By Alison Diven, Contributing Author
Have you heard it yet, the siren call of spring? Here in northwest New Mexico, the birds are dancing in the junipers, new-green shoots surprise me daily along our pathways, and the very light and air seem re-born. My palate has changed too: I’m ready for all things light, crisp, fresh. Vietnamese bun, a cold noodle dish, showcases the best of spring—tender lettuces, crisp sprouts, sweet carrots, and fresh herbs nestled into silky rice vermicelli and highlighted with a tangy-salty-sweet sauce. Broiled or grilled chicken makes it a complete meal.
This dish is a great incentive to explore farmers’ markets and home gardening. Endless variations can be dictated by what’s available. Fresh-picked sugar snap peas, perhaps? Daikon or little red radishes? It’s all fair game! Not traditional, no, but I’m not judging.
My version of bun isn’t the most traditional anyway. Since I’m seeking great nutrition, I’m happy to swap out some of the usual pile of noodles for nutrient-dense lettuce and extra vegetables. Coconut sugar in the dipping sauce turns it a surprising deep brown, but it tastes just as good as the white sugar-laced kind. I also was unable to find lemongrass locally, so I improvised with lemon peel in the marinade. It added just the hint of lemon flavor I craved.
Because our climate puts us still weeks away still from the first harvest, I used all grocery store produce to get my fresh fix a bit early, but come May, you better believe I’m going to hit the local growers’ markets! I’m hooked for life. Some especially busy or ill seasons have kept me from the farmer stands, but I always return sooner or later. I just can’t stay way. There’s no comparing the taste and nutrition of fresh, local produce, not to mention the joy of partnering directly with those who lovingly work the land.
If you have yet to experience the difference buying local can make, I encourage you to take a step toward finding a farmers’ market today. You may be just in time for the first fruits of the growing season. Visit LocalHarvest.org and search for your location. You can also ask around at health food stores, natural food co-ops, yoga studios, and anywhere else health- or eco-conscious people gather.
Other noodle dishes you might enjoy:
- Easy Thai Curry Noodle Soup
- Cold Thai Noodle and Vegetable Salad (gluten-, -grain-, and dairy-free)
- Asian Noodle Salad
A few recipe notes:
(Amazon affiliate links)
- While the ingredient “fish sauce” may sound scary and even smell a little off-putting, it tastes wonderful and absolutely non-fishy in the final dish. It simply adds wonderful umami and depth to food. I splash in a little to any kind of soup when I need a flavor boost. Check ingredients for a sauce made only of fish, salt, and perhaps, sugar. Red Boat is the purest option I know, and is often available in health food stores, but we also buy and enjoy Tiparos, which can be cheaper and easier to find. Asian markets will have the best prices.
- Did you know you can grow your own bean sprouts in 4 days without fancy equipment? This tutorial has a special trick for making them grow thick and strong like the ones from the grocery store.
- For a vegetarian version, top with boiled eggs instead of chicken.
- ~1 lb organic or pastured chicken thighs
- 2 Tbsp fish sauce (check label for gluten; I prefer Red Boat)
- 2 Tbsp coconut sugar or Rapadura or Sucanat (I like Nutiva coconut sugar)
- 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
- zest of 1 small lemon
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 8 ounces rice vermicelli
- 1 small head nutritious lettuce like butterhead or romaine, thinly sliced
- 2 handfuls bean sprouts (see tutorial here for making your own), washed
- 3 small carrots, julienned (I like this julienne peeler)
- 1 seedless cucumber, julienned
- 4 green onions, sliced
- 1 handful fresh cilantro
- 1 bunch fresh mint
- 1 bunch fresh basil, especially Thai basil, optional
- ¼ cup crushed roasted peanuts, optional
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- Combine chicken thighs and all marinade ingredients in a dish and leave in refrigerator for at least several hours, and preferably overnight.
- Prepare vermicelli according to package instructions. (Can be done ahead, refreshing noodles in warm water before serving.)
- Prepare dipping sauce by mixing the lime juice, water, fish sauce, garlic, and coconut sugar together until well combined. (Can be made ahead; chill until serving time.)
- Heat broiler on high. Shake marinade off chicken, place on broiler-safe pan, and broil for 3-4 minutes per side, watching closely to avoid burning. Allow to cool slightly and cut into slices.
- Assemble the salads by dividing noodles, lettuce, carrots, cucumber, green onions, herbs, and chicken among 4 large bowls. Top with crushed peanuts and lime wedges if desired.
- Sauce can be served in 4 small bowls for dipping, or poured over the top of each salad.
Looking for more springtime inspiration? The Nourishing Gourmet has got you covered!