If you really want to know how I'm feeling or what kind of day I've had, asking me what I'd like for dinner is probably the best way to find out. I was feeling off today, and I didn't know how bad it was until Jer asked what I wanted tonight and I answered without thinking: lettuce wraps.

I love the refreshingly crunchy lettuce, the spicy and savory meat, and the kalidescope of flavors once you've assembled your wrap. And there's something soothing about putting together each mini-course by hand. It's an exercize in mindfulness to decide how much meat, heat, sweet, and texture to add to your portion; to enjoy your little piece of work and then to begin again.

The ingredients vary a little but here are the staples that go into most of our wraps:

Wrap parts

  • A head of lettuce, separated into leaves
  • Bean sprouts
  • Cilantro
  • Mint leaves
  • Lime (either wedged for squeezing, or minced ever so fine)
  • Carrots
  • Minced ginger
  • Chopped peanuts
  • Peppers: Thai chiles, serrano, etc. sliced or minced.

You can use some or all of these, mixing it up however you see fit. Sometimes making wraps is a good way to clear out the fridge (one of our motivators tonight was polish off the leftovers from a New Year's Eve veggie platter).

When I can find it at a Thai restaurant, I love to order Miang kam; a similar dish that often includes shredded coconut, tiny dried shrimp, shallots, and a delicious sweet sauce. The point is to seek out a variety of textures and flavors that work well together.

For me, it's comfort food when it's meaty. So our wraps almost always include ground pork.

Ground pork

Usually I brown up a pound of pork in the wok and kind of just wing the flavor. I aim for spicy (I always aim for spicy!) -- red pepper flakes, chili oil, thai chilis, or just a whole lot of ancho and cayenne. I add some savory with a variety of worchesterchire, soy sauce, golden mountain, etc. And a bit of brightness with fish sauce or possibly even lime. I once tossed a bit of maple syrup into the mix and it was delicious!

When I cook this way it's usually good, sometimes amazing, and never repeatable. We tried out a recipe this time: Spicy Ginger Pork in Lettuce Leaves

Spicy ginger pork

The recipe was really tasty! We used roasted red peppers in lieu of the diced bell peppers. There wasn't any heat so I fixed that with minced thai chiles and cayenne; otherwise we were pretty faithful.

The recipe has you putting a bunch of wrap ingredients into the ground pork itself and then wrapping the fancy pork mixture in lettuce with no other accoutrements. That's obviously not how I want to make my wraps, so it's kind of redundant to add cilantro, water chestnuts, etc. to the pork. If I do this over again I'll probably skip that stuff and add it as I go, using the sauce components from the recipe (plus heat!).

Nuoc Cham

We skipped this fishy dipping sauce tonight and I regretted it. I'll always make a dipping sauce with my wraps from here on out!

It was a good evening. After our girl went to sleep, we had our wraps and played a little Rock Band. A comforting way to enjoy a chilly winter evening.