Healthy and Delicious Vietnamese Noodle Salad

The tastiest thing out of Vietnam since fried Panda! by Amy Bermudez

Vietnamese noodle saladIn Vietnam there is a saying: Noodle salad, like revenge, is a dish best served cold. And believe me, after one bite you’ll be hungering for more revenge. I mean noodle salad. Okay, maybe they don’t say that in Vietnam, but it’s nice to think that my two favorite things share a common link.

At it’s apex, Vietnamese Noodle salad, also called bun, uses fresh vegetables, noodles, and meat as a harmony of hot and cold components to converge into a kind of uber-salad without equal in our world. It is a devastatingly perfect mix of ingredients that take your taste buds on a magical tasty safari through the awe-inspiring delicious food jungles of Vietnam

When I was young, hot summers meant my mother would head to the store, and bring back a variety of fresh vegetables, soft rice-noodles, herbs, and meat. I still remember smelling the thin-cut beef on the grill as I’d head inside from the sticky summertime dusk. Sitting at the table my mom would fill my bowl, drizzle nuoc cham (Vietnamese dressing) and sprinkle chopped peanuts on top while I waited, poised to attack with my chopsticks. Today I prepare my own bun salad (never quite as good as mom’s) one to two times a week. It’s healthy and balanced. The small handful of soft noodles is topped with a generous portion of vegetables, making the bulk of the meal, and served with a portion of protein, which acts almost as a garnish. All the ingredients can be prepared ahead of time, making it quick and easy to put together after a long hot day.

Making Bun

Bun salads are easy to make at home, but first you must start with the right noodles. Bun Bun
noodles are made from rice (unlike Italian noodles made from eggs and wheat flour) and have a soft and “springy” texture. They do not have an intense flavor of their own. Instead they serve as a sort of sponge that absorbs the flavors added and bestows heartiness to the dish not usually found in traditional western salads. Anyone who has taken a trip to the local Asian market, knows how easy it is to be overwhelmed by the maze that is the noodle aisle. Bun noodles are now carried in a variety of grocery stores in the international section, so it’s not necessary to go to an Asian grocery. Commonly, people mistake rice vermicelli with cellophane vermicelli. Cellophane vermicelli, are noodles made from mung bean, not rice, and have a translucent appearance when cooked. However when dry, it can be difficult to distinguish this noodle from rice vermicelli, so look for packages that have the words “bun”, “rice sticks”, or “rice vermicelli on them. Boil the noodles till soft, drain, cool and leave at room
temperature.

The Toppings
Vietnamese salad toppings
On top of the bun noodles should sit a variety of crunchy vegetables, fragrant herbs, and grilled meats. The vegetables my mother usually adds are julienned carrots, julienned daikon, bean sprouts, sliced cucumbers, and chopped romaine lettuce. I frequently add left over stir-fried vegetables such as bamboo shoots, broccoli, carrots, and squash to my salad. Use any combination of vegetables you feel comfortable eating. Traditional bun salad herbs are mint, cilantro, and Thai basil. Italian basil can be used but I think the Thai basil has a more Asian flare with its mild anise flavor. The meat topping is usually grilled. My mother always grilled beef for her bun salads, but other traditional and splendidly tasty alternatives are grilled lemongrass chicken, shrimp, marinated pork, or tofu. As you can see, there's plenty of room for variety here. The flavor greatly depends on what combination of vegetables, herbs, and
protein you choose. When serving bun salads, arrange grilled steak for noodle saladthe toppings in separate piles on a
plate so you and your guests can experiment.

Nuoc Cham, Vietnamese Dressing and Dipping Sauce

Perhaps the most disturbing ingredient to my American upbringing is the fish sauce. Yes, it is a brown, smelly, condiment-like sauce that IS made from the extracted liquid of fish. And while it may sound like a recipe for days of food poisoning induced toilet-hugging, the end result is nothing short of inspiring. Fish sauce can be found in any Asian grocery and commonly stocked in local grocery stores.


Nuoc cham is the traditional dressing for bun salads, though it doubles as a dipping sauce for egg rolls and spring rolls. The recipe is equal parts fish sauce and sugar, diluted with hot water to taste. For extra flavor and heat, add crushed/chopped garlic, chili paste, and lime juice. Mix all the ingredients together and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Nuoc cham should be served chilled or at room temperature, and can be stored in the refrigerator in an air tight container for several days. The ratio of ingredients in this recipe can be adjusted to your taste and prefference. You don't necessarily have to add as much sugar as listed, I tend to add less to lend more of a "vinegar" bite.

Nuoc ChamNuoc Cham Recipe:

1 clove garlic chopped or crushed
1 tsp chili paste (I use Sriracha, I called it rooster sauce as a child)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup fish sauce
1 cup hot water
2 Tbsp lime juice
1 pinch of julienned carrot for garnish



Assemble and Enjoy!

Healthy and Delicious Vietnamese Noodle Salad - Nutrition for the WorldFill the bottom of your bowl with a small portion of bun noodles. Then fill with a variety of fresh herbs and vegetables. Top this vegetable mountain with a portion of grilled meat or tofu. Drizzle nuoc cham dressing on top and garnish with chopped peanuts. Lastly turn the noddles over a couple times to incorporate the dressing and dig in! Here is a picture of my mother and I enjoying our freshly made bun salads. Hope you end up with the same cheesy smile on your face after you make this dish yourself. Enjoy!




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