Gather up everything there is to love about Vietnamese food and put it in one dish and you'd probably have this salad. Tangles of sheer cellophane noodles topped with slices of grilled pork, fresh herbs, crunchy vegetables, and one unusual addition -- sour-sweet green mango -- which is the mediator between the sweet and the hot spicing.
Please don't be intimated by the long list of ingredients -- it is very simple to prepare, and should be a staple in every hot August kitchen.
Cook to Cook: An easy way to get long thin sticks of mango is to peel the fruit, then make long cuts from the top to the bottom of the fruit, right to its wide flat pit in the center. Then just slice the fruit the other way, parallel to the pit, and you're done.
Cook with lemongrass by first stripping away the long outer leaves of the stalks (save them for tea or to flavor dishes) down to the firm 2 to 3 inches or so of the base. The heart of this base is what is minced.
The assembled salad can wait in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours, while the noodle prep and dipping sauce can be done hours ahead.
Wine: A lighter-style wine with just a hint of sweetness, served nicely chilled is the ticket for this dish. Try a Chenin Blanc such as Vouvray, an unwooded Chardonnay or an off-dry Riesling.
The Noodle Salad:
- 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch by 3-inch sticks
- 12 ounces cellophane noodles, also called bean thread, or mung bean noodles
- 1 large unripe mango, peeled, and cut like the cucumber (see above)
- 4 Napa cabbage leaves, cut on the diagonal into long thin strips
- 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch by 3-inch sticks
- 6 whole scallions, cut on the diagonal into long thin strips
- 1 to 2 fresh jalapeño chiles, or hotter, smaller Thai chiles, thinly sliced lengthwise into long thin strips
- 1/3 tightly packed cup fresh mint leaves
- 1/3 tightly packed cup Vietnamese coriander leaves, (also called rau ram) (optional)
- 1/3 cup Asian basil leaves, or regular basil, torn
- 2 to 3 tablespoons minced lemongrass (from 2 to 3 lemongrass stalks)
- 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
- 1 packed tablespoon light brown sugar
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 3 large shallots, minced
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2/3 pound pork tenderloin, untrimmed, cut across the grain into thin slices (about 2 inches wide by 4 inches long and 1/8-inch thick)
- 12 to 18 (8-inch) bamboo skewers, soaked in water 30 minutes
Lemon Ginger Dipping Sauce:
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 4-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced (4 to 5 tablespoons)
- 2 to 3 jalapeño chiles, seeded and minced
- 1/2 cup Asian fish sauce
- 1/3 cup water
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup sugar, or to taste
- 1 cup toasted unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1. Make the noodle salad: spread the cucumbers on a double layer of paper towels, sprinkle with a little salt, roll up and refrigerate an hour or two so the cucumbers give off all their liquid.
2. Put the noodles in a deep bowl and cover them with very hot water. Let stand about 5 minutes, or until they are tender, but not mushy. Drain in a strainer and rinse with cold water. Let drain again. Have all the noodle salad ingredients ready.
3. Marinate the Pork: Combine the lemongrass, fish sauce, brown sugar, garlic, shallots, and oil in a medium-size bowl and stir well to blend. Add the pork and let it marinate 20 minutes. Thread the meat onto the skewers and set aside. Keep cold until ready to grill.
4. Make the Lemon Ginger Sauce: In a medium sized serving bowl, blend together the cloves, ginger, chile, fish sauce, 1/3 cup water, lemon juice and sugar and set aside at room temperature.
5. Assemble the Salad: In a large bowl, gently toss together all the noodle salad ingredients and mound the salad on a large platter.
6. Make the Pork: Preheat a grill or broiler to high heat. Oil the grill, then grill the pork slices until the meat is cooked through and the edges are nicely charred, about 3 to 4 minutes.
7. To serve, cluster the pork skewers on the salad. Scatter with the peanuts and serve with small bowls of the Lemon-Ginger Dipping Sauce for each diner. Everyone can dress their salad to their own taste.
Work Night Encore: Heat up some broth laced with ginger, garlic and star anise, then drop in leftover salad for an impromptu Asian soup.