Vietnamese Lettuce Wraps w/ Shrimp and Avocado

The summer we have wished for all winter long is finally here- with its all its heat and intensity.
The last time I was this hot, we were in Vietnam, last spring, staying in a little town called Hoi An.  The heat literally melted our appetite away. I began to feel this way a few days ago and remembered how light and cooling Vietnamese dishes could be, so I recreated a salad we had there, into lettuce wraps. (If you are interested in traveling to Vietnam you may enjoy these photos from our recent trip there. I added a new page to this blog, called FEASTING ABROAD that will highlight some our travels and food experiences in other countries.)

This recipe starts with fresh ingredients and lots of fresh herbs. Butter lettuce seems to work the best as the wrap or cup. For each bunch of butter lettuce, plan on 12 good size leaves.

Avocado gives this a little more heartiness and is the only “fat” in the recipe. The flavorful dressing, Nuoc Cham, a traditional Vietnamese condiment, is completely free of oil. The result is a cooling and satisfying summer dish, which is healthy, low fat, and full of Vietnamese flavor.
In our catering business, we often serve variations of these on large platters as appetizers. It seems to be a big hit during the hot months.  Tonight, it serves as our dinner. The good thing is… it’s very easy and fast to prepare, and involves no stove or oven, keeping your house nice and cool.

In Vietnam, salads were often prepared with diakon. Diakon is a type of radish, white and long, that I use interchangeably in this recipe, but today I happened to have farmers market radishes.  Radishes, including diakons are naturally cooling and their pungent flavor is highly regarded in eastern medicine for their ability to decrease excess heat in the body that can build up during the warmer months.

They are cruciferous vegetables, along with broccoli and cabbage and share the same cancer fighting properties. In Eastern and Ayurvedic healing practices radishes are believed to be able to draw toxins out of the body, by helping to break them down and eliminate cancer-causing free radicals in the body.
They also happen to add a nice peppery crunch.

Nouc Cham, a Vietnamese dressing or condiment is easy to make and requires only a few ingredients. Lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, chili pepper, garlic and water. For those of you wrinkling your nose at fish sauce,  know this: When properly balanced, you don’t really taste it. Without it, the dish falls short. I do understand this requires a bit of trust.

In Vietnam, Nouc Cham is a staple, like ketchup is here.  Variations of the basic recipe are used to flavor many dishes, and we most commonly know it as- the sauce that is served with fresh spring rolls. The sauce is a delicate balance between sour, sweet, salty and spicy, bringing all the elements together in harmony. This is not an easy thing to do and takes some practice. Flavoring with fish sauce is tricky if you’re not used to working with it.  And it doesn’t help that there are thousands of different brands and varieties that will change the balance in recipes.  If you have an aversion to fish sauce, my guess is …you had something where it was overpowering and not properly balanced. Try giving it another shot. Once you experience Nouc Cham, in its balanced state, you will fall in love. And fish sauce, believe it or not, is really good for you too.

Once the dressing is made, the rest comes together very quickly. I can put this together in 10-15 minutes if I work fast.
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Vietnamese Lettuce Wraps with Prawns, Avocado and Nuoc Cham
by Sylvia Fountaine July-13-2013
A Vietnamese inspired version of lettuces cups with shrimp, avocado and Nuoc Cham
  •  1 Head Butter Lettuce
  •  1 large avocado, sliced (optional)
  •  12 large prawns – cooked, peeled with tails off ( if they are very small, double the amout and do two prawns per wrap)
  • 6 radishes- sliced or cut into thin strips
  • optional veggies-grated or match stick carrots, shredded cabbage, sliced cucumber
  • 1/2 cup chopped mixed herbs ( mint, basil, cilantro)
  • 2 scallions diced
  • kosher salt

Nuoc Cham :

  • 3 T lime Juice
  • 3 T sugar
  • 1 T fish sauce
  • 1 T water
  • 1 tsp finely minced red chille ( mild)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
Make Nuoc Cham. Stir sugar into lime juice, then add the rest of the ingredients. Garnish with a few herbs and a couple slices of chili.

Assemble wraps. Arrange butter lettuce leaves on a platter. Distribute prawns on each leaf. Add a slice of avocado and dived veggies to each leaf. Divide radishes among each leaf, sprinkle liberally with fresh herbs and scallions and a light sprinkling of kosher salt. Serve immediately with Nuoc Cham.


Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 12 Wraps

thanks for sharing!
thanks for sharing!


  1. says

    This looks a truly delicious recipe. I adore Vietnamese food – I was in Vietnam recently so managed to pick up a number of new recipes when I was there (a few are on my blog ;o). Yours looks lovely though so I will definitely make it at home. Great photos by the way! Best Torie

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