well, too.

Iceberg is the most common lettuce for wraps, but the wide, strong leaves of romaine, red leaf or the slightly bitter escarole offer unexpected textures and tastes.

"Lettuce never seems to go out of style, and people never seem to tire of eating it in different ways," says lettuce farmer Arnott Duncan.

The only sacred rule: The leaves must be crisp and cold.

Wraps became popular as appetizers, but today they can be main courses. Consider setting up a "wrap bar" for your next party. Serve several lettuces and a variety of fillings - cold chicken salad, grilled beef teriyaki strips. Stock the bar with dipping sauces, bean sprouts, shredded cheese and sliced water chestnuts.

"Wraps are conversation food," Pain says. "And you can eat with your hands and nobody will care."

Chipotle Turkey Lettuce Wraps

1 head iceberg lettuce

1 pound ground turkey

1 tablespoon canola oil

11/2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon Thai chili paste

1 or 2 canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce

8 ounces tomato sauce

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)


1/2 cup shredded low-fat cheese

1/2 cup low-fat sour cream

1/2 cup chopped tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped avocado

Cut lettuce head in half. Remove core and any limp outer leaves. Set halves aside on a serving plate. In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, saute turkey in oil until almost cooked through.

In a food processor or blender, process cumin, chili powder, poultry seasoning, garlic, chili paste, chipotle chilies, tomato sauce and Worcestershire sauce until smooth. Add mixture to turkey in pan and simmer 30 minutes or until flavors blend. Place condiments in small serving bowls.

To eat, spoon some meat mixture onto a piece of lettuce, sprinkle with condiments, then fold and eat taco-style. Use the smaller, crisp lettuce pieces as scoops to eat the meat. Makes 4 servings.

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