Aren't appetizers more fun to eat than your average dinner? These rich peanut noodles and shredded chicken stuffed into lettuce bundles are certainly fun to eat -- and messy too! One of the things that I like about having appetizers for dinner is that they are often more portion controlled. Think of these lettuce bundles as the dinner equivalent to those 100 calorie packs they sell in the stores now. I could really wolf down a big bowl of peanut noodles, but this was a great way to eat a more carefully controlled portion. Plus, the mix of textures between the crispy lettuce, the tender noodles, the chicken, and the crunchy peanuts on top is fabulous.
This is a little more work than I usually put into dinner, but I'm a pre-K teacher so I have the summer off to play in the kitchen. That said, this recipe was much easier and much less time consuming than it looked. And since everything can be easily prepared ahead of time, this would make a great appetizer to entertain with...but serve it to people you know and like well! It gets fabulously messy to eat. For a meal, I rounded it out with some stir-fried green beans and it was definitely filling.
Lettuce Bundles with Spicy Peanut Noodles
serves 6-8 as an appetizer, and 4-6 as an entree
adapted from Martha Stewart Living, January 2001
Ingredients:2 boneless chicken breasts
1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce, plus 3 tablespoons for peanut sauce
1 large clove garlic
1 piece (3/4 inches) ginger, peeled and cut in half
2 1/4 teaspoons chile-garlic paste
7 tablespoons reduced-fat peanut butter
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tsp toasted sesame oil
Juice of 1 lime
8 ounces thin whole wheat spaghetti
1/2 cup unsalted peanuts
2 scallions, sliced thinly
2 Boston or other butterhead lettuce, leaves separated
1. Toast the peanuts in a pre-heated 350 degree oven. This should take about 8-10 minutes. Check and stir frequently to prevent burning. Once you have removed them from the oven and they have cooled for a few minutes, give them a rough chop. (I just used my mini-food processor for this.)
2. Place chicken breasts in a resealable plastic bag along with 1/2 cup soy sauce, and let marinate for 1 hour. Heat a lightly oiled grill or grill pan over medium-high heat until very hot. Grill chicken breasts until cooked through, about 4 to 6 minutes per side. Let cool slightly, and shred with your fingers, or cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips with a knife.
3. In a food processor, pulse garlic and ginger until finely chopped. Add chile paste, peanut butter, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, lime juice, and 5 tablespoons water, and pulse until smooth. If a thinner sauce is desired, add 1 or 2 more teaspoons water, and pulse to combine. Set aside.
4. Put a large pot of water on high heat, and salt once it boils. Add noodles, and cook until al dente. Drain in a colander, and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
5. Dress the noodles with about half of the peanut sauce, and transfer to a medium serving bowl. If desired, set the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice to keep the noodles chilled at the table.
6. Slice the scallions, and set in a small bowl. Arrange peanuts, remaining sauce, and prepared fillings in various serving dishes on the table. Guests can create their own rolls by wrapping noodles, a little sauce, and their choice of meat and fillings in a lettuce leaf.