One of the ladies in our group is Vietnamese and Tamarind Tree is her favorite spot so we asked her to order and she picked some things I had never tried. And to be honest, I am not sure I ever would have ordered them on my own. She described it as something that one might make at home (an easy home-cooked Vietnamese meal) which I will have to investigate and report back here. A soup with pineapple, bean sprouts, fresh tomato and seafood. As an accompaniment she ordered a braised fish pot, which sounds potentially redundant but trust me (or my friend actually), she knew what she was doing. It was an amazing combination.
At home the primary Vietnamese dish I make is a rice noodle bowl. It is a flexible dish and has so many things going for it. It is pretty healthy with a pile of lettuce in the bottom, cucumbers, carrots, some rice noodles and grilled meat, spring rolls and/or meatballs with a flavorful sauce poured over the top. It would be easy to turn it into a vegetarian dish by adding some fried tofu or using vegetarian spring rolls. If you need the sauce to be vegetarian, substitute soy sauce for the fish sauce. It is also great with kids as they can make their own bowls putting in the veggies they are wiling to eat. My son ate two big bowls of this last night.
Rice Noodle Salad
1.5 lb flank steak
3 T vegetable oil
2 lemongrass stalks, outer leaves removed and chopped
5 T garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 T fish sauce
2 tsp brown sugar
1 cup water
3 T fish sauce (or soy sauce, if you want vegetarian)
4 T lime juice
3 T sugar
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
noodles and vegetables:
8 ounces rice noodles
1/2 head of lettuce, shredded and washed
2 carrots, washed, peeled and grated
1 cucumber, cut lengthwise and sliced (peeled if it has that waxy exterior)
small handful of cilantro, washed
small handful of basil, washed and julienned
1/2 pound shrimp
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper
Place the flank steak in a low flat dish. Put the vegetable oil, lemongrass, garlic, fish sauce and brown sugar in a food processor and puree until it forms a paste. Rub it into the flank steak and set aside. Let it sit for an hour if you have the time.
In a bowl, mix the water, fish sauce (or soy sauce), lime juice, red pepper flakes, sugar and garlic until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.
Cook the noodles, drain, rinse with cold water and set aside. If they are really long you can cut them up with some scissors.
Heat a grill to medium high heat. Grill the steak until it is charred on the outside and lightly pink on the interior. Let sit for ten minutes and then slice thinly.
Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and when it starts to shimmer, add the shrimp and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until it starts to brown and then transfer to a bowl.
Put it together:
Place a handful of lettuce in the bottom of a bowl, pile rice noodles on top, add a handful of cucumbers and carrots. Place some meat and shrimp on top and sprinkle with basil and cilantro. Spoon some of the sauce over the top and serve.