Thai Chicken Meatball Lettuce Cups have it all…bold flavors and a wonderful contrast of textures, all wrapped up in fresh lettuce leaves. Easy to make, and on the table in about 20 minutes, they taste indulgent but won’t hurt your waistline
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I love the bold flavors of Asian cuisine. My parents didn’t cook Asian food when I was growing up, so I only ate it at restaurants. A few years ago I began to experiment in the kitchen, and opened up a whole new world. My Asian Quinoa Meatballs was one of my first on the blog, and to this day remains a staple in my lunch menu rotation. I almost never order Kung Pao Chicken at restaurants, but it’s one of my favorites to make at home. And Shrimp Fried Rice is a perfect way to use up extra steamed rice.
A few years ago I came across a recipe for Cilantro Thai Chicken. I made it several times, and it was one of the very early recipes on the blog. My pictures were horrible, and I decided to redo the post. It was still really delicious, but I was uninspired with the presentation. I changed gears, made them as chicken meatballs, but was still unhappy. After a few more gear changes I created my masterpiece, Thai Chicken Meatball Lettuce Cups
My goodness gracious, these Thai Chicken Meatball Lettuce Cups are outstanding. The sauce is a perfect complement to the baked chicken meatball, and I love the crunch of raw vegetables in every bite.
CHICKEN MEATBALLS: DARK MEAT OR WHITE MEAT?
I’ve always been a dark meat girl when it comes to chicken. Legs and thighs have much more flavor than white meat. Yes, dark meat has a higher fat content, but the fat runs through the chicken, like a good steak, and that’s where all the flavor is. Besides, I remove the skin and any excess fat.
I only ever made meatballs with beef or turkey until a few months ago, when I made my Red Curry Chicken Meatball Bowl. Now I’m a huge fan, and I always use ground chicken thighs. Ground breast is more common in major grocery stores, but I found ground thighs in Sprouts Farmer’s Market. You could also grind your own, or ask the butcher to do it for you.
KEYS TO THE PERFECT CHICKEN MEATBALLS
- Normally you need a filler (eggs or bread crumbs) to keep meatballs together. However, I use Sesame Oil and Fish Sauce, and the liquid does the trick. I also season generously with fresh-cracked black pepper, sea salt, minced garlic and ginger. Sesame oil is very powerful, and a little goes a long way
- People either love cilantro, or hate it…there’s no middle ground. Me, I’m firmly on the love side! I always have several bunches in the fridge. I add a generous amount of fresh cilantro, because it adds a wonderful flavor. If you’re on the hate side, leave it out
- I use a tablespoon to measure the meatballs, and roll them together in my palms to get the perfect meatball shape
- The meatballs are relatively small, so they’ll bake in about 15 minutes. If you use larger meatballs, adjust cooking time accordingly.
ASSEMBLING YOUR THAI CHICKEN MEATBALL LETTUCE CUPS
- You can use any type of lettuce as the base for Thai Chicken Meatball Lettuce Cups. My favorite is butter lettuce, but I’ve also used romaine or iceberg
- Next, I add julienne carrots, red bell pepper, and red onion. You could add cabbage or any other raw veggie you like.
- The sauce for Thai Chicken Meatball Lettuce Cups is simple to make, and includes Sweet Chili Sauce, Fish Sauce, Low Sodium Soy Sauce, minced ginger and garlic. I add Hot Chili Paste, because I have it in the fridge and I can never think of what to use it for. You could certainly use Sriracha as a substitute. I simmer the sauce in a small saucepan for about 5 minutes while the chicken bakes, and drizzle it on the meatballs
- For the final touch, I lightly toast some Peanuts, crumble them, and them sprinkle on top
The great thing about this dish is that you don’t have to do them as lettuce cups!
- Make it into a salad with chopped lettuce, and add more vegetables
- Serve the chicken meatballs by themselves as an appetizer, of course with extra sauce on the side
- Instead of meatballs, saute the ground chicken and fillings in a skillet, serve over Jasmine Rice and top with sauce
Sauce for this recipe inspired by Damn Delicious
SHOP THIS RECIPE
- 1 lb ground chicken (I use thighs)
- 2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 carrot, julienned into 2" slices
- 1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 2 Tablespoons roasted, salted peanuts
- 8 pieces lettuce (I use butter lettuce)
- 1/2 cup sweet chili sauce
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 2 Tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons hot chili paste (more or less, to taste)
- juice of 1/2 lime
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- In a medium bowl, combine red pepper, carrots and red onion. Set aside
- In a medium bowl, combine chicken, cilantro, fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Fold seasonings into chicken, being careful not to overmix or meatballs will be dense
- Using 1 Tablespoon scoop, form meatballs. I roll the meatballs in my palms to get uniform shape. A 1T SCOOP WILL YIELD 16 MEATBALLS
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and lightly spray with cooking spray. Place meatballs on baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes, turning once halfway through
- HALFWAY THROUGH CHICKEN BAKING: add sweet chili sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic, ginger and hot chili paste to small saucepan. Simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat to stop the cooking
- PREPARE LETTUCE CUPS: Place lettuce leaves on a platter, and add a layer of the vegetable mixture. Top with 2 meatballs per lettuce cup. Drizzle with sauce, and top with toasted peanuts
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