Bulgogi Lettuce Wraps with Kimchi Chips and Fried Rice

A philosophical Friday food question for you all: Are lettuce wraps sandwiches?

To be honest, I didn’t think so when I launched Sandwich Surprise in January. But this week’s surprisee and baker extraordinaire, Grace, asked me if I could go breadless. So I did some research, i.e. Googled “lettuce wraps,” and it turns out that they are recognized by Wikipedia as a class of “lettuce sandwiches.”

Good enough for Wikipedia, good enough for Sandwich Surprise.


The whole lettuce thing fit in nicely with May’s Let’s Lunch theme: Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Especially since I’d been dreaming of a bulgogi sandwich with crispy kimchi and fried rice for months now. (Bulgogi is one type of Korean BBQ.) I had planned to experiment with rice-flour bread, but I can save that for when I Sandwich Surprise my gluten-free friends.

I made the bulgogi a couple days in advance. My mother Vicki has a beautifully simple recipe (click here for the full bulgogi recipe.)

Two nights earlier, I brined the vinegar-free Kimchi Radish Pickles using New York Times food writer Melissa Clark‘s recipe.


I didn’t have time to make kimchi cabbage, so I bought a similarly lacto-fermented jar at Whole Foods for $5.99.

Once the kimchi radish pickles were ready, I spread them and the kimchi cabbage out on a Silpat mat at 275˚.


Every half hour, I’d check for fully dry “chips,” and remove them from the oven. It took about 2 hours for everything to be fully dehydrated.


Why did I bother to turn the kimchi into chips? I find that kimchi usually overwhelms the flavor of whatever it’s eaten with, so I wanted to mute the taste slightly. They turned out salty and just a little spicy, though the radishes still had a sharp kick to them because of their radishness.

Also, kimchi cabbage can be really wet, and while a soggy Sandwich Surpriser is part of the adventure, soggy lettuce wraps would be a drag.

One caveat: Dehydrating anything severely reduces its bulk and serving size. Using about 1/5 the radish pickles and the whole jar of kimchi cabbage yielded maybe 2 ounces of chips. But 1 ounce was enough for over 20 wraps.

I didn’t technically fry the rice, but I had delicious pan drippings from sautéeing the bulgogi and from roasting fiddlehead ferns in olive oil, garlic and Kilauea black sea salt for dinner (so fricking good). So I made organic white jasmine rice (Whole Foods sells them in the freezer aisle; you just nuke them for 2-3 minutes and they’re ready to eat), and stirred them in the combined drippings.

For the lettuce, I tried both Boston lettuce (which is also known as Bibb or Butterhead lettuce) and Tropicana Green Leaf. The Trop had larger leaves, so were easier to use as wrapping.

Yesterday morning, I trekked out to west Chelsea — naturally, the skies opened up and drenched me just as I stepped out of the subway. But what’s a little spring soakage when a Korean BBQ sammy is waiting on the other side?

At Grace’s office, I spooned 1 heaping tablespoon of fried rice into the middle of each green leaf, then put 1 or 2 slices of cooked bulgogi and sprinkled about 5-7 tiny kimchi chips on top. Cost for each wrap was about $1.25-$1.50.


“I love bulgogi!” said Grace, who ate four or five of the little wraps, including one without rice. “It’s so good. Some of the bigger kimchi chips are a little chewy, because it’s hard to get a crisp on a vegetable like cabbage, but they’re awesome. And the fried rice is delicious.”

Woohoo! Any food compliments from Grace are a happy bonus, because she has been making my life and the lives of my friends and family happier and way more delicious with her insanely addictive Crave Treats cookies.

Now time to make a bulgogi lettuce wrap for breakfast!


1.5 lbs. sliced flank steak or skirt steak (I prefer flank)
1/3 c. soy sauce (I ran out of it, so I used Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, which is made from non-GMO soy)
2 scallions (including green part), sliced
2 T. sake (I went nonalcoholic and used 2 T. organic pear juice, with 1/2 t. vinegar)
1 garlic clove, crushed and minced
1 T. white sesame seeds, toasted for 5 minutes at 350˚, then crushed
1 T. organic sesame oil
Dash of freshly ground pepper

It’s so simple. After you prep your ingredients, just combine all the non-steak elements, then marinate the steak slices in that mixture overnight. Then put a tablespoon or two of neutral oil (I used olive oil) in a frying pan on medium heat and sauté the meat to your liking. I cooked each slice through because I was transporting it, but bulgogi can be medium rare.

If you want to be Sandwich Surprised yourself, just follow my Twitter account, like my Facebook page and/or subscribe to my blog here, and then comment, post or tweet to me. If I’m in your area (I do road trip it sometimes) or if you’re taking a trip to New York City, you could get a Sandwich Surprise soon!

Let’s Lunch is a global group of fabulous food bloggers that meets monthly for a virtual lunch date via Twitter (#letslunch), where we share posts on a different topic each time. Check out what the other Let’s Lunchers posted today!

Cheryl’s Spicy Korean Tofu at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Karen’s Wonton Soup at GeoFooding

Lucy’s Chinese Chicken Salad at A Cook and Her Books

Emma’s quick and dirty guide to Korean BBQ at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Lisa’s Asian Sesame, Eggplant and Noodle Salad at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Linda’s Savory Steamed Rice Cake at Spicebox Travels

Grace’s Mama’s Tips for Stir Fry at Hapa Mama

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