A few years ago, a recipe in a food magazine caught my eye. The recipe involved stuffing pita bread with a thin layer of seasoned ground lamb, then grilling the whole thing until the outside was crispy and the inside stayed nice and juicy. It was an outrageously delicious and fun idea, a bit like hamburger meets pizza pocket. I liked this idea so much I wanted to make it again, but this time with Thai flavors on cute little mini pitas!
As we ate the original recipe years ago, I remember my husband remarking that he did miss the tasty brown crust that forms on the outside of traditional hamburger patties. Keeping that in mind, I decided to just press the mixture onto pita bread, so the meat would come in contact with the cooking surface. (It was also a whole lot easier than stuffing pitas.)
The other thing I changed up was using mini pitas instead of large ones, since I remember that the standard pitas were just a bit too large for one serving. Mini pita breads seem almost as easy to find now as the standard ones, but go with four standard ones if your store doesn't carry minis.
The seasonings for these patties are inspired by Thai larb, a minced meat salad that contains a lot of fresh herbs and seasoning. There's a base of ground pork that's flavored with cilantro, mint, shallots, fish sauce, and lime zest and juice. An egg helps keep things moist and holds the patties together.
There are two methods that you can use to cook these pitas: You can pan-fry them on the stovetop in some oil, or throw them onto an outdoor grill. Either way is delicious, but I prefer the grill method since there's no cleanup and the only oil you need is for oiling the grill grates.
Once these little pitas are pan-fried or grilled up, stuff them in lettuce leaves and top with more mint and cilantro for either a satisfying appetizer or main course. They're fun and messy to eat, as proven by the juices that dribbled onto my hands as I consumed them!
Mini Thai Pork Pitas
For the pitas:
1 large egg
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons fish sauce
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Butter lettuce leaves
Fresh mint leaves
Beat the egg in a large bowl. Add the shallots, cilantro, mint, fish sauce, garlic, lime zest and juice, and salt and stir to combine. Add the pork and mix with your hands until just combined (do not overmix or the meat will be tough).
Divide the mixture over the pitas, about 2 tablespoons per pita. Gently press the meat mixture into an even layer that covers most of each pita.
(See Recipe Note below if you want to grill these pitas instead.) Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add half of the patties meat-side down and cook until dark golden-brown, 4 to 5 minutes. (The pitas will puff up.) Carefully flip the patties and cook until the pitas are golden-brown and the patties are cooked through, about 2 minutes more.
Remove the patties to a baking sheet fitted with a wire rack or a paper towel-lined baking sheet or plate. Repeat with frying the remaining patties.
To serve, top the patties with mint and cilantro and wrap each one in lettuce leaves to eat. Serve with lime wedges.
Grilling instructions: These can be made on an outdoor grill heated to
medium-high. Oil the grates with vegetable oil. Place the patties meat-side down on the grill, cover the grill, and cook until grill marks appear, about 4 minutes. (The pitas will puff up.) Flip the patties, cover the grill, and cook until the patties are cooked through and grill marks appear on the pita, about 1 1/2 minutes more.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat in a 300°F oven until warmed through, 10 to 15 minutes.