I love the flavors of southeast Asia, and one of my very favorites of all is Vietnamese rice vermicelli dishes. My favorite one? Bun Tom Xao - noodles topped with delicious spicy fish sauce (Nuoc Cham), fresh raw veggies, grilled tiger prawns, and garnished with fresh basil, cilantro, fried onions and peanuts. Its so simple, so light, and I recently realized - SO easy to make at home! Most of it can be prepared in advance - so making it for company was a breeze. When people arrived, all we had to do was fire up the grill and enjoy the evening.
There are a few basic items that are essential to make Bun dishes (Bun is Vietnamese for rice vermicelli noodles) - fresh crisp bean sprouts, Nuoc Cham, fresh basil and cilantro, some spicy chili's and of course the delicious noodles. The rest seems to be slightly different everywhere I go - so I just made a version with all of my favorites and with one slightly non-Vietnamese addition - Peanut sauce. I happen to love spicy peanut sauce. So, instead of topping with chopped peanuts, I served with peanut sauce instead. This sauce keeps well in the fridge - so make plenty extra and use it in stir-fry, as a dipping sauce for meat, tofu or spring rolls, or even as a salad dressing.
Folks - this dish was simply amazing. The noodles absorb the flavor of the Nuoc Cham which is perfectly complimented by the smokey, spicy grilled shrimp and peanut sauce; with little bursts of flavor from chili peppers and herbs and crunch from the fried onions, bean sprouts and cucumbers it is just sublime. To me - its the perfect combination of flavors and texture and makes a wonderfully cool meal in the very hot summer.
While the title says grilled shrimp - I served both that and grilled tofu, both of which were marinated in the peanut sauce. This dish is easily made vegan when eaten with tofu - though you will have to leave out the Nuoc Cham (I couldn't not find a satisfactory substitution for fish sauce, though you could just make a spicy broth with peppers & garlic and get a similar effect). The tofu was absolutely delicious as well - the sauce carmelizes and blackens on the tofu which really absorbs the smokiness of the grill.
Really, you can do any kind of topping for these noodles - cut up spring rolls or any kind of meat or vegetable you like. I have had it with chicken, pork and beef - and while Shrimp or tofu is my favorite - they are all delicious. This is also really cheap. These amounts I have included will feed 5 people (heartily). Using items from your garden and pantry and an inexpensive topping - this meal is a lot of flavor without a lot of cash. Check your local Asian grocery for a lot of the items you might have trouble finding (I even recommend getting your herbs and bean sprouts there - I find they are usually better and less expensive than the typical grocery chains).
Rice Vermicelli with Grilled Shrimp & Spicy Peanut Sauce (Bun Tom Xao)
fresh crisp bean sprouts
3 sriracha d chili's, cored/seeded and minced
crispy fried onions
1 cucumber, diced or julienned
1 and 1/2 pkgs Bun noodles (rice vermicelli)
1 and 1/2 lbs large Tiger Shrimp, peeled and de-veined
AND/OR 1 large brick of extra firm tofu, sliced
Optional other additions that I didn't use this time but are quite good:
Hoisin Sauce (sooo good with this)
dry roasted peanuts, chopped
lettuce or cabbage
First - make your sauces (recipes below).
Marinate shrimp (and/or tofu) in a few tablespoons of peanut sauce. Allow to sit in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the dish.
Prepare the Noodles (can be done up to 2 hours in advance):
Bring a stock pot of water to boiling. Add the noodles and allow to boil for 3 to 5 minutes (I did mine for exactly 5 and they were perfect). Stir once or twice as they boil to break the noodles apart.
Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse in cold water until the noodles are cool and the water runs clear. Let the noodles drain in the colander for at least 30 minutes, or can leave them for up to 2 hours unrefrigerated. Before serving, run just a bit of warm water over the noodles so they aren't sticking together (I also like them to not be so cold. If you want them cool, rinse with cool water instead).
Grill the shrimp and/or tofu over moderate heat just until done. The shrimp will only take around 4 or 5 minutes (or even less). The tofu, slightly more.
Bring it all together:
Fill each bowl with noodles. Top with a handful of bean sprouts, fried onions, a pinch of the diced chili peppers, and cucumber. Tear the basil and cilantro into each bowl. Top with with the shrimp (or tofu).
Pass the Nuoc Cham at the table - each person should pour on about 3 or 4 tbs of the stuff. Pass the peanut sauce as well - which can be added to taste (along with Hoisin or Sriracha if you like).
Toss the noodles, toppings and sauces together a few times with chopsticks or fork, and enjoy!!
Spicy Peanut Sauce
1/3 cup all-natural (no corn syrup, not a bunch of added sugar) creamy Peanut Butter
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
3 cloves garlic, pressed (or minced and crushed)
2 tbsp rice vinegar
3 tbsp tahini
3 tbs Sambal-Oelek
1 or 2 tsp Sriracha Sauce
Place all ingredients in a sauce pan over low heat. Stir and heat until it has reach a smooth and creamy consistency. Serve immediately or keeps several weeks in the fridge. As it cools it will change consitency slightly, become thicker. If you like, heat in the microwave over medium heat or in a sauce pan on low before serving. Its also good cold straight out of the fridge :)
Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese Dipping Sauce)
1 clove garlic
1 or 2 tsp Sambal-Oelek
1/2 tsp Sriracha
2/3 cup hot water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup Fish sauce
2 tbs fresh lime juice
Combine Sambal-Oelek, Sriracha, water and sugar. Stir well - until sugar has dissolved. Add the fish sauce and lime juice and stir until combined. Make at least 15 minutes before serving - but the earlier the better, you can even make it days in advance (it will keep for up to a month). I just stir it all up in a jar and keep it in the fridge, then on the day I need I take it out and let it come to room temp before using (I don't like it to make the dish cold).
I heart film. - A little over a year ago I bought a Canon Ae-1 and last week I found the first roll of film I shot on it and finally had it processed (Its been a crazy year ...