Excerpted from Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table: Recipes and Reminiscences from Vietnam's Best Market Kitchens, Street Cafes, and Home Cooks by Mai Pham (Morrow Cookbooks, 2001). © 2001 by Mai Pham. Used with permission.
This recipe forms the basis of the popular bun (rice vermicelli) dishes eaten all over Vietnam. It's typically served as a main dish but it can also make a great appetizer.
Even though the recipe is lengthy, it's actually simple to prepare. Except for the hot topping, the noodle portion and the sauce (which are served at room temperature) can be made in advance. For an equally delicious variation, substitute the pork with shrimp, beef, chicken or tofu.
1. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Add the rice sticks and stir gently to loosen them. Cook until the noodles are white and soft but still resilient, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Set them aside for at least 30 minutes. The noodles should be dry and sticky before serving.
2. Gently toss together the lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumbers, perilla and basil leaves. Divide the salad mixture among 4 large bowls. Top each with 1/4 of the rice noodles and set them aside.
3. Combine the lemongrass, sesame seeds, shrimp sauce, fish sauce, caramel sauce, shallots, garlic and oil in a bowl and stir well to blend. Add the pork and let it marinate 20 minutes. Thread the meat onto the skewers and set aside.
4. Preheat a grill or broiler to high heat. Oil the grill, then grill the pork slices until the meat is done and the edges are nicely charred, about 3 to 4 minutes.
5. To serve, remove the pork from the skewers and arrange on each of the four noodle bowls. Garnish each bowl with Î© tablespoon fried shallots, 1 tablespoon peanuts and about 3 to 4 tablespoons sauce. Toss gently before eating.
Makes about 1 cup
1. Cut the chilies into thin rings. Remove 1/3 of the chilies and set aside for garnish.
2. Place the remaining chilies, garlic and sugar in a mortar and pound into a coarse, wet paste. Transfer to a small bowl and add the water, lime juice and fish sauce. Stir well to dissolve.
3. Add the reserved chilies and carrots. Set aside for 10 minutes before serving.
"Stop thinking that you have to be a chef in your own kitchen," says Ruth Reichl, author of My Kitchen Year.