Sometimes you need to pull a rabbit out of your hat. On occasion you find that what you pulled out actually was more like a weasel or a marmot, but now and then it does turn out to be a rabbit, just as you’d hoped.
I’m preparing food for a cocktail party, which has to be all finger foods. I thought Asian chicken lettuce wraps would be good, never mind that I have never made them before. The filling part is easy enough – diced chicken, water chestnuts, peanuts, cilantro, scallions – but the dressing was another story. You can buy all kinds of bottled dressings and some of them taste okay, but it’s fun to mix your own. If you have a well-stocked pantry with Asian ingredients, it’s fast and easy.
Here is what I came up with. This started with a recipe for Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad from Nigella Bites by Nigella Lawson, and took off from there.
SAUCE FOR ASIAN LETTUCE WRAPS
- 2 small red Jalapenos, minced
- 3 fat garlic cloves, pressed or minced
- 2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger
- 3 Tablespoons sugar
- 2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
- juice of one lime
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 Tablespoon nam pla
- 2 Tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce
- 1 teaspoon black bean garlic sauce
- 1 star anise
Combine all ingredients. Store in refrigerator. Remove star anise before using. Toss with diced chicken or shrimp for Asian lettuce wraps or as a salad dressing.
Use chili flakes, Sriracha, cayenne, or other hot peppers in place of the Jalapenos.
Nam pla (fish sauce) is available in Asian markets or well-stocked supermarkets. If necessary you can substitute soy sauce or tamari.
Black bean garlic sauce is available in Asian markets or well-stocked supermarkets. Leave it out if you can’t find it.
Thai sweet chili sauce is available in Asian markets, supermarkets, and Trader Joe’s. It is a thick sweet-spicy sauce that has a couple of million uses.