Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cambodian/Vietnamese/Thai Vermicelli Salad

I lived in Fort Greene, Brooklyn for five wonderful years. I scraped layers of newspaper and paint from underneath my kitchen sink, hung homemade curtains, watched a woman get mugged underneath my bedroom window, heard gun shots, cried with joy every year when the New York City Marathon went past my window, drank beers on the stoop with my future husband, made a tent in my living room with my roommate, and blissfully ate my way through the ever changing neighborhood with my student loan money at Madiba, Ici, La Table, Pequena, Rice, Cafe Lafayette, Olea, Cornerstone, Stone Home Wine Bar, Harlem Cake Man and more.

Some restaurants still thrive, others changed their names and some are gone forever. I must say, I still mourn the loss of Cambodia Cuisine. It was a large and very worn out restaurant a few steps north of BAM. The patio seating had a faded astro-turf-like carpet and I think the ceiling was hung with old dirty fabric or sagging ceiling panels. It was filthy inside and cheap but the food was bright, fresh and clean. I usually walked up to the window and ordered take-out from a sweaty, elderly man in a wife beater who oversaw sizzling woks and big pots of boiling water. I always ordered the same thing, vermicelli noodles with lemongrass chicken, crisp veggies, mint, peanuts and a sweet and sour sauce. The restaurant's service grew weirder and weirder and the food lost some of it's brightness as the years went by. But when it was good, it was the best.

I make a version of this salad with whatever I have around. It's sort of a Cambodian/Vietnamese/Thai mash up. It's easy to assemble, there's no cooking involved and it's the perfect crunchy salad for a hot summer day.

Cambodian/Vietnamese/Thai Salad

1 package vermicelli rice noodles soaked in hot water according to the instructions on the package (I recently found a whole grain brand that is very good)

Mix together: 
2 parts vinegar (white vinegar or rice vinegar are best but I've used apple cider vinegar and it's not bad! Just avoid red wine or balsamic vinegar, that would be weird)
1 part sugar (or honey or agave)
pinch of salt

You can heat the vinegar and sugar to help it dissolve. You should have somewhere between 1/4 cup and 1/2 a cup liquid depending on how many mouths you're feeding. Taste, it should be sweet and tangy, add more sugar if necessary. Then add sliced chili and salt. When the liquid has cooled a little add some or all of the following and let pickle while you get everything else ready. I often leave the cucumber out unless I don't have any carrots:

cucumber, sliced into matchsticks
carrots, sliced into matchsticks
red onion, thinly sliced
a sliced thai chili (optional)

Assemble all or some of the following on top of your cool vermicelli noodles:
lettuce leaves
bean sprouts
fresh mint
fresh thai basil (optional)
chopped salted and roasted peanuts
chicken ( look-up a recipe for lemongrass chicken, I usually make a vegetarian version, but I'm sure shredded rotisserie chicken would be just fine)
red sweet pepper (not traditional but good)

Remove your pickled vegetables from their liquid and reserve liquid. Arrange vegetable on top of noodles with the rest of your toppings. 

Add to Reserved Liquid:
Few dashes fish sauce until you get the taste you like (omit for vegans)

Then serve the liquid in little bowls, one for each salad, to pour as much or as little as you like over your salad. Plop a nice big bottle of Sriracha on the table and mange. Cold beer is perfect with this meal.