Rainbow Beef in Lettuce Cups

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The fourth starter that I *should* have prepared for my Year of the Dragon Chinese Banquet was Rainbow Beef in Lettuce Cups…but I completely forgot to make them and it was only when my sister’s asked where they were that I had to facepalm myself! I did however cook them the next day for us for dinner.

The recipe is from Ken Hom’s Complete Chinese Cookbook. The reason for this particular dish was the lettuce leaves. Whilst writing my Sunday Inspiration post about Chinese New Year I found out that a food may have special significance because of the way the Chinese word for it sounds. For example, the Cantonese word for lettuce sounds like rising fortune, so it is very common to serve a lettuce wrap filled with other lucky food.

Another easy to make dish – it’s all in the preparation, and it tasted delicious too.

This recipe serves 4 – 6 people, but I would say could serve up to 8 or 10 as a starter.

The ingredients and directions are at the end of this post, which I plan on doing for all my recipe shares from now on – I’ll describe what I’m doing first and then have a printable version for you if you want to try the recipes for yourself :)

I found Chinese cooking to be all about preparation and making sure you have everything to hand as the cooking process is so quick – sometimes just seconds! Any longer and you may end up with burnt food!

What I did for all the dishes was chop anything that need to be chopped, made any sauces that needed to be made and marinated any meats that needed to be marinated. I then stored everything in tubs until I needed to use them.

For this dish I had to use Chinese mushrooms which come dried. The guy in the store that sold them said to soak them for 1 – 2 hours. Ken Hom’s recipe says 20 minutes. I soaked for an hour until they were rehydrated and looking like mushrooms again! To soak the mushrooms, I poured warm water over them until they were covered and then I placed a plate over the top to push them down and keep them submerged in the water. When they were ready, I drained them off and squeeze off excess water (mushrooms are like a sponge!) Then sliced into thin strips.

[Dried Chinese Mushrooms]

[Rehydrated Chinese Mushrooms]

Next it was time to cut up the carrots, bamboo shoots, courgettes and red bell pepper into thin battons about 2 inches long. I then separated the lettuce leaves, washed them and dried off the excess water. The recipe calls for iceberg lettuce, but I actually used a little gem as it had a nice cup shape. All the prepared vegetables were put into tubs and stored until needed.

I finely chopped the garlic, shallots and spring onions.

I then made the stir fry sauce using dark soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, salt and black pepper. I mixed these all in a container and put to one side till needed.

Finally I had to marinate the beef mince with Shaoxing rice wine, light soy sauce, sesame oil and cornflour. These all get sprinkled over the meat and mixed together well before leaving for about 20 minutes.

After all that prep work, it was time to cook!

I placed my wok on the hob until it was very hot and then poured in a tablespoon of oil. With wok cooking you need to have the oil smoking hot – I know I’m not used to that, so I had to be patient and wait for the oil get to the correct temperature. And by correct I mean when you see smoke rising from the wok! I then added the marinated beef mince and stir fried until browned off. Transferring the beef to a plate, I wiped the wok clean with a paper towel for the next stage.

Again I heated up the wok with the oil till smoking and then added the garlic, shallots and spring onions and stir fried for 10 seconds. The carrots then went in and stir fried for one minute. Next, the courgettes, bamboo shoots, Chinese mushrooms and red bell pepper went in, along with my pre-made sauce. I continued to stir fry for another 3 minutes.

The cooked beef mince gets added back to the wok with the vegetables and stirred together so that the meat is coated with the sauce.

To serve you can either turn the rainbow beef onto a platter and have a bowl of lettuce leaves for people to make up themselves by adding a spoonful of the mixture to the lettuce leaf, or you can do this for your guests and serve individually on plates or altogether on a platter. Provide some hoisin sauce for pouring over.

I know that there are a lot of steps, but the dish itself is quick to cook and looks great when served. In the original recipe, Ken Hom serves deep fried bean thread (transparent) noodles on top. I didn’t do this, because we struggled to find the noodles, but if you want to do this, you will need 300ml oil for frying and 25g of bean thread noodles. Heat the oil in a large wok until slightly smoking, add the noodles for a couple of seconds so that they are crisp and puffed up and drain on some kitchen paper. I saw someone doing this on a Chinese cookery programme and it was practically instant, so get ready to take the noodles out straight away!

Eat and enjoy!

Rainbow Beef in Lettuce Cups

To serve 4 – 6 people

  • 450g minced beef
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsps sesame oil
  • 2 tsps cornflour
  • 15 Chinese dried mushrooms
  • 100g carrots
  • 100g bamboo shoots
  • 100g red bell pepper
  • 100g courgette (zucchini)
  • 225g iceberg lettuce
  • 2 tbsps groundnut (peanut) or vegetable oil
  • Hoisin sauce to serve

For the stir-fry sauce

  • 1 tbsp garlic, finely copped
  • 1 tbsp shallots, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsps spring onions (scallions), finely copped
  • 2 tsps dark soy sauce
  • 2 tsps Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 – 3 tbsps hoisin sauce
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper

For the fried noodle topping

  • 300ml groundnut (peanut) or vegetable oil
  • 25g bean thread (transparent) noodles


  1. Marinate the beef mince with 1 tablespoon rice wine, 1 tablespoon light soy sauce, 2 teaspoons sesame oil and 2 teaspoons cornflour. Mix well and leave for 20 minutes.
  2. Soak the dried mushrooms in warm water for 20 minutes (or as directed on the packet). Drain and squeeze out any excess liquid. Cut into thin strips.
  3. Peel and cut the carrots into thin batons about 2 inches long.
  4. Cut the bamboo shoots, courgette and red bell pepper into similar size shreds.
  5. Separate and wash the lettuce leaves, patting off the excess water.
  6. To make the fried noodle topping, heat the oil in a large wok or deep pan until slightly smoking. Add the noodles for a few seconds until crisp and puffed up. Drain on kitchen paper and set to one side.
  7. To make the stir fry sauce, put the dark soy sauce, rice wine, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, salt and pepper in a bowl and stir.
  8. Put 1 tablespoon of oil into a very hot wok and when it begins to smoke, add the marinated beef and stir fry until brown. Remove from the wok and put it into a bowl. Clean the wok out with some kitchen paper.
  9. Re-heat the wok and add another tablespoon of oil and when smoking, add the garlic, shallots and spring onions and stir fry for 10 seconds.
  10. Add the carrots and stir fry for a further minute.
  11. Add the bamboo shoots, courgettes, red bell pepper and mushrooms.
  12. Pour in the pre-made sauce and stir fry the mixture for 3 minutes.
  13. Add the minced beef back to the wok and stir so that the meat is coated with the sauce.
  14. Place spoonfuls of the rainbow beef into the lettuce ‘cups’ and top with a few of the fried noodles if desired.
  15. Serve with hoisin sauce.

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