Monday, June 18, 2012

Vietnamese Noodle Salad

Through most of high school I worked in a little family operated Vietnamese restaurant called Pham's. The owner, Hong Pham, worked mostly in the kitchen while his sister ran the front of the house. His parents, who didn't speak english at all, helped in the kitchen prepping the huge quantities of fresh veggies needed for a day's service. I wore a beautiful traditional dress while I waited tables and, with my bleach blond hair cut in an angular bob, people often thought I might be Hong's daughter or niece.

Now we have wonderful restaurants from all the different parts of Asia and Northern Africa in most areas but at the time Asian food was strictly chow mein and fried rice. I instantly fell in love with the unusual fresh, bright flavors and colors. This was so far from the meat and potatoes my midwestern family favored. 

My favorite meal was always the Bun Noodle Salad; warm, marinated meat and onions or crispy spring rolls over chilled noodles and fresh veggies with a zingy fish sauce dressing. This has been a go-to summertime meal and no matter where I have lived over the years, the local Vietnamese restaurant soon got to know me and my love for this salad. It was a special heartbreak the first time I realized it was off-limits with my nightshade allergy due to the chilies and peppers that are in the dressing.

So, of course, I figured out how to make my own version. The first couple of tries were pretty boring. The dressings were so watery and flavorless. I wasn't sure I would be able to get the same zing without chilies. Last night we were really craving a light, healthy meal after a weekend of eating steaks and burgers so I decided to give it another try and it turned out amazing. My husband didn't even add any rooster or scotch bonnet sauce. He always adds spice to my asian cooking! The secret is a special marinade on the meat for extra flavor and to use less water and more ginger in the dressing. For anyone who has stumbled on this recipe who is not avoiding nightshades just add a tablespoon or so of finely diced jalapeƱo or thai chili before blending the dressing. Also, I used beef but this recipe works with just about anything; chicken, pork, shrimp should all be equally yummy. Measurements are approximate and easy to vary according to taste. Make it your own!

Lastly, this is not a quick recipe. It is easy but time consuming. If I'm taking the time to make it I make extra of everything except the noodles and eat it for lunch over rice for the week.

Meat & Marinade:
1 lb Sirloin Steak or other meat
1 med onion-sliced
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup honey
1 lime - juiced
  • combine soy sauce, honey & lime juice
  • thinly slice beef and combine with marinade at least 6 hours
  • saute or stir fry beef with onion & keep warm

2 cloves garlic - minced
2 tbsp fresh ginger - minced
1/8 cup fish sauce
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp sesame oil

  • Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor
8 oz rice noodles (vermicelli or fettuccine style) 
1 cup fresh cilantro - chopped
3 lg carrots - julienne or shredded
2 cups napa cabbage-finely shredded
1/2 cup cucumber - seeded and sliced thin
1/8 cup fresh mint - chopped
1/8 cup fresh basil - julienne

  • cook noodles according to package directions, rinse in cold water
  • combine vegetables and herbs
To assemble salad:
  • place about 1/2 cup of noodles in the bottom of a bowl.
  • layer 1/2 cup veggies on top of noodles
  • drizzle with 2 tbsp dressing
  • top with beef & onions 

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