Summer might be technically over, but it’s still hot enough to crave some cool noods. This Vietnamese-inspired pork noodle recipe is my rendition of something I had at a friend's house. It’s light, bright and fills you up without weighing you down but it’s also a fairly flexible recipe. The only must is the dressing and having a combination of fresh Vietnamese herbs in the salad, e.g. thai basil, culantro, cilantro, chives, mint, perilla (shiso) leaves, Vietnamese coriander, or watercress. Even that leftover bag of herbs from your pho takeout from last night, use it!
If this were a true Vietnamese dish, I’d have to explain the differences between its southern and northern interpretations, with regards to marinades, ingredients and presentation. But because it's just Vietnamese-inspired, my hope is that it will be easy enough for everyone to make and enjoy. And unlike other recipes, I will let you know how far you can veer off.
1/4 cup rice vinegar (white or other clear vinegars are ok, balsamic is not ok)
1/4 cup lime juice (limes add a nice bitter sweetness, but if life gave you lemons, use lemon juice)
1/2 cup salad oil (any neutral-tasting oil, meaning no fancy olive oils or sesame oil)
1/4 cup sugar (or sugar substitute to taste, watch those ratios on the packaging)
1/4 cup fish sauce (accept no substitutes!)
1/4 cup water (also, accept no substitutes!)
1/2 medium onion chopped (size of your fist)
1 sliced red chili pepper (add to taste, because spicier people like spicier food)
Prepare the dressing first and let it marry – the longer you marinate, the better it’ll taste. Place all the dressing ingredients into a twist-and-lock storage container or Mason jar, give it a shake to your favorite tune and place in fridge to cool and store.
6 cups of washed and rinsed romaine lettuce (or chopped iceberg. Spinach, arugula and kale might alter the flavor too much to make it taste right)
4 oz uncooked vermicelli noodles (mung bean and rice noodles are ok)
1 lb of pork chops (optional, see above)
1 cup washed and rinsed thai basil (what I had)
1 cup washed and rinsed mint (what I had)
1/2 cup roasted peanuts (go the extra mile and roast your own to open the door to nirvana)
At this point, prepare your meat. I had grilled pork chops on hand and used those. You can omit the pork to make it lighter or substitute it with chicken, lean beef or fish. Plainly seasoned meats with just salt and pepper are fine. If you make extra dressing, marinate your protein for an hour or two prior to grilling. You could saute or bake, but the char on the grill gives that extra flave that takes it up a notch. Cook the noodles as directed on the packaging and rinse with cold water. Now get all your ingredients lined up and let’s get ready to assemble!
Place your base layer of lettuce on a large serving bowl or platter.
Then add cooked noodles, pork, herbs, then dressing and peanuts.
The end result:
This is also makes for a great potluck dish as everything can be made ahead of time and stored in fridge until you have to go. Assemble everything, but keep the dressing on side. Add the dressing on site and your friends will think you are outta sight, or at least, as cool as these noods!