(Un)Wrap a Healthy 2019

By Anita McVey, Picnic Life Foodie

Judging from my social media feed and conversations with friends and family, it seems like everyone has a healthy eating resolution for 2019! Whether it’s to drop a few pounds, eliminate soda or cut back on carbs, most of us (myself included) want to eat healthier this year.

Unfortunately, finding where to start and holding onto our resolutions for 12 long months can be a stumbling block to making intentions a reality.

A few years ago, my husband and I resolved to revamp our diet. Our plan emphasized lean protein, lots of veggies and a big reduction in carbohydrates and sugar. It wasn’t easy, but it worked and we felt great. We even managed to keep the weight off and continued to maintain a balanced diet for several years.

We found that having an arsenal of healthy, yet satisfying, recipes was a simple strategy for success.

One of our favorite recipes was inspired by a craving for our favorite restaurant menu item: Asian Lettuce Wraps.

The tasty mixture of meat, vegetables and spicy-sweet sauce sits inside a vessel of crisp lettuce. In the restaurant, there doesn’t seem to be anything special about the lettuce itself, but it holds together like a wrap should. It gets a little messy if I add too much the sauce (which happens a lot, actually), but it works.

Pulling from the menu description, I opted for the healthiest versions of the ingredients. Lean ground meat, a variety of nutrient-packed fresh veggies, a small amount of oil, garlic, ginger, crushed red pepper and a tangy-spicy sauce.

I cooked the meat with the veggies I wanted to be tender (carrots, mushrooms, onions) and then added the veggies I wanted to remain crunchy (celery, water chestnuts, pea pods).

My adaptation was going as planned until we tried to wrap the darn things!

I tried several different kinds of lettuce. I tried soaking the leaves in ice water to make them extra crisp. I tried layering two leaves together to add structure.

Nothing but a mess. And it’s not just because I put on too much sauce.

After many attempts, we caved. We switched from lettuce to shredded cabbage and put it all in a bowl. The cabbage holds up to the heat and is a valuable source of Vitamins C and K.

It is so good, BUT IT’S NOT A WRAP!

Wraps aside. This is a very customizable recipe.

  • No pea pods? Defrosted frozen peas or shelled edamame work great.

  • Not a fan of baby corn or water chestnuts? Leave them out and bump up the amounts of the other veggies. Red peppers, green beans and bean sprouts can be added or substituted.

  • Want more spice? Increase the crushed red pepper in the cooking and the Sriracha in the sauce.

  • Add a little freshness with cilantro and lemon or lime juice.

  • Want a little more crunch? A few almonds or cashews sprinkled on top will do the trick.

  • Need more substance? Serve it over rice.

  • Ground beef, chicken or turkey can easily be substituted for the ground pork. Go with whatever your taste buds crave!

If you can solve the mystery and figure out a burst-proof kind of leafy green that will hold up as a wrapping device, please let me know.

Until then, I will be (un)satisfied, but very happy, with this version.

Asian Pork (Un)Wrap

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground pork
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon pepper, divided
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup diced mushrooms
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 can water chestnuts, drained and tiny diced
  • 1 cup thinly sliced pea pods
  • 1 cup baby corn slices (1/2″ thick)
  • Shredded cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts or combination
  • Green onions, sliced


  • 4 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1-2 teaspoons Sriracha or Tabasco sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

Note: It is very important to cut the vegetables into consistently small pieces (approximately 1/2 inch “cubes”) for the cooking times given in the instructions below to ensure the desired results. You can change the sizes and shapes as you prefer… just make sure you adjust the timing and test the doneness of each ingredient as you cook.

Combine sauce ingredients and set aside.

Preheat a large sauté pan to medium-low heat. Add olive oil, sesame oil, garlic, ginger and crushed red pepper; stir for one minute. Increase temperature to medium and add the ground pork, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, carrots, onion and mushrooms. Brown ground pork.

Drain off the resulting liquid and discard. 

Return pan to heat and add celery, water chestnuts, pea pods, baby corn, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes or until celery is tender but not soft. Pour half of sauce over pork and vegetable mixture; stir until evenly distributed.

Serve hot over shredded cabbage mixture. Top with a drizzle of the sauce and sprinkle of green onions.

Makes 6 large servings.