A beginner’s guide to Thai cooking
Thai cuisine is full of sweet, salty, sour, and hot flavors that dance together in aromatic curries, spicy stir fries, and warming soups. The distinct flavors come from cooking fresh ingredients quickly on a high heat so they retain their goodness and texture. This makes Thai food a great option for quick and nutritious meals and snacks.
In this recipe, fresh herbs, salty pork and fragrant Thai flavors are wrapped up in crisp little lettuce parcels, making for a delicious snack to eat on the go. Alternatively, you can serve with rice for a more substantial meal.
Choosing healthy Thai options
Not all Thai food is healthy, with many recipes containing large amounts of rich coconut cream or deep fried ingredients, but choosing steamed or stir-fried dishes that are high in protein and fresh vegetables means you can enjoy Thai food as part of a health-conscious lifestyle.
In fact, many Thai dishes are full of nutrients. That familiar salty, pungent flavor in stir fries and curries comes from a fish sauce called nam pla, which is full of omega-3s. As an anti-inflammatory, omega-3 can help to reduce joint stiffness and pain and can also promote brain, heart, and eye health. When choosing a fish sauce, be sure to look for one that contains only fish (usually anchovies or shrimp), salt, and small amounts of sugar. It should be the color of strong English tea.
Other common ingredients in Thai food include lime – which is an amazing source of potassium and vitamin C, cilantro – which provides dietary fiber, and garlic – which is full of antioxidants and can help lower blood pressure. Happily, all three feature in this recipe.
A healthy snack to help curb cravings
In Thailand, people tend to snack throughout the day rather than eating a few larger meals. These pork lettuce wraps are an ideal treat if you’re peckish during the day, although they also work well for a light lunch or dinner if served with rice or salad.
The lean pork provides the base of the recipe, flavored with soft onions, fish sauce, light soy sauce, fresh chillies, and coconut or brown sugar. The heat is balanced by the cool lettuce wraps, which are a great low-carb alternative to rice. You can substitute in any leafy green that’s capable of holding a couple of tablespoons of filling, and they don’t really need to wrap – you can simply use them as leafy plates.
This is a great dish to include in a Thai banquet-style dinner where several plates are served together. Alongside steamed rice, a couple of rich curries, and perhaps a papaya salad, this dish can be presented as pre-wrapped parcels or in a large bowl on a bed of leaves so guests can serve themselves.
Thai Pork Lettuce Wraps (serves 4)
1 Tbsp coconut oil
1 white onion, finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
15 oz. lean ground pork
Juice of half a lime
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar or coconut sugar
1 tsp chopped red chili or chili powder
2 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
2 Tbsp mint, chopped
1 head of cos lettuce
- In a frying pan or wok, melt the coconut oil and stir fry the onions and garlic until soft, taking care not to burn the garlic.
- Add the pork and stir fry for about 8-10 minutes, until the pork is no longer pink.
- Add the lime juice, fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and chilies (or chili powder) and mix thoroughly. Leave to simmer for another minute.
- Spoon the mixture into lettuce leaves and sprinkle with the cilantro and mint leaves. You can either serve them open or roll them up.
- Any green leaf can be used instead of the cos lettuce, such as cabbage or pak choi.
- If serving as one dish, arrange the leaves in a large bowl and spoon the mixture on top, garnishing with the fresh chopped herbs.
- Chopped cucumber makes a great optional side dish to cool the palate, or you can go the other way with a sweet chili spicy sauce for dipping.
Integrative Nutrition is the world’s largest nutrition school and Health Coach Training Program. Through our innovative, one-year online course, students learn the principles of health coaching, business skills, and over 100 different dietary theories with lectures by the world’s leading experts.