The Revealing, Secret Diaries of a Not-So-Secret Foodie


In Food, food photography, Garden, Photos, Recipe, Writing on August 31, 2012 at 5:15 pm
Mini Thai Basil Turkey Lettuce Cups with Garnishes of Jasmine Rice, Poblano Pepper, Oyster Sauce & Chiffanade of Basil.

Mini Thai Basil Turkey Lettuce Cups with Garnishes of Jasmine Rice, Poblano Pepper, Oyster Sauce & Chiffonade of Basil.

Fifty-one cents. A small price to pay for an unexpected culinary challenge. Always the frugal gourmet, this foodie could not leave that lonely bottle of oyster sauce behind. Its red label marked clearance grabbed my attention. Reduced:51 cents. Never one to pass up a good deal, into the cart it went. Right next to the Cheerios, juice boxes and cage-free eggs.

On my pantry shelf it sat. And sat. Next to some other clearance item finds– black squid ink pasta, marinated olives, champagne vinegar and the like. These items were easily incorporated into everyday dishes for my family but as for the oyster sauce, it remained. Untouched.

So began the quest. A deal is only a good deal if you make use of it. The thing is, I knew absolutely nothing about oyster sauce and wasn’t entirely sure it was something I would even like. But, I became determined. Finding a recipe that called for the clearance-aisle find would be easy. After all, prowling the Internet, magazines and forgotten cookbooks for new and interesting dishes is a hobby I enjoy. But, finding one my family would actually eat. That would be the real challenge.

And then several months ago while reading the morning paper I came across Jackie Burke’s recipe. Jackie’s sister, a chef and cookbook author, had appeared on a Foodnetwork TV series that challenged professional chefs to get fit. While trying to be supportive of her sister’s journey on the show, Jackie unexpectedly found herself changing the way she cooked and what she served her own family.

I was hooked. And of course wanted to try her recipe. Immediately. But wait, I hadn’t even read the featured recipe yet. What was it that made me want to give this girl’s keeper a try? I didn’t know her. And although I knew her sister could cook, I didn’t know anything about her own abilities in the kitchen.

I guess it didn’t really matter. It was the story behind the recipe. It drew me in because it was personal. After a few short paragraphs I felt I had chatted with her over coffee. I kind of got to know her a bit. And I liked her. Trying something she made for her family would be like going to her house for dinner. So off I went. To the store, list in hand, to grab the needed items to create her meal for my own family.

In the specialty food aisle, it came to me. With one small substitution, this could be the recipe that would move that unknown ingredient out of my pantry and onto our table. I smiled. I knew I liked that Jackie, I thought to myself. As I grabbed the jasmine rice, I felt even more confident this new find would be up for that ever-present challenge of getting my children to try something new. The lettuce wrap concept was sure to intrigue my kids. What kid doesn’t like eating with their fingers and playing with their food? And even if not, I knew the lingering scent of a chiffonade of fresh basil would warm my kitchen in much the same way as cooking with a friend.

This recipe was an instant hit with my family. Everyone loved it except one boy who still refuses to eat anything green. (We are working on this!). This dish is as fun to eat as it is to make. The fresh basil wonderfully balances the slight heat of the poblano pepper. My local grocery store carries a large container of organic basil that works well. Be sure to use the full cup of basil. The herb-infused sauce is what gives the dish an authentic Thai flavor. It’s easy to make and because it can be prepared in under 30 minutes, it is a go to dinner for us on busy week nights. I’ve used Boston Bib, Romaine and Iceberg lettuce to wrap the filling. Iceberg lettuce is the easiest to wrap and its mild flavor allows the flavor of the filling to shine through at its best. With a few substitutions this dish could be made vegan. I have a friend who wants to try it with tofu and I know that there is a mushroom version of oyster sauce that will hit upon the same earthy notes. Can’t wait to hear how it turns out for her and you!

Update:  This dish has been in our weekly menu rotation for close to a decade now.  I am happy to report it receives 10 thumbs up; a family favorite for all, including the boy who formerly wouldn’t eat green.  All the men can make it on their own now and often do on busy weeknights.  It is a great pre-swim practice meal that is light, but also provides quick energy while being easy on the stomach.

Thai Basil Turkey Lettuce Cups with Jasmine Rice & Poblano Pepper Garnish.

Thai Basil Turkey Lettuce Cups with Jasmine Rice & Poblano Pepper Garnish.

Thai Basil Turkey Lettuce Cups 


1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 poblano chili pepper, chopped into small dice (seeds and stem discarded)

2 cloves chopped garlic

1.25 lb. ground turkey ( I use Jenni-O brand, 93% lean)

1 tablespoon oyster sauce ( I use Kikkoman brand, gluten-free if needed)

2 tablespoon soy sauce (I use Kikkoman brand, reduced-sodium product, gluten-free if needed)

2 tablespoon brown sugar (I use dark brown sugar)

1 cup basil leaves, chiffonade (I use Italian basil, but Thai basil found in traditional market or backyard garden would be delish)

*Dash of cayenne pepper but only if you like things spicy.

1 cup Jasmine Rice, prepared as per directions on bag of rice

Iceberg or Boston Bib lettuce leaves washed and separated.  Chill leaves after washing to create a nice crisp.

Heat oil and red pepper flakes in skillet over medium high. Add poblano pepper and sauté for 5 minutes. Next add garlic, sauté for 30 sec. Add ground turkey and stir fry, breaking meat up into small pieces, until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Combine brown sugar, oyster sauce and soy sauce. Pour over ground turkey mixture. Cook for 5 minutes. Add basil and cook for 2 minutes. Transfer turkey to a serving bowl.  Serve over Jasmine rice.  Or, wrap meat filling & Jasmine rice with washed lettuce leaves.

Serves four. Note:  Recipe is easily tripled.  The family-sized, 48-ounce package of Jenni-O turkey makes it easy to triple, is more economical and is what we use for our crew.

*Chiffonade is a knife technique of French origin used for 
cutting herbs like basil or sage into fine strips or ribbons.  

It’s easy to do and makes quick work of chopping a mound of herbs for garnish of your favorite dish. Just wash, separate and stack the leaves of your herb. Roll into a cigar-shaped cylinder. And finally with a very sharp knife, cut small cross sections and Viola, ribbons. (Be sure your knife is sharp because a dull knife will crush your herb, especially basil, turning it black). My young son had fun helping me roll the basil for the photographs used for picture tutorial shown below ; ).

©, 2011-2012.

Photos by suebthefoodie.

Recipe by Jackie Burke (with modifications) and found in the Daily Herald.

  1. Love your pictures especially of the basil

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. You are not only a gifted writer but a photographer as well. Nice work SueB!

    • Thank you for taking the time to post a comment. Your kind words and encouragement are so appreciated! Cheers-suebthefoodie

  3. Love the pics of the the basil.�� I think I�might be able�manage that one….maybe.� ; )


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