With the heat kicking up, I’m excited to be switching over to meals that help me stay cool all summer long. Clearly salads are a great option, but don’t limit yourself to our domestic salad combinations. I’m gonna help you think a bit more internationally about your salads this season, and our first stop is Vietnam. Vietnam is a country that is sweltering just about all year long, so many of its traditional dishes are perfectly suited for heat management, like the shrimp vermicelli bowl recipe I’m sharing with you today (lucky you!).
Vermicelli bowls are some of my favorite summer eats. They contain lots of fresh vegetables – lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, and mint at the very least – soft noodles, a protein of some sort, but the best part is the dressing. Nuoc cham is a common Vietnamese dipping sauce, and any Vietnamese family will have it prepared and in reserves by the gallons. It not only serves as a dipping sauce but also as a marinade and in this case the most dynamic tasting salad dressing you’ll ever have.
Nuoc cham is a mix of a simple syrup (sugared water that has been reduced and concentrated over heat), fresh lime juice, chopped garlic, some hot sauce, and fish sauce a pantry staple in the Vietnamese kitchen that’s basically concentrated anchovy juice. It tastes terrible on its own but manages to be delicious in this sauce. Each component brings something completely different to the finished mix – the simply syrup provides a base of sweet, the lime juice adds tartness, the fish sauce deepens it with saltiness, and the garlic and hot sauce provide it with the zing.
Smarts: You can make this in huge batches, and it’ll keep for months in the fridge. Use it as a marinade, dipping sauce, or salad dressing
All these components are easily assembled before. The last step is just to cook up the protein. BBQ it on a grill, roast it in an oven, or saute it up on your stovetop. The first option is great for a summer BBQ. Prep all the vegetables and make your sauce ahead of time and then BBQ up a variety of proteins right before serving. Serve it all in a buffet line and have your guests go to town making their own combinations. For a simple weeknight dinner though, I’m happy to just to fire up the range. For ultra hot days, shrimp is a my protein of choice. It’ll cook quickly, which means no standing over a hot stovetop for long, because that’s no way to spend your summer!
- Shrimp – 1 lb., shelled & deveined
- Sugar – ¼ cup
- Green lettuce – 1 head, sliced
- Cucumbers – ¾ lb., julienned
- Mint – ½ cup, sliced
- Garlic – 3 cloves, minced
- Carrots – ½ lb., grated
- Rice noodles – ½ lb. (sometimes called vermicelli. sub angel hair)
- Cooking oil – 1 tbs.
- Brown sugar – 2 tsp.
- Fish sauce – 1 tbs. + 3 tbs.
- Hot sauce
- Lime juice – 2 tbs.
- Peanuts – ⅓ cup, crushed
- Shrimp – Defrost, drain, and dry on paper towels
- Make “simple syrup” – Bring sugar and 1½ cups water to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes. Let cool
- Lettuce / Cucumbers / Mint / Garlic / Carrots – Prep as directed
- Boil noodles according to package instructions. The best way to keep them from sticking after cooking is to run them in cold water and then leave soaked in cold water. Drain right before serving
- Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add oil and then shrimp to heated oil. Add in 2 tsp. brown sugar, 1 tbs. fish sauce, and as much hot sauce as you want. Toss and saute until cooked through, ~5 minutes. Remove from heat
- Make sauce by mixing together simple syrup with rest of fish sauce, lime juice, minced garlic, and as much hot sauce as you want (I typically use about 2 squirts of Sriracha). Season to taste – if you want it saltier, add more fish sauce; more tart, add more lime juice
- Let everyone assemble their own bowls of noodles and top them with shrimp, lettuce, cucumbers, mint, carrots, and crushed peanuts. Toss with as much sauce as desired