Five-Spice Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Five-Spice Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Chinese New Year is this weekend and I’m new year prep mode.  Unlike its January 1st counterpart, which is basically about a countdown followed by new years resolutions, Chinese New Year feels so much more celebratory.  Typically, the weeks leading up to the new year involves cleaning and de-cluttering, so you can start the new year fresh.  By throwing out the trash or the bad luck, you make room for good luck to enter your life.

lettuce condiments

Every year, my grandma treats the whole family to dinner at a Chinese restaurant (at last count, that would be about 25 to 30 of us that live in town, including her kids, grandkids, and great grandkids).  It’s the one time of year that all the amazing cooks in my family don’t actually have to cook (and mess up the kitchen) and can relax and enjoy the festivities instead.

old fam pic

Classic Family Pic: Doesn’t my grandma look so young to have that many grandkids? Five grandkids are missing from the pic because they weren’t born yet. That’s my dad holding me in his lap on the far right.

After dinner, we all go to my parents house where the little ones get red envelopes with lucky money and then we start gambling. I have fond memories of all of us squishing around the table to play blackjack, which is the first card game we all learned to play.  My dad is usually the dealer, with his ‘family house rules’ and we have a great time heckling him.  And yes the eating continues here too. Usually fried shrimp chips, coffee, and clementines.  Savoury, caffeinated, and sweet.

asian chicken done

For this recipe, the five-spice powder gives the chicken a distinctly Asian flavour and isn’t actually hot spicy, more earthy and aromatic.  The heat factor comes from the Thai bird chilis in the marinade and the toppings.  Be careful, sometimes those little guys can be brutally spicy.  I always de-seed before adding to the marinade to give it some kick, without being too overpowering.

My nephew is totally the Golden Child in his Chinese New Year outfit. Look at those delicious cheeks!

My niece and my dog Pucci dressed up for Chinese New Year in 2012. Cuteness overload.

Honestly, this batch of chilis was so spicy, we picked them off the wraps after the photos were taken because they were melting our faces off (the ones in the marinade were perfect).  But if you like heat, go for it.  You can always leave them on the side and let your guests garnish as they please.

lettuce wraps rice noodles
lettuce wraps with chicken
lettuce wraps with carrots
asian lettuce wraps top view

This recipe for lettuce wraps is a hybrid of many different food loves: chili chicken, Peking duck (the second course), and Vietnamese cool rolls.  Over the holidays, I watched Jamie Oliver create something similar on TV, though he start plopping on raw tofu and lost me, but I loved his Asian fusion approach.  This would be a great meal to put out for a crowd and it’s fun and festive to eat no matter what time of year.  An Asian taco of sorts.  And like all tacos, make sure to have lots of napkins on hand.

Wishing everyone a New Year full of happiness, health, prosperity and lots of good luck. 

cousins with headpieces

Here’s a more recent pic of some of us hamming it up in headpieces my sister brought back from her trip to China. So cute!

PS – I used a julienne peeler to get those pretty shreds of carrot.

lettuce wraps on platter

Five-Spice Chicken Lettuce Wraps

This recipe for lettuce wraps is a hybrid of many different food loves: chili chicken, Peking duck (the second course), and Vietnamese cool rolls.
Course: Appetizer, Main Course, Snack
Cuisine: Asian
Diet: Gluten Free
Keyword: chicken, dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, noodles, pasta, rice & grains, poultry, spicy, tacos
Servings: 4 as a main
Author: ness


Five-Spice Chicken

  • 6 boneless skinless chicken thighs (trimmed of fat and cut into 1" pieces)
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp minced ginger
  • 1 tsp five-spice powder
  • 1 to 2 Thai bird chilis (de-seeded and finely minced)
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro/coriander
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • canola oil for frying

Lettuce Wraps and Garnishes

  • 2 heads of iceberg lettuce
  • 2 stalks green onion (finely sliced)
  • 1 medium carrot (julienned)
  • 1/4 cucumber (cut into matchsticks)
  • Handful fresh cilantro/coriander leaves
  • 2 cups cooked rice noodles (cooked according to package instructions)
  • Gluten-free hoisin sauce
  • Sesame seeds (optional)
  • 2 to 3 Thai bird chilis (finely sliced (optional))


  • In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients for chicken except canola oil and stir to combine. Cover and marinate in fridge for 30 minutes up to 2 hours.
  • Prepare lettuce wraps. Carefully peel away leaves of lettuce from the head, trying not to tear the leaves, and trim excess ends with kitchen shears. Wash and dry lettuce leaves, and place on platter.
  • In large non-stick frying pan over medium high heat, add one tablespoon canola oil. Add half of the chicken to pan and let cook for 2 minutes or until browned. Flip chicken over and cook other side for another 2 minutes or until cooked through and no longer pink inside. Remove chicken and place on paper towel lined plate. Wipe any brown bits from pan with a clean paper towel and add pan back to heat. Add one tablespoon canola oil and cook remaining chicken.
  • Assemble wraps. Place about 1 to 2 ounces of rice noodles inside each lettuce wrap, followed by carrots, cucumber, and chicken. Add remaining garnishes and serve.
Aloo Chap (Spiced Meat and Potato Cakes)

Aloo Chap (Spiced Meat and Potato Cakes)

Home cooking is a concept that I’ve been thinking about a lot in the last couple of months since my last post back in May.  Since then, I moved from Scottsdale, Arizona back to my hometown of Toronto and in that time, l have lived in 5 hotels, my parents’ house, my inlaws house (AND gone to 5 weddings) before moving into our own loft downtown.  And back in Scottsdale, we were in a temporary furnished rental for 3 months with our things in storage.  So it’s been a long LONG time since I’ve seen a good deal of my stuff.  And with this transient lifestyle, I’ve eaten at so many restaurants out of necessity that home cooking is something I’ve truly been craving.

aloo chap ingredients on board

It’s taken a while for me to get back into the swing of cooking at home.  Time to find new grocery stores, find enough surface area to work on in our open concept kitchen, and find places to store all the stuff we unpacked.  Finally, I feel like I’m there – home.  And ready to get my home-cooking on.  And for me, that means aloo chap – an Indian-Chinese word we use for potato cakes stuffed with spiced ground meat.  It’s one of my family’s specialties.

mashed potato aloo chap
aloo chap meat in potato
aloo chap meat + potato

Aloo is the Hindi word for potato – I thought it was a Chinese word until I was in my 20s.  My first memory of eating aloo chap is going to one of my aunt’s houses a kid, my aunties working away to make a zillion aloo chaps assembly line style, and all of us cousins smothering the little potato rounds in ketchup before stuffing our faces.  My aunts made two kinds – spicy for the grown ups and non-spicy for us kiddies.  I think they must have used entire sacs of potatoes and half a cow to make enough aloo chaps to satisfy our entire family, and to have enough for leftovers to send home with everyone.

prepped aloo chap

Now that I make them at home, I use ground turkey or chicken instead of beef, and gluten free breadcrumbs.  Also, I pan fry them instead of deep frying for both health and cleanup laziness reasons.  I know my adaptations are A-OK since I made these for my parents and they said they were just as yum as the ones my aunt’s make.  This is a MAJOR compliment since these aunties are awesome cooks renowned for their massive spreads of all sorts of insanely delicious eats at our family functions.  And now that I’m back in TO, I can enjoy this regularly.  So happy to be home.

aloo chap in frying pan


Kids bbq

This is some of the cousins at a party sometime in the 80s. I'm absent in this picture... just like I was absent in many pix when I was in AZ. See how sad everyone is??? Except smiley Kim.

Aloo Chap (Spiced Potato Cakes)

Now that I make them at home, I use ground turkey or chicken instead of beef, and gluten free breadcrumbs. Also, I pan fry them instead of deep frying for both health and cleanup laziness reasons. I know my adaptations are A-OK since I made these for my parents and they said they were just as yum as the ones my aunt's make. This is a MAJOR compliment since these aunties are awesome cooks renowned for their massive spreads of all sorts of insanely delicious eats at our family functions. And now that I'm back in TO, I can enjoy this regularly. So happy to be home.
Course: Appetizer, Main Course, Snack
Cuisine: Indian
Diet: Gluten Free
Keyword: corn-free, dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, lamb, meat, nut-free, potato, soy-free, spicy, yeast-free
Servings: 4
Author: ness


  • 5-6 medium sized yukon gold potatoes (peeled)
  • 2 tbsp canola oil (plus more for frying)
  • 1 large onion (finely diced)
  • 4 garlic cloves (finely minced)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh ginger (finely minced)
  • 1 Tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder or 1 finely diced chili pepper (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro (chopped)
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 4 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 lb ground turkey (chicken, or lamb)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup gluten free bread crumbs


  • In a medium pot, boil potatoes for 15 minutes or until fork tender. Drain, mash, and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of oil on medium heat in a wok or frying pan. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, chili/pepper, cilantro and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occassionally.
  • Add ground meat and peas and continue cooking until meat is fully cooked and quite dry. Add salt and lemon juice.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine mashed potatoes and meat mixture and stir until fully blended. Spoon 1/3 cup of the mixture into your hand and shape into a round patty. Gently roll patty in breadcrumbs until coated and set aside on baking sheet until ready to cook. Repeat until all the potato mixture is used.
  • In a medium frying pan add about 2 tablespoons of oil on medium heat. Add a few patties at a time and cook on each side until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Gently flip and cook the other side until golden brown. Continue until all the patties are done.
  • Serve hot with ketchup. For extra heat, add Tobasco or Mexican style hot sauce to the ketchup.
  • PS - you can also make these smaller and serve them as appetizers.
Ahpoh’s Tossed Noodles (Yam Mein)

Ahpoh’s Tossed Noodles (Yam Mein)

Ahpoh is my grandma on my dad’s side.  She is well-known for her mean cooking skills, especially not using any recipes and only her talent, cunning, and experience to create her legendary food.


After she quit the restaurant biz, she took on the task of babysitting me, my sister and cousins after school.   Ahpoh’s house was just a quick 5 minute walk from our elementary school so we would go home for lunch.  While our classmates were stuck eating sandwiches and Lunchables (remember those???), us kids would skip home for lunch to eat fried rice, dumplings, ramen noodles in soup, and hotdogs wrapped in Indian buttery parathas (brilliant).  She even figured out how to make spaghetti bolognese for us Canadian grandkids. We were so spoiled.


ingredients yam mein on board


ground chicken in wok


But my personal fave is still her yam mein (means ‘tossed noodles’).  When D was craving home-cooked Chinese food, I knew that this would satisfy.  What makes this different from ‘chow mein’ is basically you just toss all the cooked ingredients together and add sauce rather than stir-frying the meat, veg, and noodles.  It’s so easy to whip up – this was the first Chinese dish I cooked on my own.


spaghetti in strainer


Normally, this dish is made with wheat noodles and ground pork.  In my version, I use gluten free white rice pasta spaghetti style from Tinkyada and ground chicken.  To make sure it’s GF, use a GF tamari soy sauce and check the ingredients on the oyster sauce bottle, both of which you can find in most Asian aisles of your grocery store or health food store.


yam mein in wok

ahpoh w/ shot

Ahpoh ready to do a shot! j/k she's just being a good sport.

Ahpoh's Yam Mein (Tossed Noodles)

What makes this different from 'chow mein' is basically you just toss all the cooked ingredients together and add sauce rather than stir-frying the meat, veg, and noodles. It's so easy to whip up - this was the first Chinese dish I cooked on my own.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Asian
Diet: Gluten Free
Keyword: chicken, corn-free, dairy-free, egg-free, fast, gluten-free, noodles, nut-free, pasta, rice & grains, poultry, soy-free, yeast-free
Servings: 2
Author: ness


  • 1/2 package of rice spaghetti
  • 1 Tbsp canola oil
  • 6 cloves garlic minced (about 2 Tbsp)
  • 1/2 lb ground organic chicken (a mix of white and dark, all white meat will be dry)
  • 3 sprigs green onion (scallion, finely sliced)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp GF tamari soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • salt to taste


  • Bring 4 liters of salted water to boil. Add spaghetti and cook according to package directions (keep an eye on them - cooked too long and rice pasta becomes mushy). Rinse with cold water and set aside. Heat a non-stick wok to medium high heat and add oil. Add garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until fragrant but not browned. Add chicken and stir, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon or spatula. Continue cooking until meat is cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add cooked spaghetti and green onions to the chicken and add the soy sauce, oyster sauce, salt (to taste) and pepper. Remove from heat and serve with Sriracha hot sauce or garlic chili sauce (optional).

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