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Rice Noodle Salad (Bún) with Vietnamese Turkey Meatballs

7 May

If you really want to split hairs, this salad—one of my all-time favorites—is not really a salad, so to speak.  More than anything, it’s a collection of crisp, crunchy vegetables—some pickled, some not—a handful of fresh herbs, and a brisk, punchy sauce, all piled on a bed of cool noodles.  It is, in essence, the embodiment of all the elements I love in a dish.  It is versatile, it is complex in its bite and flavors, but it is the perfect meal to make on a slow afternoon or evening, when your only pressing plans involve eventually sitting down with friends or family and enjoying a nice, casual meal with one another.

This dish may appear to contain far too many steps and ingredients for the casual home cook, but I promise you that a long list of ingredients—many of which are pantry and refrigerator staples—does not equal a prolonged sentence of kitchen labor.  Everything comes together in due time, with one item resting while another one steeps, some items cooking while others are being chopped.

This inspiration for this dish, beyond the dozens of Vietnamese noodle bowls I’ve eaten over the course of my life, comes from Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet, that veritable bible of Southeast Asian cooking.  I’ve extolled the many virtues of Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford before, but it bears repeating that, if you are looking for an all-purpose Asian cookbook, you could do much worse than to get comfortable with a copy of this book.  Duguid and Alford, now separated, sadly, have spent years traveling throughout Asia, first as a couple, then eventually as a family of four.  Their traveling, while seemingly culinary in its focus, served as much as an education as anything else.  To be able to immerse oneself in another culture, or many cultures, so completely is just astonishing in its accomplishment.  Reading their books (and there are many from which to choose) is not only a gateway to an entirely new focus in cooking, but also in examining the role and history of food in the lives of people all over the world.

Last Year: Quick and Easy Citrus Crepes with Berry Sauce

Rice Noodle Salad (Bún) with Vietnamese Turkey Meatballs Recipe

Not into meat?  These baked vegetable wontons would be a great substitute for the turkey meatballs.

For the Salad:

1 pound rice vermicelli or dried rice noodles (soaked in warm water for 20 minutes, then cooked in boiling water for 2 minutes, then drained, rinsed, and set aside)

chopped salad greens (spinach, Napa cabbage, etc.)

pickled carrot and daikon strips (recipe follows)

bean sprouts

chopped cucumber, seeds removed

fresh cilantro leaves

fresh mint leaves

lime wedges

nuoc cham (recipe follows)

Vietnamese turkey meatballs (recipe follows)

Pickled Carrot and Daikon Radish Salad

½ pound peeled carrots

½ pound peeled daikon radish

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 ½ cups water

¼ cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

Using a very sharp knife or a mandolin slicer, cut the carrots and radish into matchsticks.  You should have about 4 cups of matchsticks total.  Place the carrots and radish in a large strainer, sprinkle over the salt, and toss well with your hands.  Place over a bowl or in the sink, and allow to stand for 20 to 30 minutes.

While the vegetables are waiting in the strainer, combine the water, vinegar, and sugar in a nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature (the mixture must cool almost completely, as the goal is not to cook the vegetables, but simply quick pickle them).

Rinse the vegetables in cold water, then squeeze dry and transfer to a medium bowl.  Pour over the vinegar mixture and stir gently to ensure all the vegetables become completely coated.  Allow vegetables to sit in vinegar mixture for at least 1 hour before serving.

Nuoc Cham

¼ cup fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce

¼ cup of water

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1 small clove of garlic, minced

1 minced bird chile, or 2 crumpled dried red chiles

In a small bowl or small jar (I find that a jar works best), combine all the ingredients.  Stir or shake (if using a jar) to combine completely, making sure the sugar is completely dissolved.  This sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Makes roughly ¾ cup sauce.

Vietnamese Turkey Meatballs

1 pound ground turkey

¼ cup minced shallot

¼ cup minced garlic

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

generous grinding of black pepper

2 tablespoons roasted rice powder, optional (recipe follows)

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients.  Using your hands, mix everything together until they are completely integrated.  You can, at this point, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, or you can proceed immediately to cooking.

Place an oven rack 5 to 6 inches from the broiler, and preheat your oven’s broiler on high.  Line a large baking sheet with a layer of foil.

Scoop a generous tablespoon of turkey mixture and, using your hands, form it into a tight ball.  Place on the prepared baking sheet.  Form all the turkey mixture this way.  You should end up with roughly 3 dozen balls.

Place the filled baking sheet under the broiler and cook meatballs for 10 minutes.  Turn meatballs over, then continue cooking until meatballs are entirely cooked through, yet still quite succulent (this should take around 15 minutes total, but could take up to 20 minutes, depending on the strength of your broiler)

Roasted Rice Powder

¼ cup uncooked jasmine rice

Heat a heavy skillet over medium high heat.  Add the rice and dry roast, stirring frequently, until the rice has turned golden brown all over.  Transfer to a spice grinder, clean coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle, and grind to a powder.  Let cool completely before storing in a well-sealed jar.

To assemble a noodle bowl:

Place a pile of noodles in a bowl of your choice (I like a medium-sized bowl with tall sides).  Top with chopped greens, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber slices, sprouts, and herbs.  Add some turkey meatballs.  Pour over nouc cham to taste.  Add a lime wedge.

Serves 4-6 hungry people.

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Hazelnut Orange Pesto

5 Jan

For fifteen years now, I have been subscribing to the New Yorker.  During that span of time, there have been maybe three instances—four, tops—in which I have not greeted the arrival of yet another issue of the magazine by plopping the new week’s issue upon a vast pile of previous weeks’ issues.  A very good friend of mine, who, at the time, was also a longtime subscriber to the New Yorker, and also, incidentally, unable to keep up with the barrage of unstoppable arrivals flooding his mailbox, once began to refer to every new issue of the New Yorker as “the dead rat,” due to its unassailable, somewhat onerous presence in his mailbox.  Plang!  The flap of the mailbox just slammed shut.  What’s new?  Oh, yes.  The dead rat has arrived.  Add it to the pile.

Other people I know who subscribe to the New Yorker are perfectly fine with the sight of piles of unread magazines littered about their home.  Perhaps it speaks of a more developed sense of ease on their part when it comes to matters of reading materials that those people can accumulate back issues of the New Yorker and never blink an eye.  I get more than three weeks behind and I start to develop cold sweats.  Maybe because of that fellow I read about who was something like a year and a half behind on the New York Times, a newspaper he read every single day, though not in its entirety every single day, which meant that when it took him a couple of days to make his way through a copy of the Times, he’d be a couple of days behind, well, the Times, when he finished.  Take too long to read the paper over a long enough period of time and, look, there you are, reading an issue of the New York Times from 2007 as you ride the subway to work in 2009.  Sometimes it feels like a slippery slope between getting a couple of weeks behind on the New Yorker and becoming that man and his archive of New York Times reading matter, perpetually living in the past just so he can leisurely work his way towards the future.  (Also, it bears mentioning that the story about the man and the New York Times?  Yeah, I read about it in the New Yorker.)

The main culprit in my chronic struggle to maintain a current reading schedule with the New Yorker is the fact that I insist on reading every single thing in the magazine, cover to cover.  I read the listings for what bands are playing at what clubs, what new building by what new architect is currently being built to house what new condo complex, and what new restaurants are opening.  You may think I am insane to take on such a seemingly worthless endeavor, but let me tell you something.  Had I not insisted on reading a review of a new restaurant that opened up in the West Village, I would have never read about that restaurant’s offering of a small, delicious plate of crusty bread topped with hazelnut orange pesto.  Not helping my reading situation at all, as soon as I read about the combination, I put down my magazine to make it.

Not surprisingly, the pairing of the two elements is absolutely fantastic.  The robust flavor of the toasted hazelnuts gets a nice brightness from the orange zest, and when whirled together with a generous glug of olive oil and a large handful of Italian parsley, the pesto comes together as a well-rounded, satisfying sauce for pasta, topping for crostini, or even a nice embellishment to a pile of sautéed greens rested upon a bed of thick, belly-warming polenta.  I savored each bite of this warm, filling meal, and I am not the least bit ashamed to admit that while eating it, I cracked open an old back issue of the Atlantic.  From September 2010.  Don’t worry.  I’ve let that subscription lapse.

Hazelnut Orange Pesto

If you are going to make this pesto as a sauce for pasta, reserve about ½ a cup of the pasta’s cooking water to add into the pesto when you toss it with the pasta.  This will help the pesto loosen up a bit and maintain more of a sauce-like consistency.

1 cup hazelnuts

1 cup loosely packed Italian parsley leaves

1 large clove of peeled garlic

2 tablespoons grated orange zest

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼-1/3 cup olive oil

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet, and toast for 15 minutes, until the nuts are golden brown and the skins are beginning to peel free.  Remove the toasted nuts to a clean dishtowel.  Fold the dishtowel over the hazelnuts, and vigorously rub the towel around to slough the skins off of the nuts.  If you don’t remove all of the skins, don’t worry.  You just want to remove enough of the skins to ensure that your nuts won’t taste too bitter.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the nuts, parsley, garlic, orange zest, Parmesan cheese, and ¼ cup of olive oil.  Pulse the mixture for about 20 seconds, until the ingredients are chopped and the nuts still have a good amount of texture (if you process the mixture too long, the hazelnuts run the risk of turning into a paste).  If the mixture looks a bit too sturdy, add in the remaining olive oil, one tablespoon at a time, pulsing briefly after each addition until the pesto reaches your desired consistency.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Use as a topping for crostini, a sauce for pasta, a dressing for greens, etc.  I’ll bet this would taste great dolloped on top of a nice firm piece of white fish.

Recipe Roundup

10 Nov

When compiling and sorting these articles and recipes, it took me a moment to realize that, though I will be sharing five links below, those links actually contain a total of nine separate recipes.  I’m crediting Portland Farmers Market for that unexpected burst of recipes, as the very nature of my writing relationship with them dictates that I will attempt to make as much food as possible with the smallest amount of funds required (note: all six of my recipes for them came in at well under $20–that’s for all six recipes combined.  You want frugal?  I can give you frugal.)

As an added bonus, these dishes would all fit in nicely atop your Thanksgiving table, especially if you are looking for recipe ideas that fall well outside the basic realm of turkey and potatoes.

Pear-Stuffed Acorn Squash; Kidney Bean and Sweet Potato Soup

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Three Sauces (Sage Brown Butter, Caramelized Shallots and Thyme, and Garlic Chips with Sauteed Spinach)

This sage brown butter sauce was so good that I ate it until I felt a profound sense of discomfort.

Indie Fixx continues to provide Savory Salty Sweet with a great place to share more recipes with more people. These three recipes are my most recent contributions, and they happen to be some of my favorites.  That dark chocolate zucchini cake is absolutely magical.  It’s rich, complex-tasting without being complicated to make, and it just so happens to be vegan (and secretly stuffed with a vegetable, which you’d never, ever be able to tell by eating it).

Linguine with Slow Roasted Tomatoes and Garlic

Dark Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Blueberry, Orange, and Cornmeal Pancakes

On an unrelated note, a couple of months ago I made zucchini muffins with some fantastically fresh zucchini, straight from our garden.  As I was scooping the batter into the muffins tins, I noticed that things were looking a little firmer and more robust than they normally should.  Undaunted, I moved on, baking the muffins anyway.  It was only after the muffins had been removed from their tins and cooled that I realized why the muffins looked rather unusual.  I forgot to add the sugar.

Surprisingly, I actually sort of liked the muffins without sugar.  They were still very moist, but they were definitely sturdier, without the fine crumb usually found in a muffin.  They actually tasted more like a bread, less like a muffin, and closer to what I prefer these days when I gravitate towards a snack.  I am debating whether or not to share the recipe.  I am not sure if these muffins would be anyone else’s cup of tea, since I happened to be the only person in the house who ended up eating them (and I live with a carb-loving child and the Perfect Eating Machine, so that’s saying something).

Still, I am sort of fond of them in all their sugar-free, cinnamon-filled glory.

Jeez, that looks healthful.  Like some sort of nutrition nugget that zoologists develop as a snack for panda bears.

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