It's so easy to make these fragrant, crunchy, and delicious Thai lettuce wraps all in one cast iron skillet!
To prepare the sauce, add dried kombu and water in a sauce pan. Simmer this on low for about 18 to 20 minutes until reduced to about a 1/2 cup. Remove the hydrated kombu leaves and save them for another use, as you can reuse them. In the same saucepan, add soy sauce/tamari, lime juice, sugar, Chinese 5-spice powder, white pepper, and sea salt.
You're going to crisp up whole Thai basil leaves. Pull approximately 1 cup of leaves of Thai basil off the main stem. Coat a large cast iron skillet with a thin even layer of vegetable oil or cooking oil spray, and place the Thai basil leaves in one layer.
While the oven preheats to 400°F you will bake the Thai basil leaves in the skillet for about 10 minutes, flipping them halfway. Remove the smaller pieces once crispy, the larger pieces may take 1 to 2 more minutes. Then remove all the Thai basil leaves and set aside. You'll use this cast iron to cook the vegan beef filling.
In a large bowl add veggie ground round, diced red onion, minced garlic, diced carrot, and Thai chili. Pour the kombu sauce mixture in and combine to coat everything evenly. Add all of this into the cast iron skillet and bake for 22 to 25 minutes, stirring halfway to brown the other side.
Serve this in the cast iron skillet. Move the vegan beef filling to one side and top it with the crispy Thai basil leaves and whole Thai chilis, if desired. Then fill the rest of the skillet with fresh green papaya, red onion, mint leaves, fresh Thai basil, lime wedges, and bibb or boston lettuce leaves for wrapping. Squeeze lots of lime juice over the meat filling before serving.
Make sure the papaya you buy is not a ripe or mature papaya. Green papaya has a smooth, hard green skin and its white flesh has a crunchy texture and a neutral taste. A soft, mature papaya is juicy like a melon. You can find green papayas in Asian grocery stores. If you can’t find green papaya, jicama is a good substitute or even cucumber.
Kombu seaweed is a natural msg and I use it in the best vegan ramen recipe from the hot for food cookbook so there's plenty of use for it! But if you don't have it handy, you can leave it out and skip that step. Just replace that liquid with a half cup of mushroom broth for the final sauce, and add some vegan oyster sauce, vegan fish sauce, or hoisin to the rest of the sauce ingredients.