There's a Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant in Richardson that my husband and I frequent. It's called Caravelle, but we call it the Pink Palace. Pink walls. Pink tablecloths. Crystal chandeliers. It's like being inside a bottle of Pepto Bismol. The restaurant is a popular spot for wedding receptions, so I guess that's why it's all done up in pink. It's not pretty in the light of day, but maybe at night with the lights turned low, it's not so bad. Come to think of it, you could say the same for most people, me included.
Anyway, Caravelle has an enormous menu, so big that every item is numbered to make it easier to order, just use your handy-dandy, all-purpose pointer finger. Every time we go, I tell myself I'm going to try something different, but I always chicken out and wind up ordering one of several tried and true dishes. One of those dishes is a noodle entree from the Vietnamese section of the menu, Vermicelli with Charcoal Broiled Pork, I think it's called (numero 200, I believe). It arrives in a big bowl, plenty for two, but it's light eating. The last time I had it, I deconstructed the ingredients so I would be able to make it at home, but I found I faced two hurdles before trying a homemade version: one was the pickled veggies, the other was the chili sauce.
After a lot of Googling (when in doubt, Google), I found recipes for the veggies and the sauce. Here's a picture:
This is a very labor intensive recipe, but extremely easy to put together. I did not charcoal broil the pork, choosing to save time and pan fry, instead. All the pictures you see were from my first attempt to copy this dish and it turned out surprisingly well. I'm really not very intuitive when it comes to cooking.
First, make the pickled veggies. Make a big batch and keep chilled in the fridge for up to three weeks. You can find daikon in Asian grocery stores.
Pickled Daikon and Carrots
Ingredients (sorry, but I'm kind of fuzzy on some of the amounts):
1 Daikon root, peeled and cut into thick matchstick pieces*
Carrots, peeled and cut into thick matchstick pieces**
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar PLUS 1/2 C sugar
1 1/4 C distilled white vinegar
1 C warm water
*The one I bought was about the length of my forearm and as big around as my wrist. I'm guessing it weighed a pound to a pound and a half.
**I bought a bag of whole carrots and cut up enough to roughly equal the amount of the sliced daikon. You could purchase a bag of julienned carrots to save time, but these are so skinny, I don't know how they would hold up to the brine over time. Regardless, I prefer a toothier cut.
Place the prepared daikon and carrots in a bowl. Sprinkle with the salt and 2 tsp sugar, and then use your hands to gently toss everything together. The salt and sugar will expel the water and slightly soften the veggies. When you can bend a piece of daikon so the ends touch without breaking in the middle, about 2 - 3 minutes, drain the veggies and rinse them under cold running water. Transfer them to a container with a lid.
In a bowl, combine the 1/2 C sugar, the vinegar and the warm water. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Pour over the veggies. (The brine should cover them.) Let this sit for at least 1 hour before serving.
While your vegetables pickle, make your nuoc cham. Don't ask me how it's pronounced. Double the recipe for six or more servings.
Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese Dipping Sauce)
1/2 C warm water
1/4 C rice vinegar
1/4 C fish sauce
1/4 C sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 red chilies, minced (include membranes and seeds)*
Lime juice to taste (use a small lime)
*Two chilies had a definite bite, but were not overwhelming. Adjust according to your taste preference. I used red jalapeno chilies found in my local Asian market. Here's a pic:
Mix together all of the above ingredients EXCEPT the lime juice until the sugar dissolves.
Cut the lime into quarters. Squeeze one of the quarters into your sauce, stir and taste. I can't tell you what exactly to look for, but just squeeze a bit at a time and taste until you like it. I used about 3/4 of the small lime I had. I like that citrusy bloom to cut down on the sweet from the sugar and the strong taste of the fish sauce. Cover and keep chilled.
Now that you've made your pickled veggies and your chili sauce, it's time to wash and prep the remaining vegetables. They are shown below:
We are fortunate to have a large, well-stocked Asian market just a couple of miles from us. I bought all of the vegetables I used for this recipe there, with the exception of the romaine. I especially liked the bean sprouts. They are sold in bulk and were sparkling fresh, unlike the bagged stuff that's slightly brown and kind of slimy at my regular store. If you've never been inside an Asian market, it's quite a trip.
Vietnamese Noodles with Pork
How much you buy depends on how many people you expect to serve, the size of the portions, and the ratio of the different ingredients (for example, you might prefer more mint than cilantro). Basically, you'll have to eyeball it. With the exception of the meat, the amounts below will serve six. Figure on a quarter-pound of pork per person.
Eliminate the meat and you have a vegetarian meal.
This dish is served slightly cold or room temperature.
1 head romaine lettuce, well washed and blotted dry
Fresh bulk bean sprouts, washed and blotted dry
1 bunch fresh cilantro, washed, dried
1 bunch fresh mint, washed, dried
1 cucumber, unpeeled and washed
1 center-cut boneless pork loin chop, about 1/2 pound for two people
12 oz package vermicelli (I used the Skinner brand)
1/2 - 3/4 C salted peanuts, coarsely crushed
Pickled daikon and carrots
Prepare your veggies:
Lightly roll up romaine leaves length-wise, like a cigar, and cut cross-wise into 1/2-inch wide strips.
Pinch off the tough, thick stems on your cilantro and mint. The leaves should remain whole.
Cut cucumber in half. Using a spoon, scrape out the seeds. Cut cucumber halves cross-wise into 2-inch long sections, and then julienne each section.
Trim your pork chop of fat and cut the chop into thin strips. Pan fry the pork in a little bit of vegetable oil until cooked through. Drain on paper towels and allow to cool.
Cook your vermicelli until al dente. Drain and rinse with cool water. Drain again, really well.
In individual bowls, the bigger, the better, layer all your ingredients starting with the pasta, then the pickled veggies (drained), all the fresh veggies, the meat, and then the peanuts. Pour about 1/4 C of the chili sauce over all, or to taste. Toss and eat!
The pickled daikon and carrots are used in Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches. So while I've got a batch already made, my next project is going to be a homemade Banh Mi sandwich.
This is a very easy dish to make. The only catch is that it is time consuming; there's a lot of prep work before you can actually begin cooking.
If you have never used fish sauce before, beware! It is very potent and smells like your dog's vitamins gone over. NOT pleasant by itself, but in this dish the taste is subtle.
Feel free to experiment with the amounts, or add different things. I like recipes that I can customize to suit my particular tastes.
SHRIMP PAD THAI
Have everything prepared before you begin cooking. This recipe serves four.
1/4 C peanut oil
1 TB minced garlic
Handful of carrots, julienned (or purchase a package of julienned carrots and save yourself the trouble)
2 bunches green onions, white parts sliced lengthwise
Peeled and deveined medium shrimp (uncooked), at least 8 of the little suckers per person
12 TB fresh squeezed lemon juice, about 2 1/2 large lemons
4 TB fish sauce
8 oz. angel hair pasta, cooked
Handful of finely shredded cabbage
Handful of mung bean sprouts
2 hard cooked eggs, chopped
1/3 C coarsely chopped cilantro
1/3 C salted peanuts, coarsely crushed
In a large skillet (I use an electric skillet), heat garlic, carrots and onions in peanut oil over medium heat, about two minutes, taking care not to burn the garlic. Throw on the shrimp, lemon juice and fish sauce. Give it a brief stir, and then add cooked pasta. Toss. When shrimp are just about done, add the cabbage and bean sprouts, and toss some more. (If you like your cabbage and sprouts softer, add them when you add the pasta).
Transfer mixture to a warm serving platter. Garnish with the eggs, cilantro and peanuts. Serve immediately.
"I am not
a glutton; I am an explorer of food." How I miss Erma Bombeck!