Vietnamese Noodle Salad (aka Bun)
My first Bun moment was in Houston, Texas and from then on, I was hooked. Interestingly enough, it seems pretty much anyone who has encountered a bun had the same feeling. It’s light, refreshing but still warm and comforting with plenty of citrus and spice. How can you go wrong? It’s one of our favorite meals, now that we’ve mastered the process. Ours is made vegetarian with fried tofu chunks and occasionally an egg; but normally restaurants serve them with pork or pork spring/egg rolls (the fried kind, not the ones made with fresh rice paper).
Make sure you organize all of your ingredients before you start preparing your bun as once you start cooking, it comes together quickly. You’ll become master of the bun multitask and before long, it might become a weekly meal for you and your family. Feel free to experiment with the fresh herbs you include and the toppers, just make sure it’s a savory flavor and don’t overload the bun with meat. Also, the traditional dressing for the bun is nuoc cham, be forewarned it has quite a bit of sugar in it and is made with fish sauce. If you are a true practicing vegetarian or vegan, I’ve heard some exchange the fish sauce with mushroom stock. I can’t recommend that method, having never tried it; plus, when eating ethnic dishes, we prefer to stick as much to the original as possible. Regardless, the secret is to keep it all in balance! So with that said, here we go…
1 pkg firm tofu, pressed and cubed
1 head of green or red leaf lettuce, chopped
1/2 cup thinly sliced cucumber
1/2 cup crushed peanuts
1/2 cup fresh bean sprouts
handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped
1 pkg of rice vermicelli or 1 cup cooked rice vermicelli per person**
Vegetable or peanut oil to fry tofu
**You’ll want thin noodles similar to soba and angel hair; one small handful uncooked noodles is good per person.
Make sure you make your nuoc cham first (recipe below) as it needs to sit for at least 30 minutes for full flavor. Heat your oil in a large high sided skillet and fry your tofu chunks until golden brown. As the tofu cooks, boil a large pot of water for your noodles and assemble your salad ingredients. You can either put the noodles on the bottom of your bowl or the lettuce, completely personal preference. Once your noodles are cooked, drain and put about a cup into each bowl (make sure you use large bowls). Layer your lettuce over and then place your sliced cucumber, bean sprouts, crushed peanuts and fresh herbs in their own sections on the lettuce. Top with the fried tofu chunks. Part of the fun with a bun is deciding how to eat it – mix up the ingredients or take little bites of each flavor with your noodles. Serve with a bowl of nuoc cham on the side and spoon over your salad to taste.
Makes about 2 cups
5 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons water
1/3 cup fish sauce (nuoc mam)
1/2 cup lime or lemon juice (about 3 limes or 2 lemons)
1 large clove garlic, crushed, peeled, and sliced or minced
1 or more bird’s eye or Thai chilies, seeded, and sliced or minced
1 shallot, peeled, thinly sliced, rinsed, and drained (optional)
Whisk together the sugar, water, fish sauce, and lime or lemon juice in a bowl until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the garlic, chili, and shallot (if using), and let stand for 30 minutes before serving. Can be refrigerated for up to 2 wks.