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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Vietnamese Pork and Rice Noodle Salad


When I had my first taste of Thai food several years ago, I wasn't sure what to think of it. I was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of lemongrass in the bowl of soup I was served to the point of nausea since the flavors were very reminiscent of a household cleaner my Mom used in the kitchen. I have since learned that a heavy-hand with lemongrass can produce that effect and after tasting a dish where the balance was expertly achieved, I have since become a Thai food fanatic.

However, despite our love of Thai cuisine, Paul and I both cannot stand the aroma of fish sauce. Just having it on the table at a restaurant makes us both feel nauseous. The repugnant, oily, piscine aroma is so overwhelming to our olfactory systems that we almost lose our appetites. But, even with such a horrific stench, that fish sauce - when combined properly with sugar and lime juice - creates a most enticing, intriguing, and sumptuous flavor that keeps us coming back for more. I have a large bottle of fish sauce in my refrigerator, for it is an essential ingredient in replicating authentic Thai flavors at home. However, I keep it stored far in the back so that my nose is not greeted by it's aroma each time I open the fridge.

But I promise, fish sauce does magical things. The following recipe incorporates nearly a cup of it!

I have had this recipe for Vietnamese Pork Noodle Salad bookmarked for ages. Vietnamese food incorporates a lot of similar flavors as Thai food and when I glanced at the list of ingredients that made up this salad, I knew it would be a dish that would make me swoon! The kids...well, I wasn't too certain what they would think of it, hence the reason it took me a few months to make it. But when I did, my goodness, I was in heaven from the first bite! So many wonderfully complex flavors all marrying together in one little salad! Each bite sent my taste buds reeling as they reveled in the various flavors - sweet, savory, salty, sour! It's all in this dish. And I needn't have worried about the children, for they all surprised me greatly by eating every bite in near silence. This was one lovely, lovely meal and I cannot wait to make it again.


Vietnamese Pork and Rice Noodle Salad
from Pink Parsley

Note: This does require a little advanced planning to give the pork time to marinate. While the pork can be marinated for as little as 30 minutes, I highly recommend letting it marinate for at least 8 hours or up to 24. The longer, the better!

For the Pork:
3 Tbs fish sauce
3 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs + 1 tsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 lbs pork tenderloin, trimmed and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch medallions

For the Dressing:
2/3 cup fish sauce
1/2 cup warm water
1/3 cup lime juice (about 3-4 limes)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Thai, serrano, or jalapeño chilies, ribs and seeds removed, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, minced

For the Salad:
4 medium carrots, peeled and shredded on the large holes of a cheese grater
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, halved crosswise, and thinly sliced into half moons
1/3 cup chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
1 Thai, serrano, or jalapeño chile, ribs and seeds removed, thinly sliced
6 oz dried rice noodles (rice vermicelli), broken into 6-inch pieces
4-5 cups romaine lettuce, chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

For the pork:  Combine the fish sauce, brown sugar, and oil together in a gallon-sized freezer bag, and agitate to dissolve the sugar.  Add the pork, shake to combine, refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours.

For the dressing:  Combine all the ingredients in a mason jar or small bowl, then shake or whisk to combine.  Set aside.

For the salad:  In a small bowl, toss the carrots, cucumbers, peanuts, and chilies together with 1/4 cup of the dressing.  Set aside and allow to marinate while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Remove from heat, add the noodles, and stirring occasionally, let them sit about 10 minutes.  Drain the noodles and transfer to a large bowl.  Layer the carrot-cucumber mixture, lettuce, basil, cilantro, and mint on top of the noodles, but do not toss.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, adjust the oven rack 6 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler.  Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.  Arrange the slices of pork in a single layer on the baking sheet.

Broil until the pork is golden on both sides with crispy, browned edges, about 10 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Pour half the dressing over the noodle-veggie mixture and toss to combine.  Divide among serving bowls and top each portion with a few pieces of the pork.  Drizzle the remaining dressing over the individual servings and serve immediately.

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