Thursday, August 12, 2010

Vietnamese Summer Cooking

Continuing on the theme of experimenting with new ethnic cuisines, I made my first Vietnamese dish on Tuesday: a green papaya rice noodle salad.  I loaded the salad with a ton of fresh veggies and fruit: cucumbers, mung bean sprouts, red leaf lettuce, cilantro, thai basil, mint, garlic, limes, and of course, papaya.  For some protein and different texture, I topped the salad with some seared tofu; I think tempeh would also be nice, although the salad itself is also quite good.  It is an easy dish to make, but prep takes forever, as it is a lot of vegetables to wash, dry and chop.  I didn't have my food processor so it took forever to julienne and chop everything.  You also need to blanch the noodles and mung beans and sear the tofu, so that takes additional time (and lots of dishes to wash).  The result is delicious though; tastes like authentic Vietnamese food!  The slightly piquant, very flavorful dressing is refreshing and wonderful on top of spring-y noodles and the crunch and flavor of all the different fresh vegetables and fragrance of all the herbs.  It's a great summer dish, light-tasting and filling at the same time, and very healthy too; no oil is used at all, except for the searing of the tofu, which can be omitted.

For the dressing, I minced finely 4 large cloves of garlic, and squeezed 1/4 cup of fresh lime juice (juice of 1.5 limes), 3 TB of fish sauce (I like the 3 crabs brand), minced finely 1 cup of cilantro, added 1 TB of honey.  It was still a little too salty / sour, so I also added 1/4 cup of water and about 1-2 TB of brown rock sugar (you can use any sugar; it just happened to be sitting on the counter).  Basically taste the dressing and adjust accordingly.  It is still quite tart, but it is used to season a ton of vegetables and noodles, so it does need to be strongly flavored and ends up being just right.

For the salad ingredients:
  • 1 head of red leaf lettuce, chopped into strips
  • 1/4 of a large green papaya, julienned
  • 4 small cucumbers, julienned
  • 3-4 cups of mungbean sprouts: I put them in a large bowl, poured boiling water on them and covered the bowl for about 3 minutes, drained it and put the bowl in a larger bowl full of ice water to cool it down
  • 1 cup of basil, chiffonaded
  • 1/4 cup of mint, chiffonaded (I could have used more mint, but I ran out)
  • Crushed 1/2 cup of peanuts
  • Dunked 1 lb of fresh rice stick noodles (purchased at the chinese market) into boiling water for ten seconds (you'll have to cook it for longer if it's dried), drained it in a colander and ran it under cold water until the noodles were cold and separated
  • Toss everything together with the dressing
This made for a humongous salad; enough for 5 people for dinner.  We paired it with a lovely Scaldis Belgian golden ale from Whole Foods.  The beer was really good, hoppy on the nose, but mellow, creamy and complex on the taste.  It wasn't as spicy as a lot of Belgian ales are, but more smooth and creamy but still full of flavor.  It was quite nice and refreshing for a summer day with a meal.

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