chinese lettuce cups with beef

Beef San Choy Bao (Chinese Lettuce Cups)

Crisp cool lettuce cups are filled with crunchy veg and beef mixture.


Let me start with an apology to connoisseurs of Chinese language. I call these lettuce cups San Choy Bao, but that it not entirely accurate, due to the phoenetic spelling from another language! Sometimes it may be written as Sang Choy Bow, and I’m sure there a handful of other versions, too. Any which way you pronounce it, these are tasty lettuce cups filled with a savory mixture of meat and veg. They’re pretty commonly served as a single cup appetizer (at least in Australian-Chinese restaurants!), and are usually made with pork. And that’s where I’m changing the game.

First, I like to combine several of these in one plate as a main course serving. Second, I substituted the traditional pork for beef. Ground beef has a wonderful umami richness and intensity of flavor that makes it the perfect non-authentic sub for this dish. When combined with delicious fillings like baby corn, water chestnut and mushrooms, it’s the perfect partner to the crisp, cool lettuce cups. A textural bite if ever there was one – hot, cool, chunky and crunchy.

If you want to make this a leaner meal option, you can use 90/10 ground beef. And if you’re looking for a richer flavor with a moist filling, I recommend 80/20 ground beef. If possible, I also recommend you go to the extra effort of procuring some dark soy sauce (instead of light, which is more commonly found). Dark soy sauce is thicker, darker, and has an incredible concentration of mushroomy and salty flavors.

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chinese lettuce cups with beef

Beef San Choy Bao (Chinese Lettuce Cups )

  • Author: Jess Pryles
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: serves 6



2 lb ground beef

1/2 onion, diced

1 tablespoon ginger, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

5 oz mushrooms, diced

1 large carrot, diced

8 oz can diced water chestnuts

15 oz can baby corn, chopped

1.5 tablespoons of dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar

2 tablespoons hoi sin sauce

1 tablespoon corn starch

1 head of iceberg lettuce

2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)

sesame seeds to garnish (optional)


  1. In a large pan or wok, brown the ground beef over high heat until cooked (about 7-10 minutes) then use a slotted spoon to remove it from the pan, leaving the fat behind.
  2. To the hot fat add the onions, garlic and ginger and cook stirring frequently until the onions are starting to brown on the edges. Then add the beef back into the pan.
  3. Add in the carrot and mushrooms, and cook a further two minutes, stirring regularly.
  4. Add the water chestnuts and baby corn, then the soy, vinegar and hoi sin sauce. Stir and cook another 2 minutes.
  5. Dissolve the corn starch in enough water to cover it, then add it to the beef mixture. Cook a further 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens.
  6. Prepare the iceberg lettuce cups by slicing down on either side of the stem, then carefully separating out the cups by hand – these can be one or two layers thick.
  7. Taste the beef mixture, then add salt as (or if) needed.
  8. Spoon the beef mixture into the lettuce cups, then sprinkle with some of the sesame seeds. Serve immediately.
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes