Southeast Asian Tofu Lettuce Wraps


We’re talking about soy this month – its environmental and social impact as a monoculture crop as well as its nutritional profile. Traditional soy products, both fermented and non (tofu, miso, and tempeh) are nutritious and tasty and can be used in so many ways. It’s the processed soy products that aren’t so good for our bodies. As part of our soy series, you’ll be seeing recipes using traditional, minimally-processed soy foods.

This first recipe is easy to put together, flavorful, light, and fun to eat. Try it as an appetizer or serve it as part of a Southeast Asian meal presented family style.

Southeast Asian Tofu Lettuce Wraps

Serves 6 for an appetizer

-You will need:

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped finely
1/3 cup fish sauce
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon Thai chili sauce

Peeled and finely chopped cucumber
Finely diced red onion
Finely chopped cilantro
Finely chopped mint
Finely chopped Serrano chilies, with seeds (mixed red and green is good)
Chopped roasted peanuts

1 tablespoon peanut oil
12 ounces firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce

Whole iceberg or large leaf lettuce leaves, washed and dried

-To make:

Prepare the ingredients for the dressing and whisk together in a small serving bowl until sugar dissolves. Set aside. (Note: use organic ingredients whenever possible.)

Chop the ingredients for the garnish and place on a large platter in little piles or in individual bowls.

Heat the peanut oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add the tofu and let it cook, stirring occasionally to keep it from breaking up too much until it is warmed through and beginning to brown. Add the soy sauce, sugar and fish sauce. Cook, stirring for a few minutes, until the flavorings fully coat the tofu.

-To serve:

Place the tofu filling in a bowl and serve with the garnishes and the dressing on the side, with the lettuce leaves on a separate platter.

Let each guest fill their lettuce leaves with tofu and vegetables, spooning the dressing over each portion. Roll and eat

Recipe copyright Vanessa Barrington 2009

Image: マユミ

(Note: image also depicts grilled eggplant)

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3 thoughts on “Southeast Asian Tofu Lettuce Wraps

  1. This recipe sounds excellent. I am definitely going to give it a try. I do have one concern, as a strict vegetarian is there a suitable alternative to the fish sauce? I do not eat any type of meat or meat products. If there is not a suitable alternative, I will try the recipe with that ingredient.

  2. Hi Elly,

    thanks for your questions. I plan on exploring all of these questions very thoroughly in the soy series I’m working on. (the first article was about deforestation and was published this week) It’s too complex to address here, but the short answer is that foods that have historically been made of soy such as tofu and especially fermented products like tempeh, natto, and miso are good for you in small quantities. The problem is that there has been so much attention focused on the health benefits of soy that the food industry has started putting it in everything, using very chemically intensive processes. Now people are consuming a form of soy that isn’t so healthy because its so heavily processed and consuming unprecedented amounts of it to boot, which can cause a variety of health problems. I don’t know about the cholesterol question but will research it. I have heard that soy can contribute to thyroid problems, allergies, and other issues. So, please sit tight and I’ll be publishing the article in the next few weeks. Until then, stick with the items above and avoid soy in energy bars or anything that it may have been added to as a “functional food” Thanks for your interest and questions.

  3. What is the difference between traditional and processed soy products?
    What brands are good for you?
    I have read that people with cholesterol and/or triglicerides proplems cannot eat soy products. I have noticed quite a few products on the market that have soy in them. Since I have been reading labels, it is a handicap.
    Could you comment on these questions?
    Thank you, Elly


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