1 teaspoon cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons light (regular) soy sauce
1 pound flank steak, cut across the grain into strips about 3 inches long, 3/4 inch wide, and a scant 1/4 inch thick
Leaves from 1/2 small head red or green leaf lettuce, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch wide ribbons
1 pickling (Kirby) cucumber or 1/2 small English cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into matchsticks
2 cups bean sprouts (about 1/3 pound)
1/3 cup roughly chopped assorted fresh herb leaves such as cilantro, mint, red perilla, Thai basil, and Vietnamese balm
2/3 pound small dried round rice noodles, cooked in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes, drained, and flushed with cold water
3 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
1 small yellow onion, halved and sliced lengthwise 1/4 inch thick
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Garnishes and dressing:
1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup crispy caramelized Shallot, optional
11/2 cups Basic Dipping Sauce made without garlic
To make the marinade, in a shallow bowl large enough to accommodate the beef, combine the cornstarch, sugar, salt, pepper, fish sauce, and soy sauce and mix well. Add the beef and use chopsticks or your fingers to coat evenly. Set aside to marinate while you ready the bowls.
To make the salad mix, in a large bowl, combine the lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts, and herbs and toss well. Divide the salad among 4 noodle soup-sized bowls and top with a layer of noodles. Put the bowls near the stove. Place a plate nearby for holding the elements of the stir-fry as you cook them.
To stir-fry a large quantity of meat successfully on a home kitchen stove, it is best to work in batches and then bring them together at the end. In a wok or large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and stir-fry for about 1 minute, or until slightly soft and fragrant. Add the garlic and stir-fry for about 15 seconds, or until aromatic. Transfer to the plate with a slotted spoon.
Raise the heat to high and add another tablespoon of oil. Add half the beef, spreading it out into a single layer. Let it cook, undisturbed, for about 1 minute. When the beef begins to brown, use a spatula to flip and stir-fry it for another 1 to 2 minutes, or until it is still slightly rare. Transfer to the plate holding the onions and garlic. Repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the second half of the beef. When the second batch is just about done, return the onion and garlic, first batch of beef, and any accumulated juices to the pan. Stir-fry for about 2 minutes to heat through and finish cooking the beef.
Remove from the heat and divide evenly among the bowls. Top with the peanuts and shallot. Serve immediately with the sauce for diners to dress and toss their own bowls.
Excerpted with permission from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors by Andrea Nguyen.
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