Vegan Chinese Lettuce Cups

Vegan Chinese Lettuce Cups

I used to make this dish regularly for my private cheffing clients. 

It was a crowd favorite for everyone I cooked for, vegetarians and meat eaters alike. So when I had a few of you ask for vegetarian dishes that meat eaters would enjoy, this one immediately popped into my head. My Vegan Chinese Lettuce Cups use tempeh, mushrooms, and tamari (a type of soy sauce). I specifically note this because they all contain the umami flavor (part of the 5 basic tastes), which we recognize as "meaty". A burger, a steak, tempeh, and mushrooms would all be classified as umami, yet not all would be classified as meaty. Other places you've likely tasted umami before would be in stock/dashi/bouillon, fermented foods, and sun-dried tomatoes.

Honestly, in order to successfully satisfy a true meat-eating palate with a vegetarian or vegan dish, umami must be present. Tempeh (pronounced temp-aye) is usually a great place to start. It's one of my favorite vegan protein sources because it's a whole, fermented soy bean that has a slightly nutty flavor and great texture. If tofu doesn't do it for you, don't fret, these are two are very different foods. For Chinese Lettuce Cups, crumbling the tempeh gives the dish an almost identical texture and consistency to it's chicken counterpart, however you won't miss the chicken one bit. This really is a great dish and I hope you enjoy it as much as my family has over the years. 

Some things to note about this recipe:

  • I love it with Boston Bib lettuce, but if it's unavailable a medium weight lettuce like iceberg will work great. When you're separating the leaves from the body, cut off the root at the bottom and if the leaves don't just fall right off, gently squeeze the entire bundle. Don't force them apart, otherwise you may end up tearing the leaves. We want cups intact! 
  • This dish stores really well, and honestly tastes even better the next day. Bring leftovers to work for lunch with the toppings and lettuce packaged individually.
  • If you like more spice feel free to add sriracha as a topping, or red pepper flakes during the cooking process. Just remember there is chili oil in the dipping sauce. 
  • Garnish with fermented veggies (I love the carrot & ginger variety or kimchi), fresh sprouts/microgreens, crunchy mushrooms, and so on. Keep in mind that you want to add some zip and freshness. 
  • I actually skip the dipping sauce more times than not, but it's definitely part of the experience if you're trying to recreate the PF Chang's recipe. If you find something pre-made, that's always a fine option for an even easier #easyrecipe.
  • Babies love this dish. Lila seriously couldn't get enough. 

Can't wait to hear what you guys think of this one.

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Asian Marinated Tempeh
This is my go-to marinade for whenever I cook tempeh. But, this is specifically the marinade to use for Vegan Chinese Lettuce Cups. This marinade gives great Asian flavors and the reduced sauce would be excellent for vegetarian pad-thai, fried rice, salad dressings and more! If want to double this recipe, use two packages tempeh and add more broth until both are covered in the pot. No need to double the marinade.
  • 1 8oz package tempeh
  • 2 cups veggie broth
  • 1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup tamari (or soy sauce)
  • 2 tbsp coconut nectar (or maple syrup, molasses, rice syrup)
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1/2 small head ginger, sliced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 stick kombu
1. Combine all ingredients above in a small sauce pan, and bring to a boil. 2. Lower down to a simmer and cook covered for 15-20 minutes, or until tempeh is soft. 3. Remove tempeh and set aside. Bring mixture back up to a boil and reduce by half. This will take roughly 10 minutes.4. Strain and store for later use, or use sauce immediately for tempeh lettuce cups.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: 35 mins
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Vegan Tempeh Lettuce Wraps
Note: You can double the amount of tempeh without doubling everything in this recipe. For two packages of tempeh add 1.5 cups reduced marinade, and prepare as many lettuce cups as needed.
Lettuce Cup & Filling
  • 6-8 whole leaves lettuce (careful to avoid any with big tears or holes), rinsed and dried
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • Asian marinated tempeh
  • 1 package shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large carrot, sliced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup reduced marinade from tempeh
  • 1/2 tsp corn starch
  • 2 scallion, minced
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp coconut nectar (or substitue molasses or brown rice syrup)
  • Dipping Sauce
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp coconut nectar (again, can sub same as above)
  • 1 tsp chili oil
  • 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1/8 tsp ginger, freshly grated
  • Instructions
    1. Combine all the ingredients for the dipping sauce in a small bowl. Stir well and let sit while you cook the filling. 2. Over medium heat, sauté mushrooms, carrots and red pepper in oil until soft. Add garlic and continue to cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minuntes. You may need to add a tsp. more oil to prevent the garlic from burning. Turn off heat. 3. Crumble tempeh into small pieces with a fork. Combine tempeh with vegetable mixture. 4. In a small bowl, whisk together marinade and corn starch, removing any lumps. Pour wet ingredients over tempeh filling and stir to combine. Turn the heat back on low, and let simmer for 5 minutes, stirring regularly. 5. Remove from heat and stir in ginger, scallions. Add coconut nectar and rice vinegar to taste, you may end up needing more than a teaspoon. 6. Fill each cup with filling, and garnish with toppings of your choice!
    Prep time: 10 mins Cook time: 10 mins Total time: 20 minsYield: 6-8