I’m pretty sure I’ve confessed this before to all you readers, but here I go again: I’m one of those people. I enjoy holiday leftovers far more than the original meal itself. And not simply because when there’s leftovers I have one less dinner to prepare (though occasionally that’s a welcome break). It’s just that I honestly believe the components of a Thanksgiving dinner all taste better the next day.
So sue me.
While I love a delicious turkey dinner with all my favorite trimmings as much as the next guy, I have this thing for shredded surplus turkey meat. I like to simmer it in gravy and serve it atop crisp-fried mashed potato patties. Served along with soup (my personal ultimate comfort food), I could be content with this meal every day. It’s something my mum used to make and thus deeply ingrained in my psyche as sentimental and nostalgic.
However, the other members in my household aren’t nearly as enthralled by eating the same meal on multiple days. And turkey simmered in gravy is far too similar to the Thanksgiving feast to be considered that much different. Therefore, depending on the quantity of our leftovers, I need to think outside the box in order to make the most of what’s left after our big meal—and actually get everyone to devour the food with enthusiasm!
A surefire way to distract them from the monotony is to totally convert the ingredients into a dish that’s completely unlike the initial meal. That way, my trusty cheerleaders will generally gobble it right up without realizing or caring that they’re eating “leftovers.” Bold flavors and rich spices are crucial to outwitting the tongue and tantalizing the taste buds. That’s why I usually look towards the pungent, daring flavors and exotic spices of international cuisines as my go-to when I’m venturing such transformations.
These Chinese-inspired lettuce wraps fit the bill. Fragrant ginger and garlic pair with deep, rich flavors from tamari, shitake mushrooms, and hot mustard. This dish has a fine balance of sweet, savory, and spicy along with a crisp, fresh vibe from the quick stir-fried veggies and chilled lettuce. And it strays far from the heaviness associated with Thanksgiving ingredients. This is a refreshing change to say the least.
These wraps can be individually arranged to each diner’s personal taste. Make them as spicy or as mild as you like—they’re ideal for feeding families with multiple discerning tastes, like mine.
Asian Turkey Lettuce Wraps
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
8–12 lettuce leaves (Bibb/butter lettuce is my favorite for this, but cabbage works great too)
1 lb. leftover turkey meat
4 tablespoons tamari
1 teaspoon dark brown molasses sugar or coconut sugar
¼–1 teaspoon hot sauce such as Sriracha, sambal oelek, chile garlic sauce, etc., plus additional for serving (both optional)
1 tablespoon mirin
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon peanut oil or untoasted sesame oil, plus an additional ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil if needed
1 cup shredded carrot
2 stalks celery, sliced on bias
½ cup sliced shitake mushrooms
3 green onions, sliced on bias
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
Optional: Chinese-Style Hot Mustard (recipe below)
For the Chinese-Style Hot Mustard:
2 tablespoons dry English mustard
2 tablespoons boiling water
1 teaspoon neutral-flavored oil
(Yields ¼ cup)
- If using, prepare hot mustard: combine dry mustard, boiling water, and oil in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Wash and dry lettuce leaves and set aside. Chop or shred cooked turkey meat and set aside. Combine tamari, brown sugar, hot sauce to taste (if using), mirin, and rice vinegar in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Heat oils in a large wok or sauté pan until hot. Stir-fry carrot and celery for a couple minutes, then add mushrooms, green onion, garlic, and ginger. Stir-fry until crisp-tender. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Add a little more sesame oil to the wok, if necessary. Add turkey meat and stir-fry for a minute or two. Pour in half the sauce. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for a couple minutes, until turkey has soaked up the flavor. Add a splash of water if mixture seems dry.
- Return veggies to wok, toss with turkey, and heat through.
- Pour remaining sauce into a small serving bowl. Adjust heat with Chinese mustard and additional hot sauce, if desired. Place lettuce leaves in a large bowl to serve. Let each diner spoon turkey mixture into lettuce leaves, then drizzle with additional sauce, if they like.
Image from Briana Goodall.