There’s just something wonderful about messy foods that require you to eat with your hands. There’s also something wonderful about being able to customize your food.
For a long time, buffets were my favorite because I could choose the foods that I loved the most and eat as much of those foods as I wanted. Although buffets are great for picky eaters, they’re typically not very healthy. Not to mention, unless you’re a football player, most people (myself definitely included) probably shouldn’t be eating that much food anyway and do better with predetermined portion sizes. I have a bad habit of eating until there’s no food left, so when we would eat at buffets, I usually had to have someone ply the plate from my hands and roll me out the front door.
Even better are the restaurants that are build-a-meal oriented. Before I cut gluten, dairy, and meat out of my diet, I would run by Subway constantly because it was convenient and I could choose the ingredients that I wanted. Now, I love to eat at BBBop, a restaurant near my home where you choose the size of the rice bowl you want and the ingredients to include. Almost all of the ingredients are healthy and it’s easy for me to create a vegetarian meal that’s overflowing with delicious veggies. After visiting BBBop recently, I was inspired to come up with my own build-a-meal that’s extremely customizable and suitable for all of the picky (or not-so-picky) eaters that might be gathering around the table.
This meal is so simple: after getting all of the ingredients together, lay them all out on a platter so that everyone can gather what they need. *Below is a picture of the mini-platter I created. I used tempeh for these Thai Lettuce Wraps, but you can easily substitute with tofu or chicken. Or, if you have meat-eaters and vegetarians in the house, prepare multiple proteins so that everyone has a choice!
This recipe is perfect for a family meal or a big gathering. Basically, everyone can choose the ingredients that they want, pile them into their lettuce wrap, and chow down. Please understand that this will be messy and forks may need to be included for any food that spills over the sides. You’ve been forewarned. But it’s OK to be messy. The kids will love it–and the big kids (grown-ups) will, too!
I got a bit greedy and made the mistake of piling my lettuce wraps way too high the first time around which led to a big mess! Not to worry though, I just piled everything that spilled into another wrap and licked the plate clean (please don’t judge).
As easy as this meal is to prepare, I plan on making it often, especially with my family’s hectic schedule right now! What’s best, you can prepare everything ahead of time and marinate your protein so that when you’re ready to eat, all you have to do is quickly saute the tempeh/tofu/meat! This is also great for leftovers–I love to prepare extra food so that whatever is leftover can be used for lunch the next day.
- ¾ cup sweet brown rice, preferably soaked for at least 8 hours (you can sub with plain brown rice, but I like the subtle sweetness this rice adds to the dish)
- 1½ cups filtered water
- 1 Tbs. sesame oil (or other mild-tasting oil)
- ½ package (4 oz.) tempeh (tofu or chicken would work, too)
- 1 Tbs. + 1 tsp. tamari (gluten-free soy sauce)
- 1 Tbs. filtered water
- 1 small lime, juiced
- 1 green onion, thinly sliced
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- pinch chili pepper flakes
- a couple drops liquid stevia (optional)
- 6-8 butter lettuce leaves
- ½ cup cucumber, sliced into thin strips
- ½ cup red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup mango, diced
- sesame seeds for topping (optional)
- Soak the rice for at least 8 hours (this helps to shorten cooking time and ease digestion). Bring 1½ cups filtered water to a boil. Rinse and drain the rice and add it to the boiling water. Once the rice is added, turn the setting to Low and simmer the rice for 40-50 minutes, or until fully cooked*
- While the rice is cooking, stir together the tamari, water, lime, green onion, garlic, chili pepper flakes, and stevia (optional) in a shallow bowl.
- Slice the tempeh (or tofu/chicken) into thin strips. Marinate the tempeh in the tamari mixture for at least 20 minutes. You may want to occasionally flip the tempeh so that it marinates evenly.
- Next, prepare the cucumber, red bell pepper, and mango, along with the butter lettuce leaves and lay all of the ingredients out on a large platter.
- When the rice is done, remove it from the stove and allow it to cool to room temperature.
- After the tempeh has had time to marinate, drain it and reserve the leftover marinade for later. To cook the tempeh, heat 1 Tbs. of sesame oil in a pan over Medium heat. Cook the tempeh on one side until it begins to brown (approx. 5 min.) then flip and cook until cooked evenly throughout (approx. 5 more min.).
- Add the rice, reserved marinade, and tempeh (or tofu/chicken) alongside the rest of the ingredients on the platter.
- To build the Lettuce Wraps, pile the ingredients you choose onto a butter lettuce leaf, drizzle with marinade and top with sesame seeds (optional).