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 25 minutes, they taste indulgent but won’t hurt your waistline
This post and recipe card updated May 22, 2020
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.
Cilantro Thai Chicken was one of the very early recipes on the blog, and I still make it regularly. My pictures back then were horrible, but I was uninspired by the presentation when I redid it. 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
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
- You can adjust the spice level to your preference
- The meatballs are easy to make ahead and freeze
- They’re light, so you can eat more without guilt!
My goodness gracious, these Thai Chicken Meatball Lettuce Cups are outstanding. The sauce is a perfect complement to the meatballs, and I love the crunch of raw vegetables in every bite.
TIPS FOR THE PERFECT CHICKEN MEATBALLS
I’ve always preferred dark meat chicken (legs and thighs) because it’s more flavorful and tender than white meat. And once I discovered ground chicken thighs at my local market, I was sold. Of course, you can use chicken breast if you prefer.
People either love cilantro, or hate it. I am firmly on team love, so I use a generous amount. If you’re team hate, you can omit it.
I use a 1 Tablespoon measure or a 1 5/8″ cookie scoop for the meatballs. That’s a relatively small meatball, so they’ll bake in 15-18 minutes. If you make larger meatballs, adjust the cooking time accordingly.
INGREDIENT TIPS FOR THAI CHICKEN MEATBALL LETTUCE CUPS
Butter lettuce is my favorite base for Thai Chicken Meatball Lettuce Cups. I’ve also used romaine and iceberg.
I leave the vegetables raw because I love the crunch and contrast in texture. But you can saute them for a few minutes to soften them slightly.
As if the meatballs didn’t have enough flavor, the sauce takes Thai Chicken Meatball Lettuce Cups over the top. It’s full of flavor from Sweet Chili Sauce, Fish Sauce, and Hot Chili Paste, and I simmer the sauce for a few minutes to enhance that flavor.
To keep this dish gluten free, use Tamari instead of regular soy sauce.
STEP BY STEP INSTRUCTIONS
Add peanuts to a dry skillet and toast for 4-5 minutes, until golden. Remove and set aside. When cool enough to handle, put peanuts into a sealed sandwich bag. Crush the peanuts using a rolling pin or the flat side of a meat tenderizer.
Add ground chicken, cilantro, fish sauce, sesame oil, salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder to a bowl.
Fold together until combined. Don’t over-mix, or the meatballs will be dense.
The mixture is very sticky, so spray your palms lightly with cooking spray to make the meatballs.
Use a 1 Tablespoon measure or 1 5/8″ cookie scoop to form the meatballs. Drop the scoop into your palm, and roll the meatballs in your hands to form.
Place the meatballs on a foil-lined baking sheet that is sprayed with cooking spray.
Bake the meatballs at 375 degrees for 15-18 minutes, turning once halfway through
While meatballs bake, add sweet chili sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce, hot chili paste, garlic, ginger, and lime juice to a saucepan. Stir to combine and simmer for 5 minutes.
PREPARE THE LETTUCE CUPS
Lay lettuce on a flat surface. Layer with red pepper, red onion, and carrots. Place 2 meatballs on top of the vegetables. Drizzle with enough sauce to cover the meatballs. Finish with crushed peanuts.
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
MORE DELICIOUS CHICKEN RECIPES
- Dirty Rice Chicken Skillet
- Crispy Chicken Fajita Wrap
- Grilled Thai Chicken Thighs
- Chicken Chickpea Salad
- Spicy Peanut Chicken Noodles
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CHICKEN MEATBALLS (makes about 24 meatballs)
- 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
VEGETABLES & GARNISH
- 1/2 cup carrots, julienned into 2" slices
- 1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 12 pieces lettuce (I use butter lettuce)
- 2 Tablespoons cocktail peanuts
- 1/2 cup sweet chili sauce
- 2 cloves garlic, grated or very finely 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 lime
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- In a medium bowl, combine red pepper, carrots, and red onion. Set aside
- In another bowl, combine chicken, cilantro, fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
- Fold mixture together until just combined. Do not over-mix, or the meatballs will get dense
- The mixture is quite sticky, so I recommend spraying your hands with a little bit of cooking spray to help roll the meatballs
- Use a 1 Tablespoon mixture or a 1 5/8" cookie scoop to scoop the mixture. Drop the mixture into your hands and lightly roll to form the meatballs. This will yield about 24 meatballs
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and lightly spray with cooking spray. Place the meatballs on the baking sheet, and bake for 15-18 minutes, turning once halfway through
- WHILE CHICKEN BAKES: add sweet chili sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, and hot chili paste to a saucepan. Simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Remove the sauce from heat to stop the cooking
- PREPARE LETTUCE CUPS: Place the 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 crushed peanuts
I prefer to use ground chicken thighs. Of course, you can use ground breast if you prefer.
People either love cilantro or hate it. I'm firmly team love, so I use a generous amount. If you're team hate, you can omit it.
Butter lettuce is my favorite to use for this recipe because it conforms to the shape really well. But I've also used romaine and even iceberg.
I leave the vegetables raw because I love the crunch. If you prefer, you can lightly saute the vegetables for a few minutes.
To keep this dish gluten-free, use Tamari rather than regular soy sauce.
Serving options outside of lettuce cups
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1 grams
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 258Total Fat: 10gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 81mgSodium: 883mgCarbohydrates: 23gFiber: 3gSugar: 16gProtein: 20g
Nutrient values are estimates only. Variations may occur due to product availability and food preparation. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, etc