My Favorite Vietnamese Dish is So Easy….

I know I said that I would continue posting recipes from my trip to Italy here, but the other night I made this fantastic dish and couldn’t wait to share…

There used to be a small local chain of 4-5 Vietnamese restaurants in Boston called “Pho Pasteur”.   My favorite dish was bun, a type of cool noodle salad.  Sadly, the restaurants closed many years ago but, as I discovered recently while in Chinatown, one remains!  A trip is imminent…..

With the heat of summer approaching, bun makes a great dinner.  The rice noodles sit underneath a bed of crunchy bean sprouts, cucumbers, and lettuce, and they’re topped with warm seafood, chicken, or beef.  When you drizzle over it a dressing made of soy sauce, sugar, ginger, and garlic, it becomes a wonderfully-flavored dish of different tastes, textures, and temperatures.  I love this dish, not because it showcases some of the flavors of Vietnamese cuisine, but because it’s also very healthy.

As always, use the freshest ingredients.

Fresh, crispy veggies

Although the recipe doesn’t call for it, you can also include fresh mint or basil leaves.

I did not have any fish sauce on hand for the dressing, so I substituted soy sauce and the dish was still amazing.

Vietnamese Bun

(serves 4)

For the dressing:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 cup Asian fish sauce (nuoc mam)
  • 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
In a bowl, combine the sugar and vinegar.  Stir well until the sugar dissolves.  Add the fish sauce, ginger, and garlic.  Set aside.
For the Bun:
  • 8 oz rice vermicelli
  • 4 chicken breast halves, on the bone (you can also use beef or shrimp)
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sriracha, or other hot sauce
  • 1/2 head red or green leaf lettuce, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 4 carrots, grated
  • 2 cups fresh sprouts
  • 6 pickling cukes, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 1/2 cup peanuts, chopped

Turn on the broiler.

Bring a kettle of water to a boil.  In a bowl, combine the noodles with enough boiling water to submerge to cover the noodles.  Set aside for about 15 minutes.  Drain the noodles and transfer to a bowl.  Add 3 tbsps of the dressing and toss well.

Place the chicken, skin side up, in a broiler pan.  In a bowl, combine the oil, soy sauce, and sriracha. Rub the mixture over the chicken skin.  Broil about 10 inches from the element for about 5 minutes, or until the chicken starts to brown.  Reduce the temperature to 400 degrees and continue cooking for 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.  Set aside to cool.

Remove the meat from the bone in one large piece.  Cut diagonal slices.

Divide the noodles among 4 bowls.  Add lettuce to each one.  Top with the carrots, sprouts, and cucumbers.  Spoon some of the dressing over the vegetables.

Add the chicken and spoon more dressing on top.  Garnish with the scallions and the peanuts.

The noodles are hidden at the bottom for a nice surprise!

Summer’s Not Here Yet Tabouleh Salad

The weather here in the Northeast the past two days has been almost summer-like (ok, maybe very-late-spring-like).  I wanted to make something light and healthy for lunch other than a standard salad.  Luckily, I had most of the ingredients for tabouleh…or tabouli, or tabboule, or tabbouleh.

Tabouleh is a Middle Eastern salad that is traditionally made with bulgur, tomato, cucumber, and herbs.  Traditionally, it was served as part of a mezze (a selection of small dishes) served in the Mediterranean and Middle East.  There are different variations of it in Turkey and Armenia, and it has become a very popular ethnic food in the US.

Instead of bulgur, I used quinoa, which bumps up the protein a bit, but feel free to use either.  I have made this in the past also with couscous.  The one important thing, however, is to make sure you let the tabouleh sit for a few hours, or overnight, in the fridge so that the flavors can marry together.

I bet the addition of fresh basil leaves would be a nice touch to this salad also.  Perhaps next time.

Tabouleh

Probably serves about 6 people

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cucumber, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tomato, or 20 grape tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • 2 tbsp dried mint leaves
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of one fresh lemon or lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place quinoa and water in a pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until all of the water has been absorbed by the quinoa, about 15 minutes.  Remove and let cool completely.

Slice cucumber lengthwise and scoop out seeds with a spoon.  Cut the cucumber and tomato into pieces about the size of a kernel of corn and place into a large bowl.  Chop onion and garlic.  Add to bowl along with the parsley and mint.

Once the quinoa has completely cooled, add to the bowl, along with the olive oil and the juice of the lemon or lime. Stir until all the ingredients are combined.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  You can serve immediately, but it will be better if you cover with plastic and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Calamari-Eggplant Salad

A while back, I had said that the best way to enjoy seafood was in its simplest form, without a lot of fuss — in other words, no frying, no extra sauces, no “crusts”.  Why mess with the beautiful flavor of fresh seafood?  Grilling, broiling and steaming, at least for me, are the way to go.  I like to take advantage of some of the world’s best seafood from right in our backyard .

This was my dinner tonight.  It’s a revised version of a dish that I had in Athens a few years ago.  The original was made with octopus.  While I am not a huge fan of the chewy texture of octopus (believe me, I have tried many, many times to like it), fresh calamari is a nice alternative. 

Serve with nice, fresh crusty bread.

Fresh, cleaned whole calamari. Check out these bad boys!

 

Calamari and Eggplant Salad

(serves 2)

  • 1/2 lb fresh calamari/squid, cleaned
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 wine glass of wine
  • 2 small to medium sized eggplants
  • 1 medium size tomato, seeds removed and chopped into cubes
  • 1 scallion, finely chopped
  • dried mint
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic or wine vinegar
  • salt, fresh pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of dried oregano
 
Eggplants:  Roast the eggplants in a 400 degree oven until cooked through, about 45 minutes.  They will become soft and mushy and charred. Let cool, peel the skin off of the eggplants and “rough chop” the pulp and place in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients.
 
Calamari: Bring a medium-sized saucepan of heavily salted water and one bay leaf to a boil.  Add the wine. Place the calamari (whole) into the water and poach until it is tender.
 
Chop the calamari and add to the eggplant mixture.  Mix all of the ingredients, adjust the seasonings if needed and enjoy.
 
(DP note: if you wish to use octopus instead, place the octopus and bay leaf in a saucepan on low heat to cook until it becomes very tender.  No liquid is required as the octopus will release its own liquid as it cooks. As soon as it is steamed and tender, increase the heat to high and add the wine, cooking for another 4-5 minutes.  Chop then add to the eggplant mixture.)
 

The finished dish

 

A Little Lentil Lovin’

Lentils are one of nature’s power foods. They’re filled with iron, protein, and fiber, and therefore are superfilling — not to mention healthy.  One serving of lentils provides more protein than a serving of steak.  They’re also pretty inexpensive.  And if all that is not enough, they’re also easy to cook.  You don’t have to soak them overnight as you do with other beans.  You just toss them into a pot, add some water and they’re done in about 25-30 minutes.

Lentils are a widely eaten staple food throughout the Middle East and India, as well as used in many European recipes.  There are many different types, including yellow, pink, red, and black varieties.  However, the most common in North America are the green variety.  Occasionally, I will cook a pot and store in the refrigerator for a few days’ worth of lunches or dinners.

There are many ways to cook with lentils.  They are a good substitute for meat and can replace part or all of the meat in a burger or meatloaf.   They can also make a nice creamy dip – throw a cup or two of lentils in a food processor with a little olive oil, garlic, spices (cumin and chili powder are nice here) and other veggies and spread on toasted pita bread.  

If your experience with lentils is limited to just soup, try a salad:

 

Lentil, Tomato and Feta Salad

serves 4

  • 1 cup green lentils
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered (or grape tomatoes, halved)
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped
  • 6 0z feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Place the lentils in a saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and let simmer for 20-25 minutes – don’t overcook.  Drain and cool the lentils in a colander.

Place the lentils in a large bowl.  Add the remaining ingredients and toss well.  Add a couple of pinches of salt and a pinch or two of pepper to taste.