The Joy of Cooking’s recipe for “Vietnamese Rice Noodle Bowls” caught my son’s attention, so we worked together on dinner last night. The key to the dish is the dipping sauce, “nuoc cham”, which brings the characteristic sweet-sour-salty Vietnamese flavors to what seems a rather bland assortment of items: rice noodles, shredded lettuce, carrot, cucumber, green onions and grilled pork.
Notes on making the nuoc cham (recipe below): For the most gourmet version, use a mortar and pestle to mash together some of the sugar with the garlic and chile before adding to the other ingredients. To simplify, just slice the chile, mince the garlic and mix with other ingredients. If you don’t have fresh chile pepper or garlic and you do happen to have a jar of sambal oelek (chile-garlic paste) in the fridge, use a teaspoon of that. The quality of your fish sauce matters. They all have a pungent aroma, but the taste of Red Boat is by far superior to every other brand I’ve tried.
How to do the rice bowls:Each person makes their own bowl selecting from an array of cooked rice noodles, lettuce and other prepared vegetables, thinly sliced meat, all drizzled with nuoc cham.
…for the rice noodles: Put thin rice noodles in a bowl, pour boiling water over them, and let sit until they are the texture you like (not long, mine were ready in 3 minutes); drain, rinse with cool water and set aside.
…for the vegetables: Thinly slice a head of lettuce (red-leaf is nice), shred a couple carrots, thinly slice a cucumber and a few green onions. Microgreens are great here too, I picked up a tub of radish microgreens from Cloud Nine Farm in Wilsall (thank you Rooney family!) We grilled a couple pork tenderloins and thinly sliced into serving pieces. Everyone assembles their own bowl and drizzles with nuoc cham.
Vietnamese Dipping Sauce “Nuoc Cham”
makes approx. 1 cup
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar, divided
- 1 small Thai or serrano chile pepper thinly sliced
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1/2 cup water
- 5 tbsp fish sauce Red Boat brand
- 4 tbsp fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
Using a mortar and pestle, mash to a paste 1 tbsp sugar with the sliced chile and minced garlic.
Measure water in a glass measuring cup, add remaining 2 tbsp sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add the mashed chile and garlic paste from step 1 and stir in the fish sauce and lime juice. Refrigerate in a tightly sealed jar.