Making lettuce-and-herb wraps filled with well-seasoned grilled morsels is a quintessential Viet way to eat. It’s fun and healthful too. This recipe was inspired by beef wrapped in wild betel leaf (bò nướng lá lốt), a favorite. Plentiful in Vietnam but rare outside of Little Saigon markets in America, the heart-shaped, edible leaves magically release a peppery, incense-like aroma during cooking. I conjure up the leaf by seasoning the meat with curry powder, fish sauce, oyster sauce, and lots of black pepper.
Good ground beef, the kind you’d make excellent burgers with, is perfect. Peanuts lend texture, and the water hydrates to prevent a dry finish. With the rice noodles, you have a one-dish meal; but skip them for a low-carb dish. To make a beef rice bowl, see the Notes.
Brimming ⅓ cup unsalted roasted peanuts or cashews, finely chopped
3 medium green onions, white and green parts, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Madras-style curry powder (preferably Sun brand)
¾ teaspoon recently ground black pepper
3 tablespoons water
Brimming 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1½ pounds ground beef (85% lean)
6 ounces small dried round rice noodles (maifun), or 8 ounces dried rice capellini or thin spaghetti (see this page)
1 cup Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce (this page)
Leaves from 1 large head of soft-leaf lettuce (such as butter, Boston, or red or green leaf)
6 to 8 bushy sprigs fresh mint or basil
10 to 12 sprigs fresh cilantro
In a medium bowl, combine the peanuts, green onions, curry powder, pepper, water, oyster sauce, and fish sauce. Add the beef and mix with your fingers. (If not cooking right away, cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.) Form into twenty-four patties, each a good 2 inches wide and ½ inch thick. Set aside.
In large pot of unsalted water, boil the noodles, then drain, rinse with water, drain, and let cool for 5 minutes. Since the noodles are unwieldy, arrange them as 2-inch nests on a plate or in a shallow bowl. Set at the table with the dipping sauce, lettuce, and fresh herbs.
Lightly oil a cast-iron stove-top grill (or lightly film a heavy skillet with oil) and set over medium-high heat. In batches, add the beef and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, turning midway, until medium to medium-well done. (These are usually not eaten medium-rare, but you can cook for less time, if you like.) Transfer to a platter and let cool for a few minutes.
Have diners build lettuce wraps with herbs, noodles, and beef (for easier eating, you can break or cut each patty into two or three bite-size pieces). Dunk in the sauce and eat.