My family LOVES Thai food. Most people do when they finally give it a try! Thai cuisine can be spicy and complicated to replicate. I’ve taken one of my all-time favorites dishes, Larb Gai (Thai Chicken Lettuce Cups) and made it SUPER easy. Trust me, anyone can make this healthy, flavorful recipe at home as either a light meal or an appetizer! You have loads flexibility with the ingredients, so you can keep the spice level in check for your kiddos. This recipe also happens to be a naturally gluten free dish.
Traveling to Southeast Asia
Friends from the USA usually want to take a trip to either Bali or Thailand when they come to Southeast Asia. Bali is an island in Indonesia, while Thailand is an entire country filled with beautiful islands, bustling cities, ancient temples, friendly people and delicious cuisine. You could visit Thailand 10 times and barely scratch the surface of everything it has to offer!
Popular dishes in Thailand
During our time in Asia, we’ve been to Bangkok (more times that I can count), Chiang Mai, Phuket, Krabi, Ko Lipe, Koh Pi Pi, James Bond Island, Pattaya, and a few other small islands. No matter where you go, you’ll find the most amazing local food. Some of the more popular dishes are Pad Thai (fried noodles), Tom Yum Goong (spicy shrimp soup), Tom Kha Gai (chicken coconut soup), Yam Nua (spicy beef salad), Thai Curries, and Larb Gai (thai chicken lettuce cups) or Larb Moo (minced pork lettuce cups).
One of my all time favorite dishes is the Smoked Duck Larb at Soul Food Mahanakorn. My friend Bri lives in Bangkok and introduced me to this swanky little spot on Sukhumvit Soi 55. They serve up creative cocktails and mouthwatering food. Thai food can be super spicy and larb can literally knock your socks (or flip flops) off! Every time we have a night out in Bangkok, we go to Soul Food, followed by a stop at The Iron Fairies bar (another famous Bri recommendation!)
Thai food at home…
My kids wanted to try larb, so we explored a few different recipes and created our own version of these Thai lettuce cups. We came up with a recipe that has authentic flavors and texture, but is super simple to make. Plus, it won’t set your mouth on fire! (It’s easy to kick up the spice if you want to.) These were a huge hit with both Ella and Sierra. We agreed this is one of those dishes that even picky eaters will like!
Ella doesn’t eat duck, so I used minced chicken and we made Thai Chicken Lettuce Cups (larb gai). Ground pork will also work well and is more traditionally used in Thailand (larb moo). In the US, ground turkey is readily available and is also an excellent option (even though you don’t find a lot of turkey in Thailand)! Start by peeling off a single outside layer of a lemongrass stalk and finely chop the white part only. You can also use lemongrass paste.
Cook the meat first, then prep rest of the ingredients
Add a tablespoon of canola oil to a wok or large pan, and fry up the chopped lemongrass and ground meat. Break up the meat into small pieces as you cook, and continue until it no longer looks pink (about 5 minutes). Set the ground meat aside in a heatproof bowl while you prep the rest of the fresh ingredients for your Thai chicken lettuce cups.
It’s ideal to use shallots for this recipe (small red onions that look like garlic cloves), but a small red onion will work too. Finely slice 3-4 shallots and set aside. Roughly chop up a handful of fresh cilantro and mint. For the last step, make the dressing, which simply 3 tablespoons of lime juice and 1 tablespoon of fish sauce. Fish sauce is a salty, complex ingredient with umami flavor and is commonly used in Asian cooking. It’s naturally gluten free, but you can also use soy sauce, liquid aminos or tamari as a substitute.
Mix together ground meat, fresh herbs and dressing
Once all your ingredients are prepped, mix together with the ground meat and serve in lettuce leaves. As I mentioned before, you have a lot of flexibility with this dish since it’s just ground meat, sliced onions, fresh herbs and a super simple dressing. You can either assemble these, or allow people to do it themselves. How easy is this?? I hope we’ve given you a new idea for a simple meal! By the way, these Thai chicken lettuce cups can also be served as an elegant appetizer 🙂
Thai Chicken Lettuce Cups (Larb Gai)
Super easy, healthy (and gluten free) Thai Chicken Lettuce Cups can be served as a light meal or an elegant appetizer.
- 1 lb ground chicken ground turkey or pork can be used
- 1 lemongrass stalk white part only, chopped
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 3 shallots thinly sliced
- 1 handful of cilantro roughly chopped
- ½ handful of mint roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice about 2 limes
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce or soy sauce
- 1 head butter lettuce
Peel outer layer of lemongrass stalk and chop (white part only) into small pieces. Add 1 tablespoon of canola oil and cook chopped lemongrass and ground chicken (or turkey) in a wok or large pan. Stir, breaking up into small pieces, until the meat is no longer pink (about 5 minutes).
Remove from heat and place cooked lemongrass and ground chicken in a heatproof bowl. Allow to cool slightly while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
Peel and thinly slice 3 shallots or 1/2 of a small red onion. Roughly wash and chop 1 handful of cilantro and 1/2 handful of mint.
Mix 3 tablespoons of fresh lime juice and 1 tablespoon of fish sauce together in a small bowl.
Wash butterhead lettuce and gently separate out the leaves to use as cups for the meat.
Add shallots, fresh herbs and dressing to the bowl of cooked ground chicken and lemongrass. Stir together and serve in lettuce cups.