Vietnamese Vermicelli With Sweet-Chile Sauce and Caramelized Pork

vietnamese vermecalli
Patsy Catsos, MS, RDN, LD
Total Time 100 min
Prep 90 min, Cook 10 min
Yield 6 servings (460 calories each)

These noodle bowls are beautiful to behold, as well as a festival for the taste buds. They've got all the traditional southeast Asian flavors: sour, sweet, salty, and spicy. Even the temperatures of the ingredients are interesting.

Rice vermicelli are called “bun” in Vietnamese. Bun should be freshly cooked, yet cool, while the minced pork topping is warm. The cooking techniques involved are actually very basic, making this special recipe within the reach of novice cooks, but do allow plenty of time for prepping the vegetables so you won't feel rushed. Recipes like this lend themselves to communal preparation—make it together with family or friends and then sit down to enjoy it together.

Ingredients

  • 10 tablespoons boiling water (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ cup fish sauce
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice (from 1 large lime)
  • 2 small Thai chile peppers, fresh or dried
  • 10 ounces uncooked rice vermicelli (bun)
  • 4 cups lightly packed, torn romaine lettuce
  • 3 cups fresh herb leaves, coarsely chopped (one or more: cilantro, Thai basil, mint)
  • ½ English cucumber
  • 2 ounces daikon radish
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 4 medium scallions
  • 1 tablespoon peanut or canola oil
  • 8 ounces lean ground pork
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ cup chopped unsalted peanuts

Preparation

Sweet Chile Sauce

  1. In a small bowl, stir together the boiling water, sugar, fish sauce and lime juice until the sugar dissolves. Slice the chiles into paper thin slices and stir them into the sauce.

Salad

  1. In a large, covered stockpot, bring about 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the vermicelli and return the water to a boil, stirring gently several times to separate the block of vermicelli into strands. Begin testing for doneness after noodles have boiled about 2 minutes. When vermicelli is tender, pour it into a strainer and rinse with cool water.
  1. Divide the lettuce and herbs into 6 dinner-plate-sized bowls. Julienne the unpeeled cucumber, radish, and carrot, and divide among the bowls.
  2. Slice the scallion greens and set them aside. Trim off the roots and cut the white part (bulb) of the scallions into large pieces.
  3. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the scallion bulbs and allow the oil to infuse with their flavor as they cook. Adjust the heat to prevent burning, and remove the scallions when they begin to brown.
  4. Add the ground pork and sugar and saute for 10 to 12 minutes, breaking it up into large pieces with a spatula, until browned.
  5. Add 1/4 cup of the prepared sweet chile sauce to the skillet and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan, until it has evaporated. Remove from the heat and sprinkle with black pepper.
  6. If necessary, loosen the vermicelli in the strainer by rinsing it again with some cold water. Arrange the noodles on top of the vegetables in the prepared bowls. Top each bowl with 1/6 of the ground pork, scallion greens and chopped peanuts. Stir the sauce briskly and drizzle 2 1/2 tablespoons over each bowl. Serve immediately.

    Ingredient Variations and Substitutions

    Vary the herbs according to availability and your preferences. Dried herbs cannot be used instead of fresh, since they serve as part of the salad greens, not just as seasonings.

    Mung bean sprouts can be substituted for an equal amount of radish or cucumber.

    Ground beef or turkey can be used instead of ground pork.

    Cooking and Serving Tips

    Fish sauce is very salty. Read labels and choose the one with the least sodium.

    Strain the lime juice for a clear sauce.

    Large, shallow bowls are the most attractive way to serve this salad. This recipe nicely fills six 7-inch bowls.

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