Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps with Spicy Sesame Tempeh! These crunchy veggie lettuce 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: do you like lettuce wraps?
I love veggie 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 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 veggie lettuce wraps are 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.
Here’s what you need:
- Crispy lettuce leaves –> can’t make a lettuce wrap without lettuce!1
- Tempeh –> For protein. Related: How to Cook Tempeh.
- Veggies –> For crunch and flavour.
- Sesame paste –> I use tahini.
- Ginger –> Bringing the zing.
- Garlic –> More flavour.
- Sesame oil –> For that delicious toasty flavour.
- Soy sauce –> Umami goodness.
- Sriracha –> For a bit of heat.
- Maple syrup –> Sweet balance.
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.
How do you make veggie lettuce wraps?
All you need to do is whisk together the ingredients for the sauce, pan-fry some tempeh, and mix it all together. Let’s go through it step by step:
Step 1: Make your sauce. Whisk together the tahini, maple syrup, soy sauce, sesame oil, Sriracha, garlic, ginger, and water.
Step 2: Cook the tempeh. Heat some oil in a frying pan, and add tempeh cubes or crumbles to the pan. Sauté until brown on all sides.
Step 3: Add the sauce to the pan. Reduce the heat to low and allow the sauce to simmer and soak into the tempeh.
Step 4: Stuff the seasoned tempeh into crispy lettuce leaves. Top with fresh, crunchy veggies, and sprinkle with sesame seeds and green onions.
Step 5: Serve!
It’s so easy and super fast and insanely delicious you’ll wonder whether you actually made this. 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 Great 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 its 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 greyish 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
- 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
This recipe was originally published July 31, 2018. It was re-tested, edited, and updated July 23, 2020.