I will confess that the list of ingredients (lettuce, ground meat, soy sauce, canned fruit) I put out for Round 3 of The Seattle Times Pantry Kitchen challenge was somewhat self-serving. My wife loves buying ground meat every time we’re at the grocery store because she thinks it’s versatile. Mmm hmm. If by “versatile” you mean “boring,” methinks. So, I figured, why not pose that challenge to the readers and see if you all could come up with creative ways to use ground meat?

The result? Welllll … out of 28 submissions, I got nine for lettuce wraps and four for meatballs. Which, while tasty-looking, sort of proved my point about the limitations of ground meat.

There were, however, the inspired few who went above and beyond to produce culinary masterpieces that floored me. I salute you all, and will be making some of your recipes with the package of ground meat that always seems to exist in our fridge.

The winner, sans tasting, is: Paul Shapiro, who placed third in Round 2. Shapiro outdid himself with butter lettuce panna cotta with mandarin orange mascarpone whipped cream and cha siu brittle that brings new meaning to the term “dessert for dinner.” Runners-up: Micaela Ellison for her very innovative lettuce soup — I guarantee you no one else looked at an abundance of lettuce from their garden and decided to make soup. Applause, Micaela! Meanwhile, Steve Venard and Cathy Martin — who won Round 1! — came up with some delectable-looking pineapple kimchi lettuce on Korean pancakes!

Here are the top 12 submissions. Thanks for playing, and see below for details on Round 4.


Next up: Round 4 of The Seattle Times Pantry Kitchen Challenge

New Ingredients: Chicken breast, green onion, yogurt and oats.

Rules: You have to use all four ingredients; you can, however, add as many additional ingredients as you choose.


Deadline: Create a dish, tell us how successful you were and email photos and a description of your dish to food editor Stefanie Loh (sloh@seattletimes.com) by June 19. We’ll pick several of the most interesting submissions we receive to run in a future edition of The Mix.

Pantry Kitchen Challenge Round 3 Best Reader Submissions

*To download a PDF of the recipes from this round, click here. 


Butter lettuce panna cotta with mandarin orange mascarpone whipped cream and cha siu brittle

This challenge was a stumper, and made me really appreciate those TV chefs on the rapid-fire challenges. When I saw the ingredients, my first response was a teriyaki burger lettuce wrap. So I thought, “What is the opposite of a teriyaki burger wrap? Of course … dessert.” I love panna cotta and it is a great palate for (nearly) any flavor profile. Butter lettuce has a mildly herbaceous flavor so I mixed that with panna cotta ingredients. I started to get this Asian bent with mandarin oranges added to the mascarpone whipped cream. How to add ground meat? I love cha siu bao (BBQ pork buns) … so continuing the Asian flare, I made cha siu brittle. I’ll stick with cha siu bao, but the brittle wasn’t bad. I loved making this dish but I doubt I’ll serve it at my next dinner party.

— Paul Shapiro

Lettuce soup

When I read the ingredient list, I immediately thought of lettuce wraps. But with the early start to the community-supported agriculture (CSA) season due to COVID-19, I already have a glut of fresh lettuce. My fallback for these occasions is lettuce soup because it’s versatile and freezes well. But I’ve never tried to make it into a main course before, so this challenge provided inspiration. In keeping with the original idea of lettuce wraps, I made pork crumbles as a substantial garnish to the soup. I’ve made pork crumbles once before using a recipe from Andrea Nguyen. Unfortunately, I couldn’t track down the exact recipe. But I remember the most important flavorings: caramel, soy and fish sauces. I already had the homemade caramel sauce on hand after making one of her other recipes last winter. The combination of flavors with the pork is addictive. For this challenge, I added canned applesauce to the soup, which gives it a nice finish and rounds out the harsher flavors of the lettuce. My applesauce was made from Gravensteins. I think sweeter apples or pears would also work well. This soup should make anyone want to eat more vegetables. Even without the pork, soup is a convenient way to use up lots of lettuce. Worth noting for vegetarians — we ate the leftover soup with zucchini and ramp couscous instead of pork. It’s lettuce so it pretty much goes with everything!

— Micaela Ellison


Pineapple kimchi lettuce on Korean pancakes

Well, this is a fine pickle you’ve gotten us into! C’mon. Everyone knows lettuce is just a vehicle, perched on a plate until summoned to transport blue cheese dressing to the mouth. After a little brainstorming though, followed by executing a few less than stellar ideas, we did a sweet/salty pickle with the lettuce. But then, what to we do with the pineapple? Ferment them together! Pineapple kimchi lettuce was born. Surprise, it retains its crunch and the sweet, salty, umami flavors and paired well with our porky scallion pancakes. Some Korean pancakes add kimchi directly to the pancake, but heat and lettuce don’t work well, so our kimchi became a delicious topping and we used the fermented liquid to add flavor to the pancake mix. A dipping sauce ups the flavor ante with a slightly sweet and savory kick and spicy overtones. No ground pork? Any ground meat or vegetables would work. Save the drained pineapple juice for a cocktail!

— Steve Venard and Cathy Martin


Jackfruit lettuce pesto with rice noodles and Asian adobo meatball kebabs

The soy sauce and ground meat didn’t seem like they would be too much of a challenge, but lettuce and canned fruit? Lettuce wraps or fresh spring rolls seemed like they would not stand out enough — even if they would be phenomenally delicious. Trying to think out of the box I thought perhaps I could make lettuce chips (à la kale chips). … That was the biggest epic fail of the evening. Canned fruit can be too sweet. So jackfruit! It makes excellent “pulled pork.” After much thought and only one epic fail, I ultimately made jackfruit lettuce pesto with rice noodles and Asian adobo meatball kebabs. The lettuce pesto includes butter lettuce, canned jackfruit, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, water chestnuts, ginger and of course soy sauce. The jackfruit provided a lovely balance to cut the sweetness of the hoisin sauce.


I know meatballs may not seem glamorous but these are full of flavorful spices and more importantly, were approved by my son! … I interrupted my son’s homework to make him be my taste tester. He told me they tasted great! I asked what he thought of the pesto in the meatballs. With a sheepish grin he said, “You mean they have something other than meat in them?” Ultimately the ground meat morphed into Asian adobo meatballs with roasted veggie kebabs. The meatballs included spicy adobo powder (from Sugarpill — love that store!), coriander, garlic, green onions, fish sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger, onion powder and of course soy sauce. Just for fun and because you asked us to use soy sauce, instead of salting the water when I cooked the rice noodles, I added soy sauce instead. Don’t worry, I didn’t throw any lettuce in though.

— Amanda Goss


Chicken bulgogi meatballs and cheater’s romaine kimchi

The idea to make something resembling bulgogi came to mind almost immediately upon seeing the ingredient list for the challenge. I had made beef bulgogi (using sliced rib-eye) a few weeks ago, which is when I learned that the sweetness of bulgogi comes from pear. Turning bulgogi into meatballs used three of the ingredients. The lettuce was trickier since I didn’t want to just make a salad, a lettuce wrap, or put it on a sandwich. The internet convinced me that something resembling kimchi could be made with lettuce in place of cabbage, and I went with romaine hearts since they’re hardier than some other varieties. I was concerned that it would get slimy and weird, or just disintegrate, which very well may have happened if I had made it traditionally, but I didn’t have three-plus days to let it ferment anyway, which may have worked in my favor.

I was initially going to do beef meatballs, since that’s what I’ve had with bulgogi in the past, but my husband thought it sounded weird and requested chicken or pork. We had ground chicken that needed to be used, so that’s what I ended up using. The rest of the ingredients mostly came from my well-stocked condiment shelf, and it was fun to put so many of those space-taking bottles to use. … My husband and I both enjoyed this dish quite a lot. It was satisfying, nutritious, flavorful, quick to make and yielded leftovers for our family of 2.5 eaters — WIN.

— Meghan Stuart-Miller


Plant-based pantry fresh rolls

I’ve been enjoying your challenge column these past few rounds and was inspired to join in the fun! With the crazy news week this has been, it was nice to have an outlet to use a little creativity and change up a routine activity. When I read the ingredients list, a few things came to mind: fresh rolls, peach salsa and tacos. So I decided to make fresh rolls with a more Mexican/American flavor profile. I’ve been attempting to eat mostly plant-based these days, so this dish is also vegan/vegetarian friendly. The soy sauce was not something I’d normally add to something like this, but it added a lot of depth of flavor to the filling that was a delightful surprise. Super tasty! The peaches had been collecting dust in my pantry for a LONG time, so it was fun to find a way to elevate them into something palatable. The whole dish was enthusiastically consumed by both my 3-year-old and my [occasionally picky] husband, so I call it a definite success! I also had enough leftovers to create burrito bowl lunches with leftover brown rice from another dinner the next day. This was a dish that kept on giving! 10/10, would make again.

— Kelly Grinsell

Better-than-takeout orange chicken sausage and chickpeas stir-fry

When I first saw the ingredient list, my initial thought was: lettuce wraps. But where’s the fun in that? After some internal debate, I gathered my four required ingredients: soy sauce (the gluten-free variety, because we had it), canned mandarin oranges, butter lettuce and ground chicken breakfast sausage. The soy sauce and juice from the canned mandarins came together with some cornstarch to thicken up into a sauce. Sautéed chickpeas with some red curry paste were combined with the ground chicken. Butter lettuce went in toward the last minute. Meanwhile, steamed rice was cooking on the side. The result? Better-than-takeout orange chicken sausage and chickpeas stir-fry! To spice it up, my fiancé took on the challenge as well. He prepared a butter lettuce salad with mandarin oranges and a key lime dressing, paired with a side of chicken apple sausage and soy sauce dipping sauces. To drink, an apple orange Ciderboys cider with a mandarin twist and a sugar rim. It was a close competition, but the stir-fry won by a nose.

— Laird Nelson


Turkey burgers

I made turkey burgers! Ground turkey with soy sauce and ricotta formed into patties and griddled. Topped with cranberry jalapeño mayo, melted Brie, lettuce, tomato and caramelized onions. Side of tots … obviously. My wife, who normally cuts a ham sandwich in half and saves it for another meal, inhaled the burger. It was amazing. Next time I’d add a few more pickled jalapeños to the mayo.


— Troy Brogdon


Ants in a palm tree

When I first saw the ingredient list, the best possible use of these ingredients is the Banzai Burger (teriyaki-glazed beef patty, pineapple ring, lettuce, cheese) at Red Robin. In a world of fancy burgers, it is still hands down (our) favorite. Since a burger would not meet TV’s “Chopped” requirement of transforming the ingredients, I tried to come up with an adaptation of something that could be a slight homage. In the 1960s, my Dad took Chinese cooking classes with the late Grace Zia Chu. One of the recipes he made from the classes was Ants in a Tree: spicy ground pork and cellophane noodles. I modified the recipe to incorporate the challenge items.

— Kevin Rochlin


Romaine sushi rolls with ginger soy ground beef and teriyaki peaches

Our family decided to do a fun take on sushi and we made romaine sushi rolls with ginger soy ground beef and teriyaki peaches. I was inspired by the color of the canned peaches, which seemed to mimic the bold color of the raw fish that is traditionally used in sushi. We rinsed the syrup off the peaches then marinated them in teriyaki sauce for a couple of hours. The romaine was blanched and then plunged into an ice bath which made it a nice, pliable substitute for the nori. Then ground beef was sautéed in sesame oil, ginger and soy sauce. We ran into a small problem with the rice — we had some leftover basmati rice that I wanted to use up rather than seen it go to waste, but basmati is not a very sticky rice and sushi rice needs to be sticky. My 8-year-old son came up with an elegant solution: Instead of adding sliced avocado to the rolls, he suggested mashing the avocado up with the rice. This gave the rice a lovely soft texture that was perfect for spreading on the romaine. We then topped the rice with julienned carrots, thinly sliced green onions, matchstick cucumbers, the seasoned ground meat and, finally, slices of teriyaki marinated canned peaches. These were rolled using a dish towel instead of the bamboo mat (we are all about improvisation in our kitchen) and the result was a truly tasty, fish-free “sushi” that we devoured for lunch.

— Melissa Mock

Thai taquitos with canned peach sauce

Here at CRISTA Senior Living in Shoreline we are quarantined, as are so many others, but life is good and we are fortunate to have outside exercise and plenty to keep us busy. We choose our daily dinner from a tasty, nutritious and complete menu. That dinner is brought to us each day by cheerful, bright-eyed and masked young servers, complete with a kind word or a prayer. So haven’t cooked much, or needed to lately, but I have enjoyed this series and when I read this Sunday’s ingredient list, I thought, “I’ve got it! — all but the lettuce, and I’ll just order a salad for dinner tonight and have it all!” It was good, if I do say so myself, since I had no one to test it on. Nice variety of flavors and textures. It looked appetizing, was a nice amount of spicy and I will make it again when I can share it.

— Ellen Richter

Casing-free hot dog

My dish was an elevated take on baseball stadium cuisine. I created a casing-free hot dog out of ground beef, making a patty-like texture but forming it into an elongated shape. For the canned fruit, I created a sweet and spicy fruit relish to accompany the hot dog, taking canned pineapple and mango and grilling off the excess liquid before adding it to jalapeño, chili pepper, shallot and pickles. Finally, to maintain the theme, I made a coleslaw with the romaine lettuce, along with julienned carrots, red cabbage and celery. To cut through the spice and acidity from the relish, I made a Greek yogurt and soy sauce dressing. I was extremely successful with the dish, as all the elements contributed to a well-balanced palate. If I were to make this next time I would add more spice to the relish, however, and use sausage instead of ground beef.

— Reina Jones