Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Healthy Happy Summer: Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps

One of the many fun things about working in the food world (even when on temporary hiatus) is the unofficial job duty of taste-tester. After counseling hundreds of clients on a very wide variety of nutrition needs, I can say with confidence that people undeniably want a dietitian who can tell them the "real deal" in addition to all the textbook stuff; especially when it comes to current diet trends. They want to talk to someone who isn't going to just tell them it's a bad idea and they should stick to a "healthy balanced diet." I get this- I would want this too! However, as Registered Dietitians we are trained and obligated to critically examine fad diets and look for any potential deficiencies, and even potentially harmful components. And it took me a while, but I finally came to accept that regardless of sound advice, people are going to do what they are going to do, so I had to learn to roll with the punches and help them figure out how their diet of choice can work for them, despite any shortcomings it may have (with the exception of long-term cleansing/detox diets, which I do not support for safety reasons!).

One of the more recent diet trends that only crossed my path one time while working at my previous job is the Paleo (Caveman) diet, which supports eating a simple unprocessed diet comprised of meat, seafood, fruits, vegetables, & tree nuts- but no dairy or grains. I have several friends and acquaintances who swear by it, and several have shared some wonderful recipes! I was initially skeptical because strict adherence to the diet requires one to avoid entire food groups- something I would have a hard time recommending to anyone; especially when those food groups include healthy whole grains and high fiber beans and legumes. It is also deficient in calcium and Vitamin D if followed strictly, so these would need to be supplemented. However, like most diets, there are several very commendable aspects to this eating plan: it mandates whole, unprocessed foods, is low in sugar and sodium, and encourages lots of fruits and vegetables (all of which dietitians have been urging for many years!) So while I do wonder about its long-term sustainability, I recognize that those who follow it love it, many experience improved health, and the recipes aren't bad! (For a more in-depth review, visit

Which brings me to the fun part of this blog post- the recipe! A friend recommended this recipe for Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps from the Paleo Plan that she said I had to try. I did, and they were absolutely delicious! I did modify them a bit to use ingredients I had on hand and to suit our tastes. Plus, I cooked a side of rice (big Paleo no-no) for my carbohydrate-burning hubby who needs more fuel than the average joe! But all in all, I stuck to the recipe pretty closely. According to Chris- this one makes it into the Munoz Recipe Hall of Fame- he loved them that much.

His & Hers: one with rice, one without
Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Serves 4


12 large Bibb lettuce leaves (at least!)
3-4 large red cabbage leaves, very thinly sliced
1/2 cup grated carrot
1 cup finely chopped raw broccoli
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup cilantro leaves
1 lb skinless boneless chicken breast
1 Tbs coconut oil
salt & pepper

For Thai Peanut Sauce:

1/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup water
2 Tbs low sodium soy sauce (use gluten free if needed)
Juice from 1 small lime (about 2 Tbs)
2 garlic cloves, minced

Cooking Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F
2. Season chicken on both sides with salt & pepper. Heat coconut oil in oven-proof skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook 3-5 minutes on each side. They should be nice and browned on the outside. Transfer skillet to the oven to finish cooking (about 15-20 minutes).
3. Meanwhile, mix all ingredients together for the Thai peanut sauce. (I used the Magic Bullet- worked like a charm!)
4. In a separate bowl, mix cabbage, carrot, broccoli & green onion together. Toss with a few tablespoons of the peanut sauce.
5. Once the chicken is finished, cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
6. Assemble lettuce wraps- fill each lettuce leaf with a scoop of the vegetable mixture, chicken, cilantro and top with a few teaspoons of peanut sauce.
7. Everyone say "YUMMMM"!

*Chris added the white rice to the wrap also; I ate it on the side. If serving rice, make 3/4 cup rice according to package directions, substituting 1/3 cup of the water for coconut milk. Season with salt and pepper and toss in some cilantro when done cooking.

Did I mention it makes delicious leftovers? This is Chris' Rice Bowl
Adapted from The Paleo Plan Recipe database at