Apr 06

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Eating Real Recipes: Kung Pao Lettuce Wraps

Last winter a friend shared his mother’s traditional kung pao recipe, and I loved making the authentic spicy dish every chance I could. Being an avid label reader now, I was stopped in my tracks one afternoon while preparing the ingredients. Soy sauce, at least the brand in my refrigerator, has all kinds of crazy stuff in it: hydrolyzed soy protein, corn syrup, lactic acid, dextrose, caramel color, potassium sorbate.

I was appalled and tossed the sauce, but I was unsure how I was going to recreate this savory, spicy meal without it. What ensued was an experiment of mixing and tasting until I finally found a concoction which tantalized my taste buds without trampling on my real food sensibilities. The outcome was the following recipe, now a staple in our home. We make a batch or two (or three!) on the weekend, vacuum seal it into portions, and store it in the freezer. The result is homemade real food frozen dinners minus the ridiculous amounts of sodium and other nonsense.


5 whole large lettuce leaves
4 cups chopped vegetables of your choice (we use a mixture of green bell pepper, red bell pepper, carrot, mushroom, water chestnut, yellow squash, zucchini)
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 lb local free range chicken (optional, as always)
½c raw peanuts, halved (optional – allergen alert!!)
2T arrowroot
1-2T sesame oil

2T molasses
5T balsamic vinegar
1t black pepper *
½t white pepper *
1t red pepper flakes *
2t onion powder
2t garlic powder
1t sea salt (optional based on dietary restrictions)


Mix together the ingredients for the sauce then set aside. * Adjust pepper amounts to desired heat level.
If you are going to use chicken, sauté the scallions and the chicken together in 1T of the sesame oil. When the chicken is halfway done, add about a third of the sauce and finish cooking. Set aside.

Heat the remaining sesame oil and add the vegetables stirring to coat. If not using meat, sauté the scallions for a couple of minutes in the sesame oil then add the remaining veggies.

Sauté the mixture on medium-high for about 5 minutes. By this time the vegetables will start to release their water. Traditional stir frying tries to avoid this release with high heat. I let it happen and give the veggies more of a steam than a stir fry.

Add the peanuts and the remaining sauce. Cook the mixture for another 15 minutes (more or less depending on how crunchy you like your vegetables.)

What vegetables you use will affect how much water is released and therefore how thin the sauce ends up in the pan. The combination listed generally results in a thinner sauce. Scoop a quarter cup of the resulting sauce from the pan into a small bowl. Add the 2T arrowroot and whisk until the lumps are gone. Stir this back into your vegetable mixture and simmer for a few more minutes to thicken your sauce.

If you are making the chicken version, add the cooked chicken into the veggies and stir.

Serve in a lettuce leaf and enjoy.
Makes 5 servings.


Special diet tips / options:

Gluten free:  As is!

Vegan diet:  Leave out the chicken.

Vegetarian diet:  Leave out the chicken.

Paleo diet:  Leave out the peanuts and cook with coconut oil.  Also, I’m looking for any good ideas on replacing the molasses.  I just read that a blended date or other dried fruit might work.  Hmmm…

Locavore:  Use local foods – fresh veggies from your CSA, home garden, or farmers market.

Permanent link to this article: http://eatingreal.com/blog/2012/04/kung-pao-lettuce-wraps/

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