Rice Noodles with Fresh Herbs (Bun Voi Rau Thom)

Rice Noodles with Fresh Herbs (Bun Voi Rau Thom)

Adapted from Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table by Mai Pham (HarperCollins, 2001). Copyright 2001 by Mai Pham.

Makes 4 main-course servings with toppings

If there's one dish that exemplifies just how flavors and textures are contrasted in Vietnamese cuisine, it would have to be bun. Made with small rice vermicelli layered on a bed of shredded fresh herbs and greens, it can be served with a variety of meat or seafood toppings. In Vietnam, bun is usually a meal in itself but it certainly can be served in smaller, appetizer-sized portions.

To create a complete bun meal, make this recipe and serve it with a topping. Make sure that the noodles are completely dry before assembling the bowls. Otherwise, the noodles with not adequately soak up the sauce.

*1/2 cups bean sprouts
*1/3 cup cucumber, seeded and cut into matchsticks
*1/3 cup green or red perilla leaves, fish mint, or mint leaves, cut into thirds
*1/3 cup Asian basil leaves, cut into thirds

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add the rice vermicelli and stir gently to loosen them. Cook until the noodles are white and soft but still slightly resilient, about 4 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Gently fluff the noodles and set them aside for at least 30 minutes. The noodles should be dry and sticky before serving.

Gently toss together the lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumbers, perilla, and basil leaves. Divide the salad mixture among 4 bowls. Top each with one-quarter of the rice noodles. The bowls are now ready for the topping.

Note: Ideally bun should not be refrigerated, because the noodles become dry and stiff. However, if you need to, store the noodles and greens separately. Just before serving, reheat the noodles (preferably in a microwave oven) just until slightly warm. This will help them become soft and a little sticky again.