On Tuesday, and quite by accident, I started my foray into Vietnamese cooking. I had not planned on it and was completely unprepared. I wanted to research more recipes that my family would like and could eat. We don’t eat pork and all pork related products, so I wanted to see if any of those recipes could be converted to chicken or beef while still retaining some semblance of authenticity. I am a novice when it comes to Vietnamese food and apart from the ubiquitous pho and salad rolls, I can’t pronounce or spell or have a clue to what is considered Vietnamese cuisine. Pho was my first experience and I really enjoyed the flavour explosion and the textural element of the simple soup. The fresh, aromatic herbs, the soothing, silky broth and the crunch of the bean sprouts; there was a veritable carnival of the senses in every spoonful.
I am mesmerised by the smells that waft enticingly from the deli/bakery at the Asian store and I am in awe of the glistening, amber hued, roasted ducks that hang in the glass case. The glass cases that hold all the sweet and savoury delights always catch my eye. I am intrigued by the dumplings and steamed buns that are sitting there waiting to be devoured by some hungry person who knows what jewels of culinary delight they are, and by the sweet and soft pastries that lie there innocently waiting for that one sweet tooth.
I perused a couple of books at Barnes and Noble cookbook section while waiting for my husband to get his fill of the sci-fi section. That man can spend a better part of a day in that part of the store. I let him have a few minutes every now and then since I took away his comic book collecting (expensive habit and space consuming.) I found a few blogs online and some were informative and some just didn’t have the dishes my family would eat. I was still in my research phase here, looking at recipes, noting all the spices and sauces I already had and the ones I needed to buy to make an authentic dish. I didn’t want to make a dozen trips to the Asian store and so, was hoping to have a list of commonly used ingredients ready to take with me.
After a couple of mind numbing hours on the computer, my thoughts turned to dinner for that day. Dinner is usually dictated by what’s in the fridge and freezer most days. There are days when I shop specifically for a certain dish, but most days, what I have in the freezer is what I use to inspire dinner for that evening. Whilst researching, I had found a Korean dish that looked promising and was quite inclined towards that; it was a Korean rice bowl with beef. I had beef, I had vegetables and I had rice, which is what was needed to make this scrumptious rice bowl; what I didn’t have at home was my husband. He was working late Tuesday night and I just couldn’t make beef and not have him home to eat some (he generally doesn’t eat dinner when he comes home late; dessert is another matter, of course.) So I didn’t make that, but then I had to come up with another plan. I had some ground/mince chicken and took that out and pondered what to do next.
It was a really beautiful day on Tuesday, warm and sunny and it was getting warm in the house. When it starts getting hot in the kitchen, I want to get out. I didn’t feel like eating or cooking anything heavy; something fresh and light deemed necessary. I had read an article in Fine Cooking magazine online about a Vietnamese noodle salad that looked so refreshing and light. Most importantly, I had most of the ingredients needed for this salad. It’s basically: rice noodles, vegetables and meat (or no meat for a vegetarian version) tossed in a light, Asian dressing called nuoc cham. It sounded so easy and perfect for a warm day and a warm kitchen. My only challenge was that I was missing some of the elements to create the dressing. Authentic nuoc cham, traditionally, is made with fish sauce and lime juice along with chillies/chilli paste. I had not replaced my fish sauce since leaving Houston and I had no limes. I had read that to make a vegetarian nuoc cham, soy sauce was often used in place of the fish sauce and I did have soy sauce. As much as I like to make authentic dishes first time around, I decided to go ahead and try this bun with my own twists.
The meat that is used in the salad is usually some grilled meat or leftover roasted meat. I had neither. I decided to make a ground chicken topping very similar to the ground chicken that is served in lettuce leaves in a popular Chinese salad. I guess my bun was a bit of a fusion dish.
My bun, however, was delicious. The children thoroughly enjoyed it and especially because they got to whip out the new chopsticks we had bought from World Market. The salad was light and refreshing and the dressing, though it was not the authentic nuoc cham, was wonderful. I ended up making my own version of nuoc cham with what I had on hand. The vegetables that went into my bun were romaine lettuce, English cucumber, shredded carrots, basil and cilantro. I think this salad opens itself up to any vegetables and any kind of meat but what makes the salad are the herbs; don’t omit or skimp on the herbs.
The amounts of vegetables and meat needed are adjustable. I will list the quantities I used for the six of us, but you can add more or less as you wish.
1 teaspoon/5ml sesame oil
Stir in the sesame oil.
they should be done.
Top with the shredded vegetables.
Add a mound of noodles and top with the herbs.
Spoon about 3 or 4 tablespoons of dressing all over.
Have a go, I am sure most of the ingredients are already in your fridge and store cupboard/pantry.