Spicy Beef in Lettuce Cups

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

This Szechuan-style dish is quite delicious, quick to prepare, and fun to eat. You can use flatter lettuce leaves, such as romaine or oak leaf lettuce, and fold them into small packets for eating. Or enjoy the filling in tortillas or pita bread, along with a handful of shredded lettuce and a dollop or two of spicy salsa. We love it with rice and greens for a weeknight supper.


Cooking Methodstir-frying



Total Timeunder 1 hour

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

One Pot MealYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, peanut free, tree nut free


Five Ingredients or LessYes


Taste and Texturehot & spicy, meaty


  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry, white wine, or Shaoxing wine
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ pound ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
  • 1 tablespooon Asian sesame oil
  • About 20 cup-shaped lettuce leaves, such as Bibb, Boston, or iceberg


  1. In a small bowl combine the soy sauce, sherry, cornstarch, sugar, and salt, and stir well to dissolve the cornstarch and combine everything into a smooth sauce.

  2. Place the ground beef in a medium bowl, and use a spoon to separate it into five or six big clumps. Add about half the soy sauce mixture, and gently mix the seasonings into the ground beef, using your hands or a large spoon. Set aside for 10 to 15 minutes.

  3. To cook, heat a wok or a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Add the vegetable oil; swirl to coat the pan, and then toss in the ginger and garlic. Cook for about 1 minute, tossing once, until fragrant but not browned.

  4. Crumble in the seasoned ground beef, and use your spatula or a big, slotted spoon to break it up and spread the meat out over the hot pan to help it cook evenly. Let it cook until it changes color on one side, 1 to 2 minutes.

  5. Toss the meat just enough to turn the uncooked side onto the hot pan, and let it cook another minute undisturbed. Pour the remaining half of the seasoning mixture over the meat. Then toss well, using your spatula to break up any large chunks. When the meat is cooked, add the red pepper flakes and the green onion, and toss well. Add the sesame oil and remove from the heat tossing once more to mix everything well.

  6. Transfer to a serving plate and serve hot warm, or at room temperature. Arrange lettuce cups on a serving platter, and fill each one with a spoonful or two of the cooked beef. Or provide lettuce cups and the serving plate of beef and invite guests to make up lettuce packets themselves.


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Made with ground chicken instead of beef, and it rocked! Worth making for the aroma it fills the house with :) Quadrupled the recipe to ensure leftovers for lunch. Not sure if my modifications threw it off a bit, but I definitely recommend either omitting the salt or using low sodium soy sauce.

This is really good! I serve it for dinner in a bowl over rice with shredded romaine lettuce on top. I like to put a spoon of go-chee-jang sauce (Korean bean paste that's a little sweet and hot) in it and mix it up. With all that garlic, green onion and sesame oil, it seems more Korean to me. OH! I double or triple the whole recipe. Thanks for the great recipe.

Nancie McDermott here, to fill the gap in my recipe. You pour the remaining seasoning sauce into the pan just after the meat, and before the red pepper flakes, green onion and sesame oil. As soon as the meat has had a chance to cook a bit, pour the sauce over it, toss well, and then proceed as directed. Cookstr corrected my mistake as soon as I told them about it, so the recipe now has all the directions. So sorry and happy cooking!

@scotschinese I checked in the book to see if any instructions went missing in translation from book to web, but in fact Nancie doesn't specify what to do with the rest of that sauce. It sounds so tasty, though, and I bet it would be great as a condiment on the final dish, or even over rice.

This is a lovely and fast dish; but there is a gap in the instructions. One is told what to do with half of the liquid mixture, but never told what to do with the 2nd half. I stirred it in while cooking and that seemed satisfactory. - Leslie


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