I must confess that, like many of you, I always start the year off with a goal of eating lighter, but living in Acadiana–ground zero for the most amazing food culture in America–it is a daunting task. So today I am offering a compromise of sorts: These Cajun-Spiced Lettuce Cups deliver on the spicy Cajun recipe flavors of ground beef and pork, but they’re all wrapped up in a healthy green salad. And I owe it all to Asian inspiration.
I am blessed to live in an adventurous culinary culture that enjoys food and celebrates the heritage and history that surrounds it. But, if you thought this part of Louisiana only dined on gumbo or jambalaya, you’d be mistaken. Lafayette, where I live, is home to a wide variety of international restaurants that push the envelope on handmade and artisan-crafted dishes. Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisines have embedded into the local restaurant scene with an Asian take on many standard South Louisiana dishes. Over time, this cross-cultural gumbo of flavors has captured the passion and palates of the people of Acadiana.
One of my favorites is Masala, an Indian restaurant located just a couple of blocks from my home. I love many of their curry, kebab, and tandoori grill-inspired menu items, but one particular dish–a spicy lettuce cup filled with pungent ground chicken–is a standout.
Pushing the boundaries of Louisiana cooking is my passion and this Cajun recipe mingles the best of down home Southern flavors with Indian inspiration. My Cajunized adaptation -Cajun-Spiced Lettuce Cups – focuses on ground pork and beef combined with the holy trinity–onions, celery, and bell pepper–in a peppery blend of seasonings that adds a wallop of flavor. Fresh and crispy cold, the bibb lettuce cups wrap it all up in neat little handheld packages. I love the crunch and spice in this Cajun-Spiced Lettuce Cups recipe and the fun presentation makes it a party most anytime you serve it. Open an ice-cold beer and savor the zing and zest of this Cajun-spiced and Asian-inspired dish.
- 2 medium Vidalia onions or sweet onions, peeled and quartered
- ½ cup chopped Napa cabbage
- 1 tablespoon diced red bell pepper
- ¼ cup sugarcane vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ½ tablespoon pickled jalapeno slices
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 cup diced yellow onion
- ½ cup diced celery
- ½ cup diced red bell pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 pound ground chuck
- ½ tablespoon Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- 1 tablespoon diced jalapeno
- 1 tablespoon sugarcane vinegar
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- 1 head of bibb lettuce or any lettuce with large green leaves, washed and leaves separated
- 1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 cup diced green onion tops
- 1 cup basil leaves
- Hot sauce, for serving
- In the container of a food processor, place all of the ingredients and process with a chopping blade. Continue processing until the ingredients are chopped to a relish texture (you want a chunky texture), but stop processing before they become pulverized to a mash. Add the relish to a clean Mason jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.
- In a large cast-iron skillet with lid over medium-high heat, add the oil. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, and cook until the onions turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic along with the meats and season with Cajun seasoning, Worcestershire, and hot sauce. Cook until the meat is browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Lower the heat to simmer and add the jalapeno, vinegar, brown sugar, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir the mixture, cover, and let cook gently for 5 minutes as the flavors come together. Turn off the heat, squeeze one of the lemon wedges over the mixture, and stir to combine. Keep warm until serving.
- For serving, move the skillet to the table and stack the lettuce leaves around it, along with the bowls of fresh chopped parsley, green onion, and basil. Guests can build their own lettuce cups and top with a squeeze of lemon and a spoonful of onion relish. Oh, and a little extra kick from a bottle of your favorite hot sauce might be nice.
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What is sugarcane vinegar? Where would I find it or do you make it yourself?
George Graham says
Hey Nicki –
I urge you to try the Steen’s brand of sugarcane vinegar made in Abbeville, Louisiana. You can buy it online at Cajungrocer.com. And if you have an Asian grocery in your town, check to see if they carry sugarcane vinegar. It is a common ingredient in many Asian dishes. And as a last resort, feel free to substitute white wine vinegar in this recipe. Best, George
Rachel Brian says