I admit that I'm a huge geek about keeping files of recipes from years and years of food publications. These are physical, paper files of pages that have been cut from magazines, and in some cases, the pages were copied if I needed to file the front of the page in one folder and the back in another. Yes, there are folders to categorize drinks, appetizers, salads, soups, sides, seafood, holiday menus, etc. I said I'm a geek about it. I get that. Now, there are two types of searches that happen in these files. One is the frantic search in which I remember a dish, and I know the recipe is filed in there somewhere, and I flip through every folder trying to find it. The other search type is the meandering, happy, just browsing search. That happens when it occurs to me that I haven't dipped into the files in a while, and I take a breezy stroll through food ideas of the past. It was that kind of search that led me to these lettuce bundles, and this gem of a fresh, light meal came from Living magazine in January 2001. Noodles in a spicy peanut sauce are cupped in butterhead lettuce leaves and topped with fresh, crunchy vegetables and chicken, and the big, pretty head of butterhead lettuce I had from my CSA was ready and waiting.
This is a versatile kind of meal. You can set out all the possible fillings and let everyone involved put together their lettuce bundles as they choose. You could use a rotisserie chicken, or grill some chicken, or skip the chicken entirely. Duck was also suggested in the original recipe. I went with soy sauce-marinated chicken that I roasted in the oven. Next, the peanut sauce should be made, and this is a pretty simple one compared to others I've tried. Into the food processor went garlic, ginger, chile paste, peanut butter, soy sauce, a little sugar, oil, lime juice, and water. It seemed like it was missing something, so I added some fish sauce and extra chile paste. For the noodles, I used vermicelli-style rice noodles which cook in boiling water in approximately one minute. Once drained and rinsed, the noodles were tossed with most of the peanut sauce. Some sauce was set aside for drizzling on top of the bundles. Then, you just have to slice and/or chop all the vegetables for toppings. I julienned cucumber, carrot, and serranos and thinly sliced green onion. I had some Thai basil leaves from my herb garden, so I used those as well.
For a meal on the light side, this packs lots of flavor thanks to the peanut sauce. And, those perfectly cupped leaves of butterhead lettuce are easy to bundle up with fillings. Everything can be served at room temperature, or if made in advance, it could also be served chilled. In fact, for a summertime lunch, the cold noodles and sauce from the refrigerator the next day were delightful in the crisp lettuce cups.