Vietnamese cuisine is a cuisine I honestly know very little. Sure, I enjoy making and eating pho and bánh mì, but that’s about as deep as my knowledge goes. I’m eager to learn more, but sometimes feel in order to know the true differences between the many and varied cuisines of the Orient that I would need a pantry the size of a small grocery store.
And though I want to have a deeper understanding and knowledge of Asian cuisines I’m not so sure my family is always up to the challenge: at the end of last week, as our attentions were turning to planning the menu for this week, Erin begged me to keep it Western.
When I decided to make the noodle bowl and stir-fired beef for dinner I was in the midst of reading The Quiet American by Graham Greene, a story which takes place in Vietnam in the 1950s. What does this dish have to do with the book? Not much really, other than it happens to be a Vietnamese dish that seemed easy enough for a weeknight meal (and one for which I had most of the ingredients already on hand).
The recipe itself comes from Andrea Nguyen’s excellent book Into the Vietnamese Kitchen (Nguyen also runs the site Viet World Kitchen
where there’s a post on Bun Rice Noodle Salad Bowls). Nguyen also lists several variations at the end of the recipe: grilled chicken, grilled pork, grilled pork and shrimp, and grilled lemongrass beef.
There are a few components to the dish but none of them are all that complicated or time consuming: a salad of red leaf lettuce with Vietnamese herbs like cilantro, Thai basil, perilla (we ended up using Vietnamese balm – kinh giói – instead), bean sprouts, and mint; rice noodles; stir fried flank steak that has been marinated for a few minutes; crispy shallots; peanuts; and nuóc châm – a dipping sauce that doubles here as a salad dressing.
We had this dish over two nights and I could probably have eaten it a third. The flavors are light and clean and you can make it as spicy as you want by adding more chilies to the nuóc châm. In all reality this would make a great dish for mid-summer nights here in the southern US, light and refreshing, clean on the palate. And nearly equally important is that it’s quick and easy to put together, great for a weeknight when you’re pressed for time and the kids are getting hungry.
Update (11/7/13): While browsing I came across the very recipe I used here at the LA Times site. Strangely I cannot find an author for the article or a mention of where the recipe came from, but it is the exact recipe I used.