Tofu Lettuce Cups

A few months ago a shopping bag ordinance was put in place; plastic bags are no longer offered at grocery and retail locations and all paper bags cost 10 cents each. I love this new rule, I think it’s a great way to reduce our impact on the environment and it gives the city a little additional revenue. It has, however, increased the incidence of what I call “grocery bag casualties.” Local parking lots are full of individuals running after dropped cans and heads of lettuce with their arms full of food, too stubborn to pay 10 cents for a bag. I guess it’s not very fair to laugh at shoppers furiously chasing a rolling yogurt container on their way to the car when this happens to me all the time, but it’s too hard to resist.

It’s the worst when I stop by the grocery store on my way home from school with a heavy backpack. I walk out of the store with produce bags hanging off my elbows and bags of flour tucked under my arms (I promise I have a few typical teenager characteristics, their just hidden under a thick layer of butter and sugar.). This happened again recently when buying ingredients to make these tofu lettuce cups for our regular Friday night dinners. Fortunately, no tofu or mushrooms were harmed in the making of this recipe.

I’ve made tofu lettuce cups for dinner about half a dozen times, and it’s one of my favorite summer meals. Made with tofu and complementary vegetables, they make for a healthy and refreshing appetizer or main dish. Sometimes I prepare them with water chestnuts and Hoisin sauce for a more classically Chinese variation, but my favorite way to make them is with tofu, mushrooms, and a chili-lime sauce, for a more Southeast Asian spin.

Understandably, most people are intimidated when they first cook tofu because at face value it’s a bland and floppy white block. The trick to making great tofu is to use its mild taste and soft texture to your advantage. Once seared in a hot pan, tofu becomes chewy, yet still manages to absorb lots of flavor from any sauce that’s used for flavor. In this dish, the bright lime juice, chili-garlic paste, and soy sauce permeate the tofu, mushrooms, and roasted cashews for a spicy dish full of vibrant flavors and contrasting textures.

These are excellent appetizers for a party, but they’re especially fun for dinner with some rice on the side. Everyone can make their own and use the dipping sauce to adjust the heat according to personal preference. Try these for an end of summer dish, and don’t forget to remember your reusable grocery bags.

Tofu Lettuce Cups

Serves 4 as an appetizer, or 2 as a main dish with rice


1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon sambal oelek (chili-garlic paste)


1 head butter lettuce

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

14 oz. firm or extra firm tofu

8 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced

2 garlic cloves minced

1 teaspoon sambal oelek (chili-garlic paste)

2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons lime juice

¼ cup salted, roasted cashews, chopped

  1. Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Remove the outer leaves of the lettuce and reserve for another use. Carefully separate the individual leaves and wash and dry them, then set aside.
  2. In a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil and once hot, add the tofu in a single layer. Cook until golden brown on one side, 3-4 minutes, then flip and cook for 3 more minutes until golden brown. Remove tofu from the pan and set aside. Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil in the skillet over medium-high heat, then add the mushrooms and cook for 8-10, stirring occasionally, until brown. Add the garlic, sambal oelek, soy sauce, and lime juice to the pan along with the tofu and stir to combine until the liquid has reduced and everything is hot.
  3. To serve, spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the filling into a single lettuce leaf, top with a few cashews and a drizzle of the sauce, then eat immediately.

Note: If you do not have sambal oelek, you can use ½ teaspoon of sriracha or red pepper flakes for every teaspoon of sambal oelek. If you eat gluten-free, you can use a gluten free soy sauce. I have tested gluten free soy many times and found it to be an excellent substitute for traditional soy sauce. It is often labeled as wheat-free Tamari.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!


One thought on “Tofu Lettuce Cups

  1. Pingback: Game Day Treats for Sunday | Kinsey Cooks

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