I spotted a book in Salisbury Library recently that I thought would be interesting: Fragrant Heart, a Tale of Love, Life and Food in Asia, by Miranda Emerson.
We love Asian food and cook it regularly at home, and I also enjoy reading about it, and as this was a travel book that focused on food it appealed to me immediately. It turned out to be... just OK. Whilst I was interested in the author's time in Beijing as my brother has recently moved there, and I liked reading about her travels in Vietnam and Thailand (places we too had travelled), I was rather less interested in her love-life and her obsession with having children, so found myself skimming through the more introspective sections. However, every chapter did end with one or more recipes, and I was drawn to this Vietnamese one straight away. I made it last night and thought I'd blog it before I return the book to the library.
I made the vegetarian version, but I would like to try the pork version next. It would also be good with beef or chicken. I made the recipe with a few variations which I have mentioned below.
Preparation and cooking time: 2.5 hours
300g pork, sliced, or 1 large aubergine, quartered then sliced (I also threw in some quartered mushrooms)
2-6 tbsp unsalted peanut (use more in the vegetarian version because this is your protein)
300g rice vermicelli (I only had a 200g packet so used all of that, and it was a perfect amount)
Half a handful of mint leaves (I had a pack of Thai Basil so used that as well as the mint)
5cm piece of cucumber, unpeeled and cut into matchsticks
1 tbsp pickled vegetables (I didn't have these so didn't use them, and I don't think the dish suffered for it)
50g minced lemongrass (I used 2 stalks)
50g sugar (I used a heaped dessertspoon)
2 tbsp fish sauce (veggie alternative: 1 tbsp light soy and 1 tbsp dark soy. I used the fish sauce)
1 tbsp ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 shallots, minced (I didn't use these and didn't substitute anything)
3 tbsp groundnut oil (I used sunflower)
Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce
6 tbsp of a solution of 1 part sugar to 3 parts water (I put 2 tbsp sugar in a bowl and added 4 tbsp of boiling water to dissolve it)
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp lime zest (I didn't bother)
2 tbsp fish sauce (or light soy for veggies)
1 clove garlic, crushed or minced
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
Combine all the marinade ingredients and toss the pork or aubergine in it. Leave to marinade for 2 hours (I only had time to leave it for an hour, it was fine).
Dry-fry the peanuts in a pan until slightly browned. Remove from heat, crush lightly and set aside.
Prepare the nuoc cham by combining everything and decanting into dipping bowls.
When the marinating time is up, heat up a frying pan until hot (I added a tbsp of oil). Remove the pork or aubergine from the marinade (er, I chucked it all in!) and fry until well cooked. Remove from heat.
Boil a large saucepan of water and cook the rice vermicelli according the packet instructions (mine just said to leave in boiling water for 4 minutes). Eat a strand to check it's cooked through, then drain and refresh in cold water.
Place the noodles in a bowl and top with the pork or aubergine. Sprinkle over the mint, cucumber, pickled veg (if using) and peanuts. Serve with the nuoc cham spooned over.
I forgot to take a photo, but will add one to this post the next time I cook this dish - which I definitely will again. Like much Vietnamese food it's light and refreshing, yet with really punchy flavours; a perfect Summer dish.