When we have friends over for dinner, or when we host parties, one of the things that’s fun to do is to push the boundaries of “finger food.”
Face it. Sometimes you’d rather serve things that people can use their fingers to eat so you can manage the volume of dirty dishes and silverware.
And when you want to also impress and dazzle, cheese, chips and the usual crudités just don‘t seem to cut it.
When I find myself in this situation, I usually turn to the simple dishes that I enjoy preparing and eating, and figure out how to adapt them as appetizers.
I’ve taken ravioli and deep-fried it and served it with a marinara, taken stuffed wontons and deep-fried them, and I’ve adapted Asian stir-fry dishes and stuffed them into Belgian endive or Boston lettuce or butter lettuce leaves.
Here’s an easy-to-make and healthy adaptation of one of my favorite family stir-fry recipes.
Asian Lettuce Cups
- 1/2 lb. (130 gr.) ground pork (you can also use ground chicken or turkey for a leaner version)
- 1 cup (240 ml.) chopped canned straw mushrooms
- 1 cup (240 ml.) chopped canned bamboo shoots
- 1/2 red bell pepper finely diced
- 1 cup (240 ml.) chopped canned water chestnuts
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) finely chopped cilantro
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml.) canola oil
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml.) oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) hoisin sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon (8 ml.) light soy sauce
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2-3 Boston or butter lettuce; leaves separated, rinsed and dried
*NOTE: this will make enough appetizers to serve 4-6 people.
- In a wok over high flame, heat the oil until it starts to smoke.
- Add garlic and quickly stir until it starts to brown, then add the ground pork (or ground chicken, or ground turkey).
- Stir quickly to break up the meat.
- When the meat starts to brown, add hoisin sauce, oyster sauce and light soy sauce and stir to thoroughly incorporate the sauces into the meat.
- Add chopped bell pepper, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts and stir until throughly incorporated and cook for 2-3 minutes until the meat is fully cooked and the bell peppers start to get soft.
- Remove from heat and stir in the chopped cilantro.
- Now the appetizer is ready to be assembled. You can either assemble it for your guests, filling each lettuce leaf with the stir-fry and then passing them out, or you can put the filling in a nice bowl with a spoon and arrange the lettuce leaves on a plate and let your guests have fun doing it themselves. (The nice thing about the latter method is that it will free you to go on to deal with cooking the rest of the dinner, and your guests will have a little fun participating in the assembly of their own appetizers.)