Vietnamese Noodle Salad
One of the tricky things about being a food blogger is attending or hosting dinner parties. There’s this added level of stress and it goes both ways. People obviously hope/expect that I’m going to make something unique and tasty. But also, people think that I expect to be served something equally unique and fun.
In reality, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. At the end of the day, I’m very happy with a few beers and some burgers. I’m seriously not hard to please. Meanwhile, I usually use dinner parties as experiments. If I bring a dish and it sits all night, untouched, then I know it’s a big fat fail.
But sometimes, dishes that I bring are an unexpected success.
Which brings me to this salad. Bets and I attended a super-fun potluck dinner party a few weeks ago and after browsing through some of my books, I landed on this very unique noodle salad dish that I figured would be perfect. It has some great flavors, makes a boatload of food, and is relatively quick to make.
It turned out to be a total hit.
1) For dressing, dice peppers and garlic and whisk with other dressing ingredients. Set aside for later.
2) To prep pork, freeze pork loin for 15 minutes or so and then slice it 1/8 inch thin. Add medallions to marinade and let sit for at least 30 minutes.
3) Peel carrots and cucumbers and remove seeds from cucumbers. Run them both through a box grater. Add peanuts, chili peppers and 1/2 cup of dressing and it marinate.
4) Chop lettuce and herbs and set aside.
5) Cook rice noodles according to package.
6) To cook pork, lay medallions out on a baking sheet lined with foil. Cook under the broiler on high for 6-10 minutes until the pork is caramelized on the edges and cooked through. Be careful not to overcook it.
7) Finish salad by layering noodles, then carrot slaw, then lettuce and herbs. Add pork to the top and pour on dressing, leaving some so people can add it on individually.
8) Before serving, toss salad together to combine ingredients and dressing well.
Adapted from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2009.
I adapted a few things for this recipe, mostly relating to the chili peppers. Traditionally, a Thai chili or bird chili would be used, but I couldn’t find those so I just used a few jalapenos. This worked out just fine although I think it decreased the heat level a bit.
In general though, any time I’m using an America’s Test Kitchen recipe, it’s usually pretty good as is.
Prepping the Pork
While you could leave the pork out of this recipe, I think it gives some nice flavor and texture to the salad. The key to keeping it really tender is to slice it very thin, marinate it, and cook it under very high heat for a short amount of time.
To help with the slicing, I recommend freezing it for 15-20 minutes. That’ll stiffen it up a bit without freezing it solid so you can slice it thin.
Once it’s all sliced, add it to the marinade ingredients and let it marinate for at least 30 minutes, but you could do it overnight also.
When you’re ready to cook the pork, lay the medallions on a baking sheet covered with foil, making sure they don’t overlap. Cook them under the broiler (on high) for about 6 minutes and no more than 10 minutes. The pork should turn nicely browned and caramelized around the edges. The pork is sliced so thin that they’ll cook through almost immediately. If you overcook them though, the pieces will get a bit tough so keep an eye on them.
Prepping the dressing
Fish sauce is strong stuff. If you’ve never used it, it’s one of those baffling ingredients that if you smell or taste it on its own, you would never imagine that it could be good in anything. But then pretty much no matter what you put it on, it’s good. It adds this awesome savory, salty flavor to any food it touches.
That said, I was a bit worried about making a salad dressing with it. I thought it would maybe be overpowering, but the sugar and lime juice really mellow it out and it works perfectly. Go figure.
Just dice up the peppers and garlic and mix it with all the other ingredients. Set this aside for a few minutes while you prep the other parts of the salad. It’ll get better as it sits.
These aren’t very common in the American kitchen, but I hope that changes. They are awesome to cook with and actually easier to cook than normal pasta I think. You should follow the directions on your packaging, but basically you boil water, toss in the noodles, turn off the heat, and let them sit for about 8 minutes.
One of the best parts of this salad is a really nice carrot/cucumber slaw. Peel your carrot and cucumber and then run them through a box grater. Add these to a large bowl with the peanuts and chili pepper.
Then add about 1/2 Cup of the dressing to the slaw and stir it up. Again, let this sit at room temperature for a few minutes and the carrots and cucumber will absorb some of the dressing. Good stuff.
I seriously thought this part of the recipe was a mis-print. Half a cup of cilantro, mint, and basil? That’s a lot of herby goodness!
But the salad needs it. The herbs bring a great freshness to the salad and they kind of make it in my opinion. Just go with it and you’ll be glad you did. You can just roughly chop the herbs and mix them together.
Building the salad
The fun part of this salad is putting it all together. Start by adding all your cooked rice noodles to a large bowl. You’ll need a large bowl for this.
Then add on all the carrot slaw. Easy enough.
Then add on the chopped lettuce and herbs. Top the salad off with the pork medallions. It’s a pretty gorgeous salad if you ask me.
Before you serve it, pour a fair amount of the dressing over it. I left about 1/3 Cup of the dressing so people could add more if they wanted.
Then take two big spoons or forks and stir the salad really well so all the ingredients mix up.
I thought this was going to be spicy, but it turned out to be not to bad.
So I added some chili garlic sauce to mine. That’s just how I roll.
If you’re looking to get into some Asian flavors (fish sauce, rice noodles, etc) this is a really good beginner dish. It has a few different steps but all of them are pretty easy on their own. Bring them all together though and you have something pretty awesome.
Besides being a great dinner party dish, this also works great as a weekday lunch dish. It’s great cold and keeps well. Give this guy a shot if you’re looking to change up your salad routine!