Healthy beef san choy bow in lettuce ‘wraps’

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Beef san choy bow recipe

San choy bow literally means ‘wrapped in lettuce’ so this recipe is a great low-carb option. Traditionally it’s made with pork or chicken mince, but I wanted to create a beef version. It’s sticky and a little sweet with a dash of chilli for heat and is one of those dishes you can customise to make your own. Beef san choy bow is one of my favourite new healthy weeknight supper recipes

I love adding texture to my food and with san choy bow you combine raw and cooked, hot and cold, crunchy and soft. It really is a textural adventure. I did tons of research and there are so many versions of this recipe out there, so I landed up taking elements from a few to create the taste I was after.

What is the origin of beef san choy bow?

Beef San Choy Bow is a dish that has its origins in Chinese cuisine. The name “San Choy Bow” is derived from the Cantonese language and roughly translates to “lettuce wraps”.

The dish typically consists of a filling made with minced beef, water chestnuts, mushrooms, and other vegetables and seasonings. This mixture is then served inside lettuce leaves, which are used as a wrap.

The exact origin of the dish is uncertain, but it is believed to have originated in southern China, particularly in the Guangdong province. Over time, the dish has evolved and become popular in many other parts of the world, particularly in Chinese restaurants in Australia and other Western countries.

I love to add vegetables to everything, so I included onions, carrots, and water chestnuts into the mix. I used a few different garnishes too, but adapt this to how you like it.

Beef san choy bow recipe

The sauce has a lot of flavour and is quite sweet, so it needs the water chestnuts to temper it. I had a smallish tin lurking in my pantry for the longest time and didn’t want to only use half of it. If you can’t find them, I would suggest replacing them with another vegetable such as green beans.

Water chestnuts are very neutral and suck up any flavour that surrounds them. I just love the crunchy texture they add. Alternatively, vermicelli noodles could also be nice.

Beef san choy bow recipe

I visited Spier Wine Farm over the weekend to pick up some of the produce I needed for this recipe and to check out their vegetable garden. It’s biodynamically run by their talented head gardener Megan McCarthy and it was great to see what was growing and the paddle of Indian runner ducks waddling around.

The butter lettuces I used in this san choy bow recipe came from the garden. Their farm shop stocks all of Farmer Angus free-range meat and eggs as well as loads of other baked treats, wine, preserves and fresh produce.

Beef san choy bow recipe

A quick stop at the Spier wine tasting centre was also on the cards to choose a wine to pair with this dish from their Signature Range. As much as I adore their Chenin, I thought a red would work better here. The Shiraz is spicy with ripe plum and soft tannins that can stand up to all the flavours going on here.

Spier Shiraz

How to garnish san choy bow?

The fun part about this dish is the DIY assembly and the perfect casual supper for a social gathering. You can add:

  1. Fresh coriander (cilantro)
  2. Toasted sesame seeds
  3. Roasted cashews or peanuts
  4. Beansprouts
  5. Thinly sliced radishes
  6. Shredded carrots
  7. Sliced red chilli
  8. Sliced spring onions 
  9. Lime wedges.

*Cooks notes – Dried mushrooms rehydrated in water is a traditional ingredient in san choy bow but I omitted this and used mushroom stock instead. When frying the vegetables, I like to add some of this stock to prevent it from sticking to the pan and burning. It also saves having to add additional oil. I like cooking the mince before to achieve caramelization (Maillard reaction) and then removing it and setting it aside before cooking the vegetables.

Beef san choy bow recipe

You might also like:

Vietnamese caramel salmon in the Instant Pot

Beef Bulgogi

Spicy chicken skewers with green papaya salad

Lettuce and chicken wraps with green goddess Caesars dressing

Lettuce ‘tacos’ with chipotle chicken and grilled pineapple salsa

Recipe research & reading:

Adam Liaw

Australian Beef

Recipe Tin Eats

Australian Women’s Weekly

Marion’s Kitchen

Recipe – serves 4

Beef san choy bow

Beef san choy bow served in lettuce cups.
Print Recipe
Beef san choy bow recipe
Prep Time:10 minutes
Cook Time:10 minutes


  • Neutral oil for frying such as canola or sunflower
  • 500 grams / 1.1 lb free-range beef mince
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • I small onion finely chopped
  • 1 red or yellow pepper diced
  • 1 carrot grated
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • ½ - 1 finely sliced red chilli plus a pinch of dried chilli flakes if you want heat
  • 1 cup / 250ml mushroom or beef stock I used 1 cube
  • 2 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 small tin of water chestnuts drained and thinly sliced (140grams total drained weight)
  • 2 – 3 heads of baby butter or romaine cos lettuce to serve
  • To garnish: Chopped roasted and salted cashews or peanuts to serve, sliced red chillis, sliced spring onions, fresh coriander leaves, wedges of lime, sliced radish, shredded carrots (optional)


  • Wash and dry the lettuce leaves and set them aside on a platter. Prepare all the garnishes.
  • 10 – 15 minutes before you want to eat, heat about 1 tablespoon of oil in a large non-stick frying pan break up and fry the meat until cooked and caramelized on the edges. Set aside in a dish.
  • In the same frying pan, heat a teaspoon of sesame oil (optional) and a splash of neutral oil and add the onions, diced pepper, carrot, garlic, ginger and chilli and fry for a few minutes until softened. If this starts sticking to the pan, add some of the mushroom stock to prevent this.
  • Add the meat back to the pan along with any juices that may have seeped out. Add the oyster and hoisin sauce and stir fry along with any leftover stock and cook for a minute or 2. Add the water chestnuts and cook until the liquid has evarpourated and you have a dryish sticky mix.
  • Serve in the lettuce leaves and add the garnishes of your choice.
Servings: 4
Author: Sam Linsell

* This post is proudly sponsored by Spier 


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  1. Beef san choy bow? Look so appealing to me. But I’m on diet for muscle building. So, I’m curious if I’m recommended to eat this one? Just need advice 🙂

  2. HI Nak its quite low carb but there is some sugar in the sauce so this might not be best for you.

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