Several years ago, I took a leave of absence from work and spent a huge chunk of time touring SE Asia. It was a wonderful time for me... It really broadened my horizons and really crystallized what it meant to be me.
Although, it wasn't primarily a culinary journey but rather one of self-discovery, I often look back at that experience and the foods I became acquainted with through the wonderful people I met with great affection.
One of these majestic places is a little country named Laos. In fact, I ended up in Laos not really by design. I headed to Laos to kill time - I was returning home in a month and I was a little bored and a little restless. What I found was a cultural wonder filled with an unspoiled landscape, a generous people and a balance of old world tradition creeping toward development. Really very humbling.
One night, in a backpacking town called Vangvieng, I had this wonderful dish called Laap. It is a minced meat served with a sticky rice which is very popular in Laos and Thailand. My version is adapted for the modern life. It is fantastic for lunch when it is too hot and steamy to eat anything but a delicious salad.
I use Boston lettuce because its buttery leaves are my favorite. They make wonderful cups for this dish.
Minced Turkey in Lettuce Cups with Tea Rice
1 package of minced turkey
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp of light soy sauce
1 tbsp of nuc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce - if you don't have it, just use extra soy sauce)
1 pinch of red chili peppers
1 tsp of minced garlic
1/2 green or red pepper - small dice
1/2 small onion - small dice
1 head of Bottuce lettuce - leaves washed, separated, and dried
1 c of Japanese sushi rice, uncooked
1 tsp of Jasmine tea
garnish: fried onions*
1. Cook rice following the package instructions.
2. In a coffee grinder, whiz up the jasmine tea into a fine powder. If you don't have a grinder, open a tea bag of jasmine tea. Sprinkle over hot cooked rice and turn gently with a rice paddle. Cover.
3. Heat a large skillet, add vegetable oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add onions and garlic and the package of ground turkey and break up meat as it cooks. When the meat is mostly cooked (ie. there is still some pink), add pepper, soy sauce, fish sauce and red pepper flakes. Cook until fully cooked and the juices run clear.
4. Place several lettuce cups on a plate.
5. Scoop a small amount of the jasmine tea rice into the lettuce cup and top with a small amount of the minced turkey. Sprinkle a little bit of the fried onions on top and dig in.
*The fried onions I am referring to are the deep fried crispy onions that are often sold in the Asian grocery stores.
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