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Calm, cool and collected

Chicken and Cashew Lettuce Wraps are light and satisfying on a hot night. They come together quickly so there’s no toiling over a hot stove. (Lorie Hutson)
Chicken and Cashew Lettuce Wraps are light and satisfying on a hot night. They come together quickly so there’s no toiling over a hot stove. (Lorie Hutson)

Lettuce wraps make light summer meal

These hot days have a way of draining my ambition for cooking.

Rather than resort to another dinner out, I began dreaming of the recipes for meals wrapped in a cool, crisp lettuce leaf. There are hundreds – perhaps thousands – of recipes for these Asian-inspired wraps. Each varies a bit – using different kinds of greens, various meats for the filling and untold variations of dipping sauces.

My favorite recipe for lettuce wraps is far too long on a hot day – and filled with ingredients found at the Asian market. Also, I didn’t want a copy-cat recipe for P.F. Chang’s lettuce wraps, although they are delicious.

Instead, I settled on a recipe for chicken and cashew lettuce wraps from Real Simple magazine. It can be pulled together in just 20 minutes, from ingredients that are already likely to be on the shopping list. The tender chicken had a satisfying punch of protein, but the crisp lettuce kept the meal light.

Kids will like the easy, approachable flavors, and it can be spiced up for those who like a little more kick. Sprinkle some red pepper flakes on the chicken or top the wraps with Sriracha. The spicy red chili sauce from Thailand can be mixed into the dipping sauce, too. We made some rice to help soak up that tasty sauce for those who wanted it. (Next time, I might double the soy and honey dipping sauce or serve a hoisin dipping sauce alongside the wraps, too.)

Substitute tamari or a gluten-free soy sauce if you’re cooking for someone with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance.

We found boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale and a great deal on roasted cashew pieces (rather than whole cashews) to keep the recipe close to our $10 budget for four. It also helps that crisp-but-tender lettuce leaves are abundant at the farmers markets right now.

Another addition that would be easy and help stretch the filling for the wraps would be sautéing some button or cremini mushrooms in with the filling ingredients.

Brown cubes of firm tofu in the skillet as you would the chicken if you’d like to make this dish for vegetarians. Depending on how much sauce the tofu soaks up during cooking, you might need to mix up some additional honey-sweetened soy for the wraps.

Chicken and Cashew Lettuce Wraps

Adapted from Real Simple magazine,

3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 3/4-inch pieces

Black pepper

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon grated ginger

1 bunch scallions, trimmed and sliced

1 8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, drained

1/4 cup roasted unsalted cashews

1 small head Boston or Bibb lettuce, leaves separated

Combine the soy sauce and honey in a small bowl. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown, about 3 minutes.

Lower heat to medium and stir in the garlic and ginger. Add the scallions and cook for 1 minute.

Stir in the water chestnuts and half the soy sauce mixture. Continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and sprinkle with the cashews.

Divide the lettuce leaves among plates and spoon the chicken over the top. Serve with the remaining soy sauce mixture for drizzling.

Tip: To bulk up this dish, serve the chicken over rice instead of lettuce. 

Yield: 4 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 379 calories, 14 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 38 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrate, 94 milligrams cholesterol, 2 grams dietary fiber, 385 milligrams sodium.