To me, Vietnam has always been exotic and far away. I’ve seen stunning photos and heard incredible travel tales but I have not had the pleasure of visiting ... yet. Well, my brother, his wife and my sweet niece and nephews moved to Hanoi last week and will be living there for two years. Amazing! I’m excited to hear about their adventures and eventually to visit them and share some Vietnamese experiences with them.
Of course, I am also thinking of the food! I’m looking forward to Vietnamese cooking and need to get a good book (any recommendations?). When I think of Vietnamese food I’ve eaten in restaurants, fresh herbs, vibrant flavors and spicy heat come to mind. Plates piled high with basil, mint, cilantro and lettuce accompany the dishes I order. My taste buds tingle as I inhale the fragrances and begin eating.
In honor of Tim and Kristen departing with their family, I started chopping and tasting to create a Vietnamese noodle salad in my own kitchen. Fresh herbs were foremost on my mind, along with soft rice noodles and crisp vegetables. Vietnamese cooking evokes tastes of sweet, sour, salty and spicy. To achieve this balance, I squeezed limes, chopped garlic, minced chili peppers and crumbled brown sugar. Fish sauce added a depth of flavor – umami if you will – that pulled the dressing together.
The salad became a tangled, pretty web of bright flavors, gentle heat and crunchy textures. We eagerly ate bowls of the salad while discussing the first photos and tidbits from Tim’s new life. I wish them a wonderful, delicious time in Hanoi!
Vietnamese Noodle Salad
For the salad
8 ounces thin rice noodles
1 cucumber, roughly chopped
2 bunches (10 or so) green onions, sliced diagonally
3/4 pound snap peas, sliced in half lengthwise
3 medium carrots, sliced thin and diagonally
1 cup mint, roughly chopped
1 cup basil, roughly chopped
3 red jalapeno (fresno) peppers, slivered lengthwise
1 1/2 cups roasted peanuts, chopped
For the dressing
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup fish sauce (nuoc mam)
Zest of 2 limes
1/3 cup lime juice
1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 red jalapeno (fresno), chopped
Bring a large pan of water to a boil, immerse the rice noodles in it and let them sit for 10 minutes. Drain the noodles when they are soft and rinse in cool water.
On a large platter or in a large bowl, combine the remaining salad ingredients (reserve some peanuts to garnish) and mix in the rice noodles. I used my hands since bits kept flying off my platter.
In a food processor, combine all of the dressing ingredients and whiz until smooth. Pour half of the dressing over the salad and gently toss to mix in. Add the remaining dressing slowly and to taste. Sprinkle the reserved peanuts over and serve.