Cucumbers, peppers, onions and herbs.
In the steaming hot, long days of summer, add these refreshing ingredients to almost anything and you’ll feel alive.
Seasonably, the farmers market is brimming with a wide variety of cucumbers (lemon, pickling, striped Armenian, Armenian and slicing), five different alliums including the beloved Texas 1015 as well as plentiful peppers such as colored bell, banana, jalapeno, serrano and even the adored shishito peppers. Summer herbs are growing like crazy as well which means we need a reason to add them to anything and everything.
I have been putting mint and lemon balm in my water bottles. Once it all sits together overnight, the water becomes this herbaceous elixir that I just can’t get enough of. For gazpacho, I make sure to add plenty of lemon cucumbers. And onions, either raw or sauteed, go in nearly every dish.
When the abundance of summer’s bounty, there is little cooking required, but rather more chopping, slicing and dicing. And that’s fine by me. In the summer heat, I would much rather slice and dice than saute or roast.
That made the recent suggestion of Asian lettuce cups a winner in my house.
Lucky for us, David was too tired to argue (Full disclosure: He ALWAYS poo-poos any and all of my new ideas and then I make the recipe and he begs me to make it again.). But, honestly, I think he liked the fact that the recipe sounded different, that it was healthy and I had most everything I needed to make it, so we agreed. Lettuce cups filled with Asian-style pork.
As usual, I consulted a few recipes to come up with this one and made them several times to get it just right. I love that you can top the lettuce cups with anything that you might have in your refrigerator. Sliced radishes, green onions, carrots, cabbage, thinly sliced kale, cucumber, onion, jalapenos and the list goes on.
These light and healthy Asian “tacos” are filled with flavor, absolutely refreshing and yet completely satisfying. David is already thinking about the next time I can make these spicy-salty-savory-crunchy-yummy Asian tacos.
Asian Pork "Tacos"
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 shallot chopped
- 1/2 jalapeno minced (feel free to remove the seeds if you must; you will use the other half for the toppings)
- 4 kaffir lime leaves chiffonaded, optional (I have a tree in the herb garden, though some lemongrass would be a nice alternative)
- 1 pound ground pastured pork
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
For the sauce:
- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon sriracha plus more for serving, if desired
- 1 tablespoon coconut sugar or light brown sugar
- 1/6 cabbage thinly sliced, or micro greens
- 1/2 cup cucumber thinly sliced
- 1/4 red onion thinly sliced
- 1 carrot washed and peeled and shredded
- 1/2 jalapeno or banana pepper, thinly sliced
- 3 green onions thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup basil leaves chopped (preferably Thai basil)
- 1/4 cup cilantro torn or chopped
- 1/4 cup mint torn or chopped
- 1/4 cup roasted and salted peanuts chopped
- 1 large head Boston butter lettuce, washed, dried and leaves separated
- 1 lime sliced into quarters, for serving
In a skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil. Once it's hot, add the garlic, shallot, jalapeno slices and kaffir or lemongrass and saute for 3 minutes until they become pungent and soften. Then add the ground pork and cook until it is done, about 5 minutes.
While the pork is cooking, make the sauce. Get a small bowl and add the lime juice, fish sauce, sriracha and coconut sugar and whisk well so the sugar dissolves thoroughly. Set aside.
Check on the pork and stir it a bit now. Continue to check on the pork as you slice the veggies, breaking up the meat and cooking it until it is no longer pink. When it is cooked, turn off the heat and taste, adjusting seasoning and adding salt and pepper.
Slice the cabbage, cucumber, red onion and remaining half of jalapeno. As you slice the veggies, place them neatly in mounds on a large plate. Grate the carrot, if using. The carrot adds a great punch of color and texture to the dish. For the herbs, you can either tear or chop, and then mound them individually on the plate. Next chop the peanuts up a bit and place them in a small bowl.
Put the washed and dried leaves of butter lettuce on another plate.
When ready to serve, heat the meat thoroughly. Transfer the meat to a bowl--or serve it directly out of the skillet--and let the fun begin.
Let each person take a lettuce cup, spoon in some meat and top it with veggies of choice and then lots of herbs and finally the chopped peanuts. Drizzle with a bit of the sauce and a squeeze of lime juice. Dive in. And repeat.
David loves to eat them with his hands as tacos, but I like to pile on the veg so mine requires a knife and fork. Either way is totally acceptable. And encouraged. This dish is our new favorite thing.