These savory lettuce wraps are complex in spicy flavors and more filling than you would expect. Fresh romaine hearts cradle the chicken and veggies to sail your taste buds through the memorable flavors of Vietnam. These are easy to make and hold up well for lunches or dinner.

Dr. Valerie and I had the amazing opportunity to travel in Vietnam last year over the holidays. We met countless friendly locals and tour guides. The southeast Asian cuisine was freshly prepared and always the highlight of our day. It is of no wonder that so many celebrity chefs point to this small country when asked for their favorite meals. We did a very memorable market tour and cooking class in the countryside. This underdeveloped country is proudly low on fast food restaurants and packaged, processed food. Every meal is flavored with handfuls of fresh herbs and spices. In fact, this recipe is my best attempt at recreating the chicken boats served at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Portland.

Allergens and substitutions: To avoid dairy replace the butter with olive oil. To avoid soy, replace the the tamari with sea salt and omit the dipping sauce.



Chicken has high levels of vitamin B along with being a high source of protein, the building block of muscles. Only buy chicken (and all other poultry) that is raised without antibiotics to get truly healthy meat. Read the ingredients on the sausages. Food manufacturers can hide some horrible ingredients in tube meat. If you cannot pronounce it or recognize the ingredient, it’s best to not eat it. Honorable mention goes to Applegate Organics meats for producing real food available widely in the US. It’s not cheap, but real food raised properly seldom is.


Broth made from the bones of animals raised on a healthy diet provides deep rich flavor to recipes and countless nutritional benefits. Simmering the bones over low heat for hours brings out high amounts of rich collagen, providing for stronger bones, full-bodied hair and superior skin health. Store bought broth is much lower in nutrients compared to homemade broth. Save all your animal bones from past meals in your freezer and make a batch of bone broth every few weeks. Your body will thank you for it. Here’s our recipe for browned bone broth.


Lemons are antibacterial and have the most calcium citrate of all the citrus fruits.   This is important because it can decrease the rate of formation of kidney stones.  Drinking lemon juice can be used to counteract nausea, heart burn or acid indigestion.  The mighty lemon can also reduce swelling, water retention and inflammation in your body.  It’s antibacterial properties can help to rid the body of the bacteria that causes UTI’s (urinary tract infection).



Follow the instructions below to make this savory meal. This may seem like a lot of ingredients for a recipe, but many shortcuts can be taken. Trader Joe’s sells green beans and carrots that are already cleaned and cut. Likewise, most stores carry frozen onions that are already diced or sliced. Just open the package and add them when called for in the recipe. The romaine hearts pictured below simply pull off the core for easy and healthy wraps that give fresh crunch with every bite. This recipe can also be simplified by not taking the extra 15 minutes to brown the chicken, onion and mushrooms.

It’s good practice to pull out all the pots and pans you need before cooking. Likewise, pulling out the ingredients you need to measure or chop beforehand will simplify your cooking. The French call this practice mise en place which translates to “putting in place”. It is practiced in restaurants and taught to chefs in culinary school.


The secret ingredient, that makes this recipe, is the Chinese Five Spice blend. It is widely used in many Asian cuisines. As the name suggests, there are five ingredients to this mixture and can vary somewhat by region. The brand I prefer to use has star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel and black pepper.  (Note the lack of salt! This blend is great for those with hypertension.) These flavorful spices are what brought explorers to sail around the world in attempts to bring these exotic flavors back to their kingdom’s bland foods. It is wild to think that cinnamon was once used as a currency in trading, but we can now schlep down to a mini-mart and buy it on the shelves.

Substitution: For this recipe, we prefer the rich taste of the chicken thighs over the breast. However, if you would like to cut your calorie intake, use the chicken breast instead. The breast can dry out quickly and lacks the fat and flavor of the thigh.

There is no need to rinse your chicken thighs under water before cutting them, but it can help to dry them with a paper towel. Dry meat holds the spices and cooks better than wet meat. Chop your chicken on a meat cutting board with a sharp knife into bite sized pieces. Trim any excessive fat from the meat, but it is okay to leave some on. That fat will render in the pan and is actually healthy for you, in moderate servings. Sprinkle each piece with some Chinese Five Spice.

Caution: Be mindful when working with raw poultry. It can easily spread germs, including salmonella, which can be fatal. I prefer to pull out the cutting board, knife and trash can before I open the package of poultry. Once I open it, I place the packaging in the trash without touching any other surfaces. Likewise, when I handle the raw meat, I will not touch any other surfaces until I have washed my hands. Place the cutting board in a dishwasher to neutralize any germs with hot water and soap. Always wash your hands after handling raw poultry.

Optional: Browning the meat, onions and mushrooms will develop deep flavors, but can skipped if you are in a hurry. Place 1 tbsp of the butter, ghee or coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the butter has melted add the chicken, working in 2-3 batches. The meat browns best when it is not crowded in the pan. Brown on each side for about 3 minutes. The chicken does not need to be fully cooked since it will continue to cook when it is simmering in the broth. Place the partly cooked chicken in a large stock pot.

Optional: Once your chicken has browned in the pan, add 1 tbsp of butter to the skillet on medium heat. Melt the butter for a few seconds then add the onion and mushrooms. Stir for 5-7 minutes or until browned, as pictured below. Add these to the large stock pan with the partly cooked chicken.

Place the spiced chicken, onions and mushrooms in a large stock pan. Cover with broth and add the garlic and optional fish sauce and red chili flakes. Bring the chicken filling to a low rolling boil (medium-low heat) and allow the liquid to reduce without a lid. Stir every few minutes and let the flavors blend for about 20-30 minutes on the stove top. Pull one piece of chicken out of the pan and cut in half to confirm that it is cooked. You should not see any pink on the inside.

If you’re using homemade bone broth it will have more flavor than the store-bought variety. Always dilute your bone broth 1:1. Since it is much more concentrated, use 1 cup of bone broth and 1 cup of water in place of the 2 cups of store-bought broth.

The best store-bought broth at Trader Joe’s is the Organic Free Range Chicken Broth. The other selections contain some poor quality ingredients, such as dextrose, cane sugar, caramel color and yeast extract (read: MSG). Choose carefully since this food stuff can go from a healing food to a toxic one.

Optional: To make the dipping sauce, simply measure out the tamari or soy sauce into a microwavable glass or ceramic container. Add the dijon mustard and place in the microwave for about 30 seconds or until lightly steaming. Add the optional stevia and mix thoroughly and serve with the boats. Store any unconsumed dipping sauce covered in the refrigerator.

To make the boats for your chicken filling, remove one leaf at a time from the romaine hearts. Trim the lower 1-1.5″ of the white from the bottom of the leaf. That white area can be bitter. Place a second leaf in the opposite direction to the first for a structurally sound vessel. Add the chicken filling then cover with some raw carrots.

Green Beans: To make the simple beans, bring a large skillet to medium-high heat over the stove. Melt the last 1 tbsp of butter for a few seconds. Then add the green beans and a dash of optional red chili flakes. (Work in two batches if they all do not fit in your pan.) Cover with a lid and sear for 2 minutes. Open the lid, stir and add the lemon halves. Cover the beans again and allow to sear for another two minutes. Remove from the pan when seared but before they go soft from too much heat. Squeeze the lemon over the green beans once plated.

Serving Size: The easiest way to figure out the proper serving is by measuring the ingredients that go into this recipe. Once everything is cooked, divide the food between plates and lunch containers. Eyeballing this recipe to four parts for the 1,500 calorie plan or three parts for the 2,000 calorie plan is sufficient.


Prep time
Cook time
Total time
These savory lettuce wraps are complex in spicy flavors and more filling than you would expect. Fresh romaine hearts cradle the chicken and veggies to sail your taste buds through the memorable flavors of Vietnam. These are easy to make and hold up well for lunches or dinner.
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Vietnamese
Serves: 40 oz
  • Romaine Hearts, 1 Package
  • Green Beans, 12 oz (3/4 lb)
  • Lemon, Halved, 1X
  • Butter or Ghee, 4 tbsp
  • Carrots, Julienned, 4 oz (1/4 lb)
  • Mushrooms, Chopped, ½ cup
  • Onion, Chopped, ½X Medium
  • Garlic, Pressed, 2X Cloves
  • Broth, ORGANIC, Free-Range Chicken, 2 cups
  • Chinese Five Spice, 1 tbsp
  • Chicken Thighs, NO ANTIBIOTICS, Boneless, Skinless, 2.5 lbs
  • Optional: Red Chili Flakes, ½ tsp
  • Optional: Fish Sauce, 1 tbsp
  • Tamari or Soy Sauce, 4 tbsp
  • Dijon Mustard, 1 tsp
  • Liquid Stevia, to taste
  1. Chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle both sides with the Chinese Five Spice.
  2. Optional: Heat a skillet to medium heat and melt 1 tbsp of butter.
  3. Add chicken, working in 2-3 batches, until browned. Cook on each side for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Place partially cooked chicken in a large stock pan.
  5. Add the onion and mushrooms to the skillet with another 1 tbsp of butter. Stir until brown for 5-7 minutes.
  6. Place the onion and mushrooms in the large stock pan.
  7. Add the broth, optional fish sauce, optional red chili flakes and garlic to the chicken filling.
  8. Bring to a low rolling boil over medium-low heat. Simmer uncovered for 20-30 minutes or until chicken is done.
  9. Tear off romaine leaves from the heart. Cut off the last 1-1.5" of white on the leaf. It can be bitter.
  10. Arrange two leaves opposing to form the boat. Fill with chicken mixture and top with carrots.
  11. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
  12. Dipping Sauce: Add the tamari or soy sauce and dijon mustard to a microwavable glass or ceramic container.
  13. Heat for 30-60 seconds or until lightly steaming.
  14. Carefully remove from the microwave and stir in the optional stevia.
  15. Serve along side the boats for dipping.
  16. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
  17. Green Beans: Bring a large skillet to medium-high heat.
  18. Add 1 tbsp of butter to the pan and melt for a few seconds.
  19. Add the green beans and optional red chili flakes. Cover and sear for 2 minutes.
  20. Stir and add the lemon halves. Cover the pan again and sear for another 2 minutes.
  21. Remove from the pan and squeeze the lemon over the green beans.


Photo by liz west and Fotolia.[/two_third]

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