Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps with Spicy Sesame Tempeh! These crunchy vegan wraps are a healthy twist on a classic recipe, with tempeh for protein, a spicy sesame sauce for bold Asian flavours, and lots of crunch from fresh vegetables. This recipe is as easy as it is delicious!
Friends, I have an important question to ask you: are you into eating spicy foods on a hot day? Is that a thing for you?
Lots of cultures around the world that come from hot places tend to lean towards spicy flavours in their cuisine. Turns out there is some solid science behind this trend.
The theory is called gustatory sweating, in which hot flavours in the mouth trigger a sweating response around the forehead and neck, which helps to cool us down. However, it has been noted that the cooling effect is strongly related to the environment you’re in, the amount of moisture in the air, and how much clothing you’re wearing.
As it turns out, drinking a cold beverage has been found to be much more effective at actually cooling us down than eating spicy food is. Still, if you need an excuse to whip up a batch of these Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps with Spicy Sesame Tempeh, here it is: eat hot to stay cool!
I love lettuce wraps! They’re so fun to assemble and crunchy and delicious to eat. My extended family used to get together for Chinese food every year on my Grandmother’s birthday (even long after she passed away) and I always looked forward to the lettuce wraps.
When I became vegetarian it was a real bummer because the restaurant we went to didn’t have vegetarian lettuce wraps on their menu. Fast forward 25 years or so, and it turns out they’re super easy to make at home, and every bit as fun to assemble.
What Do I Need to Make Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps?
I think the basic lettuce wrap formula is something for crunch, something for protein, and a super tasty sauce. To make vegetarian lettuce wraps, I think that both tofu and tempeh work great for the protein. Today we’re using tempeh, but feel free to swap it up.
For the crunch factor you’ll need some nice crispy lettuce leaves, and whatever fresh veggies you’re inclined to stuff in there alongside the tempeh – I used snow peas and some red pepper, plus a sprinkling of green onion.
And for the sauce I’ve used my favourite spicy sesame sauce, which is about to become your favourite spicy sesame sauce as well, I’m sure of it. The sauce is adapted from this recipe from Connoisseurus Veg.
Is it hard to make Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps?
It is not.
All you need to do is whisk together the ingredients for the sauce, pan-fry some tempeh, and mix it all together. Tempeh is super greedy for sauce, so after they get to mingle in the pan for a few minutes you’ll be left with a spicy sauce-glazed tempeh that’s perfect for stuffing into lettuce leaves and topping with veggies.
It’s so easy and super fast and insanely delicious you’ll wonder whether you actually made this, or whether the Foodora guy got lost and made a mistake. But then you’ll realize that you still have to do the dishes (but really not very many of them!) and it’s not too good to be true, it’s just true.
Tips for Making Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps
- Are these lettuce wraps vegan? You bet they are!
- I’m not really into tempeh. Can I use something else? Not everyone is a tempeh lover, I get it! I’d recommend swapping in some extra firm tofu, cut into small cubes or crumbled with your hands.
- Do these have to be so spicy? Absolutely not. You can reduce the amount of hot sauce, or eliminate it altogether if spice doesn’t work for you.
- Can I make these vegetarian lettuce wraps in advance? You can! I recommend keeping the tempeh separate from the lettuce and vegetables until you’re ready to serve them, but you can totally make all of the components in advance.
- Do these work for packed lunches? Yes they do! See the above point about keeping the components separate and you’re good to go.
- Can I make a double recipe? You bet! Just change the number of servings in the recipe card below, and it’ll automatically adjust the quantities in the recipe for you.
Hey Nutrition Lady, what’s the deal with tempeh?
Glad you asked!
Tempeh is fermented soy food originally from Indonesia. It is fermented with the mold Rhizopus oligosporus in a process similar to cheese making. The fermentation process makes digestion easier and nutrients like zinc, calcium, and iron are more bio available than in non-fermented soy products like tofu.
Tempeh is a great source of plant-based protein. Also, because the soy beans in tempeh are still in their whole form, all of the dietary fiber is still intact. Think of tofu as the white bread of the soy world and tempeh as it’s healthier whole grain cousin.
Tempeh is usually purchased in a cake-like form and can be sliced or crumbled, and is often steamed, seared, or stir-fried. Look for tempeh that is covered with a thin whitish bloom. Sometimes it has a few black or grayish spots, which is totally fine, but it should have no evidence of pink, yellow, or blue colouration – a sign that it has become overly fermented.
Other tasty tempeh recipes you might enjoy:
Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps
Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps with Spicy Sesame Tempeh! These crunchy vegan wraps are a healthy twist on a classic recipe, with tempeh for protein, a spicy sesame sauce for bold Asian flavours, and lots of crunch from fresh vegetables.
- 1/4 cup tahini paste
- 2 Tbsp pure maple syrup or other liquid sweetener
- 1 Tbsp Sriracha hot sauce more if you like it really spicy
- 1 Tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tsp rice vinegar
- 1 clove garlic crushed
- 2 teaspoons ginger freshly grated
- 1/4 cup water more to thin it out as needed
- 2 tablespoons cold pressed sesame oil or other neutral oil
- 8 ounces tempeh cut into cubes
- lettuce leaves
- snow peas
- sliced red pepper
- sliced green onion
- sesame seeds for garnish
Combine the tahini, maple syrup, Sriracha, soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, and water in a small bowl and whisk into a smooth sauce.
If the sauce is quite thick (because your tahini is thick) add 1-3 tablespoons of water to thin it to the desired consistency, keeping in mind that the tempeh will soak up most of the sauce once added.
Set the sauce aside.
Heat a large heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium-high heat.
Add the oil, and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan, and then add the tempeh.
Pan-fry the tempeh without disturbing it for about 5 minutes on one side. Once it's got a nice golden brown on the first side, flip the pieces over and give them another 5 minutes on the next side.
Reduce the heat to low and pour the sauce into the pan with the tempeh. Stir to coat it will, and set aside for 5 minutes to allow the tempeh to soak up the sauce.
To serve, spoon the tempeh and sauce into large lettuce leaves. Top with snow peas, red pepper, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
- Nutrition values are an estimate only