Vietnamese Salad of Rice Noodles and Fresh Things

Vietnamese Salad of Rice Noodles and Fresh Things

© 2006 Lynne Rossetto Kasper. All Rights Reserved

Serves 4 to 6

We often keep this salad in the refrigerator for snacks, suppers and last minute drop-ins. Use the extra dressing for dipping and for marinating poultry, beef, pork, and seafoods.

Noodles:

1 pound vermicelli rice noodles (about the thickness of a linguine pasta)
4 quarts very hot water

Dressing:

3 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam)
1-1/3 cups water
2 to 3 tablespoons each fresh lime juice and rice vinegar, or to taste
1/2 cup brown sugar, or to taste
1 to 2 fresh jalapeño chiles, seeded and minced, or to taste

Salad:

6 to 8 leaves Napa or Green Cabbage, thin sliced
8 whole scallions, thin sliced
1 large carrot, shredded
1 handful spinach leaves, thin sliced
1 1/2 cups diced jicama or water chestnuts
1/2 tight-packed cup fresh basil or coriander leaves, coarsely chopped
8 ounce can pineapple chunks in pineapple juice (not sugar syrup), drained
6 to 8 ounces firm tofu, cut into bite-size dice, or BBQ pork, cooked chicken breasts, or 1/2 pound cooked shrimps
1 cup salted peanuts or cashews, coarsely chopped

1. Place rice noodles in a large bowl and cover with the water. Let stand about 5 minutes, or until tender, but not mushy. Drain in a colander, rinse with cold water, and set colander on top of the bowl so noodles can drain.

2. In a medium serving bowl, combine dressing ingredients. Taste for chile, and sweet/tart balance. Adjust seasonings and set on table.

3. Toss vegetables, herbs, and pineapple with noodles. Mound on a large platter. Scatter with tofu, pork, chicken or shrimps, and nuts. Garnish with a few sprigs of fresh basil or coriander.

4. Salad is traditionally eaten in large bowls. Serve, inviting everyone to spoon the dressing over their salads.

LYNNE'S TIPS

Use vermicelli rice noodles as the inspiration for your own dishes. Their neutral flavor makes them a fine base and they need no cooking.

Find fish sauce in Asian groceries and some well-stocked supermarkets. Three Crabs is one brand I like.

For this dish choose firm or extra-firm tofu. Firm silken tofu has an especially smooth texture. Find it in Asian markets, natural food shops and most supermarkets. Tofu is perishable. Keep refrigerated and use within a week of purchase.