Our son, Giovanni, loves Chinese cuisine and is a big fan of the Chicken Lettuce Wraps at P.F. Chang's, an Asian-themed restaurant chain that we try to visit whenever we are in the Twin Cities. We had hoped to get there over his Christmas break from school, but unfortunately bad weather and the flu kept us at home, throwing Gio's cravings for P.F. Chang's into overdrive.

A quick online search yielded several variations of copycat recipes, and I chose the version that appeared in near-exact detail across many websites, including well-respected food blogs like "Damn Delicious" and "Eat, Drink, Love."

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I don't know the exact origin of this recipe, but figured that its universal appeal had to be a good sign that I was on the right track.

The base of this dish is ground chicken, and ground turkey would also work well. Brown the chicken first and mix in flavorful and aromatic Asian ingredients, including hoisin sauce, soy sauce, fresh ginger, rice wine vinegar and water chestnuts.

Fresh garlic and onions, both yellow and green, round out the flavors, along with Sriracha sauce to lend some heat to the filling.

Several of the recipes I consulted called for a tablespoon of Sriracha, but my family prefers their heat on the mild side, so I used just a teaspoon, enough for just a touch of heat without overpowering the meat. You could add more, or omit it entirely, according to your personal taste.

With its elegant, cup-shaped leaves and sweet flavor, butter lettuce makes an ideal choice for lettuce wraps, but you could also use any type of firm lettuce including romaine hearts, and even iceberg. Butter lettuce is sold with its root system intact and you can find it in the produce section of our local grocery stores, usually with the other fresh greens and vegetables.

Keeping the roots in place allows moisture and nutrients to continue to nourish the plant, and if they are left intact, the lettuce can stay fresh for over two weeks. Simply peel off the leaves from the base of the plant, and wash before using as there may be a bit of dirt and debris on the leaves.

If you take time to assemble, measure and prepare all of the ingredients before you start cooking (about 5 to 10 minutes), you can have this dish ready within 30 to 40 minutes, from start to finish. The chicken filling keeps well for several days in the refrigerator, and Tony has also used it mixed in with mashed potatoes and as filling for an omelet.

Easy to make, low in calories, delicious and nutritious, these chicken lettuce wraps received an enthusiastic two thumbs up from both Gio and Tony, and tasted just as good as the ones we've enjoyed at P.F. Chang's. Enjoy!

P.F. Chang's Chicken Lettuce Wraps - A Copycat Recipe

Serves: 4 to 6 for lunch or dinner, 10 to 12 for appetizers

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1 pound ground chicken

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium yellow onion, diced (about one cup)

¼ cup hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 teaspoon Sriracha, optional - more for spicy heat

1 8-ounce can whole water chestnuts, drained and diced

2 green onions, thinly sliced

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon fresh black pepper

1 head butter lettuce

Optional topping:

Sweet chili sauce

Directions:

Heat oil in a medium sauté pan over medium high heat; brown ground chicken, about 3 to 5 minutes, crumbling the chicken as it cooks. Drain any excess fat and liquid from pan and return to burner.

Reduce heat to medium and stir in the garlic, onion, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ginger and Sriracha, cooking until onions have become translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in water chestnuts and green onions and continue cooking over medium heat until tender, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, taste and adjust as desired.

To serve, place a heaping spoonful (about a ¼ to ½ cup) of the chicken filling in the center of each lettuce leaf, topped with a dollop of sweet chili sauce. Roll or fold to eat.

Adapted from the blog "Damn Delicious"

To store: Chicken filling can be stored for up to 4 days in refrigerator, or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 12-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

All previous recipes can be found at thelostitalian.areavoices.com.