Monday, April 7, 2014

Vietnamese Pork Loaf and Noodle Salad...

I've always loved Vietnamese food. During high school I was surrounded with Vietnamese friends and to this day my best friend is Vietnamese as well as my husband. The beautiful colours and array of fresh vegetables and herbs used in the dishes always excite the senses and taste buds. One particular dish which I enjoy fondly is Bánh cuốn chả lụa (steamed rice rolls with pork and mushrooms). Chả lụa is a pork loaf made by passing pork paste through fine sieves then wrapping it in banana leaves to form a log to cook and set, very similar to ham. You can often find various wrapped logs in Vietnamese sandwich shops all lined up nicely at the counter, or in the refrigerated sections in Asian supermarkets packaged in commercial wrapping.

This fragrant noodle salad is really simple to make, and hits the spot with all its textures and flavours. It may look like a lot of ingredients, but most of the latter are vegetables and herbs to dress the noodles. The kids don't like all the herbs but it is a great dish to introduce them to try a variety along with ingredients they do like.

Vietnamese Pork Loaf and Noodle Salad
Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 tsp. peanut oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 lb. lean ground pork
1/2 cup dried black fungus, soaked for 30 minutes in boiling water, drained and cut into strips
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
1 lb. fresh flat rice noodle sheets (in fresh noodle refrigerated section in an Asian supermarket) 
1/2 cup crisp-fried shallots
6 cups bean sprouts
1 cucumber, cut into thin strips
1 handful of Thai basil leaves, Vietnamese coriander (rau ram) and mint
3 leafy green lettuce leaves sliced into strips
1 Vietnamese pork loaf, cut into 1/8" thick slices
Serve with seasoned fish sauce dip (Nước mắm cham)

1) Heat oil in a skillet or wok over high heat. Add garlic and cook for 15 seconds, then add onions and cook for 30 seconds until translucent.
2) Add ground pork, fungus, salt and pepper and cook for another 10 minutes or until cooked.
3) Heat the rolled up noodle sheets in microwave for one minute, then cut into 1 inch strips.
4) Divide the rice noodles on the plates, place a layer of bean sprouts, some cucumber strips, herbs and pork loaf slices then drizzle with fish sauce. Scatter the warm pork mixture on top and sprinkle with fried shallots. Serve with extra dipping sauce.

Rau Ram is my favourite herb to use with Vietnamese food. Coriander in taste with an undertone of lemon and slight musky bitterness.
How to make Nước mắm cham (Makes 3/4 cup)

1) Dissolve 1/4 cup granulated sugar in 1/3 cup boiling water;
2) Mix in 3 Tbsp. fish sauce (the Squid brand is perfect for dips) and 3 Tbsp. white vinegar and leave to cool;
3) To season, add 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped and 1 tsp. of Vietnamese chili sauce to taste.

Serve it buffet-style so everyone can DIY!

Easy to eat, delicious and refreshing!

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