I was recently asked what I like to serve to guests in the form of vegan hors d’oeuvres.
“Easy!” I replied. “Hummus, baba ganoush, white bean dip with fresh herbs, tapenade…”
It was only as I made my way through this list of options that I realized nearly all of them were some sort of dip or spread. Vegans and vegetarians are accustomed to singing the praises of homemade hummus as a universally pleasing, just-so-happens to be vegan appetizer option. But do vegan finger foods really begin and end with dip?
I started to think about my favorite party offerings. It’s more than possible to assemble a killer, authentic vegan cheese plate these days, but artisanal vegan nut cheeses aren’t cheap—and I certainly don’t have the patience to whip up a whole spread of homemade varieties. I love to serve tapenade over baked polenta, but that sort of falls into the dip/spread/sauce category. And what if folks are craving something a little more substantial?
Growing up, I loved the many different preparations that my Greek grandmother had devised for meatballs (or keftedes, as she labeled anything resembling a meatball or burger). Sometimes she prepared them in a rich, salty tomato sauce, and sometimes she simply browned them and served them on toothpicks. Sometimes she stuffed them into fresh lettuce or cabbage leaves. It wouldn’t be long before I gave up meat, but when I did, this was one of the few meaty recipes I missed.
Fortunately, frozen vegan meatballs make it quick and easy to re-create these sorts of appetizers at home—and then to share them with friends. A lot of my friends are skeptical of faux meats, but my experience serving them veggie meatballs—and their rave responses—suggests that exceptions can be made. Meanwhile, I love having a vegan appetizer option that’s far more substantial and flavorful than the usual platter of crudites and dip.
These spicy meatless lettuce wraps are all about texture: dense, flavorful meatless meatballs; a crispy, cooling slaw to fill them out; buttery lettuce leaves as the serving vessel. I love the bright, spicy Asian flavors here, and I especially love how easy the wraps are to prepare. Once you’ve defrosted the meatless balls, you simply need to crisp them up and toss together the slaw (which is almost as simple as making hummus).
You can either distribute the fillings into the lettuce (or radicchio) leaves before you serve them, which makes a pretty presentation, or you can bring the lettuce leaves, slaw, and meatless balls to the table at a dinner party and have your guests assemble them with toppings of choice. (I highly recommend a squeeze of Sriracha.) Once you’ve gotten the hang of making the wraps, you can experiment with different marinades for the meatless balls (try adding a splash of citrus, or play around with different herbs) and vegetable fillings.
- 8 ounces frozen, vegan meatless balls
- 1 large clove garlic, finely minced or grated on a microplane
- 2 teaspoons finely minced, fresh ginger (or 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger)
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 teaspoon lime zest
- 1 teaspoon sriracha
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon peanut, safflower, or sesame oil
Slaw and Wraps
- 1 1/2 cups shredded carrot
- 2 cups shredded green or red cabbage
- 1 green onion, tops only, chopped
- 1/4 cup loosely packed, chopped mint leaves
- 1/4 cup loosely packed, chopped basil leaves
- 1/4 cup roasted, chopped peanuts
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar (if you only have seasoned, decrease or omit soy sauce)
- Dash crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 head bibb or Boston lettuce (about 12 leaves)
- Extra cilantro sprigs, thinly sliced Thai chiles, sriracha or gochujang (optional, for topping)