Back in the olden days, pre-Celiac diagnosis, we used to frequent a local Vietnamese restaurant called Dalat. It was one of those fabulous little local places that you wouldnâ€™t necessarily go into unless somebody told you about it. But once you entered, the place was almost always packed, no matter for lunch or dinner. Thatâ€™s where I first learned to not just love, but crave Vietnamese cuisine.
Post Celiac diagnosis, we continued to eat there, and I continued to get sick everytime. That is until one of the cooks sat down with me and helped me figure out why. That was my first real experience with cross contamination. We realized that he cooked the gluten free rice noodles in the same water that he cooked the wheat noodles.
I havenâ€™t been back yet. Maybe someday. I do love their food. I donâ€™t know the dishes by name as much as by number. I havenâ€™t eaten there in about a year but I still remember the numbers. We always got the same thing, always number 2, 6, and 36. Sometimes number 103 if we were particularly hungry and wanted that extra dish. The fourth dish always put us over the top in terms of the amount of food. But on those nights, we allowed ourselves to be decadent and extravagant. Still, we managed to get out of there for about $25 for a lot of food.
Thereâ€™s another local Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Dakao. A few months after my diagnosis, I went there with a local support group, after meeting with the owner and carefully going over the menu. My husband and I still go there, though not very often. Itâ€™s just easier to eat at home. After awhile, you just get tired of the same old drill. Explaining to the waitstaff, hoping the kitchen gets it right. Turns out itâ€™s just easier and safer to eat home as much as possible.
Lest it sound like Iâ€™m whining, I am not. I have enjoyed cooking at home immensely. I have cooked more in the last year than I ever have in my entire adult life. And I like it! I like it!
Anyway, last week, I made Vietnamese food three days in a row. And then we swore we needed a break, I guess I didn’t realize that I still hadn’t gotten my fill. So, back to the drawing board. Except this time, I had fun creating my own recipe based on a few different dishes I’ve had at our local Vietnamese restaurants.
Number 36 at Dalat was a bun recipe that involved rice noodles served with a crunchy deep fried tofu and Nuoc Cham. It was usually a bit warm from the fried tofu. I cribbed from that recipe and came up with what I will humbly admit is a real winner. Ok, itâ€™s a bit labor intensive, but donâ€™t let that scare you away. Thereâ€™s very little cooking time to speak of, the prep time is what helps the dish come together.
If youâ€™re lucky enough to have a local Asian market, youâ€™re sure to find all the necessary ingredients. So, if youâ€™re feeling brave and in the mood for something new, something Vietnamese, give this a try!
Lemongrass Shrimp Cold Noodle Salad
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Â¾ cup thinly sliced shallots
Shrimp & Cabbage:
1/3 cup fish sauce
Â¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh lemongrass
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Â½ lbs. uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 Â½ cups shredded green cabbage
Recipe adapted from Corinne Trang, Authentic Vietnamese Cooking
5 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons water
1/3 cup fish sauce
Â½ cup lime or lemon juice
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
Salad (prep the following and have ready for assembling final dish):
8 ounces wide rice noodles (like for Pad Thai)
1 Â¾ cups shredded carrot
1 medium cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded, thinly sliced
Â½ cup halved peapods
Â½ cup chopped fresh mint
Â½ cup chopped fresh Thai basil
Â½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Â½ cup finely chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
To prepare shallot oil:
Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots. Cook 5 minutes or until golden brown. Be careful not to burn them. Strain the shallot mixture through a sieve over a bowl. Reserve the oil. Set aside the fried shallots.
To prepare shrimp & cabbage:
Combine all ingredients except for cabbage in a large zip-top plastic bag and seal.
Marinate in refrigerator 1 hour, turning occasionally. Remove shrimp from bag; discard marinade. Heat a non-stick wok and add shrimp. Cook until no longer pink. If you donâ€™t use a non-stick wok, you will need to use a small amount of oil to sautÃ© the shrimp. Remove from pan and allow to cool before adding to salad.
For the cabbage, heat 1 teaspoon vegetable oil in a wok or large flat pan. Saute cabbage for about 3 minutes or until it just begins to wilt. Remove from wok and aside. Allow to cool before adding to salad.
To prepare Nuoc Cham:
Whisk together the sugar, water, fish sauce, and lime juice in a bowl until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the garlic and chili and let sit for 30 minutes before serving.
To prepare additional salad ingredients:
Place rice noodles in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 20 minutes. Drain. Combine the noodles, shallot oil (use less to begin, you can always add more), carrot, cucumber, and peapods. Mix well with tongs. Reserve the chopped peanuts for the finished salad.
To assemble this dish:
Put about 1 Â½ cups of the noodle mixture on a dinner plate. Begin layering the salad by adding Â¼ cup of chopped sautÃ©ed cabbage and then 6 â€“ 8 shrimp. Top with chopped mint, Thai basil, and cilantro, a spoonful of carmelized shallots, and about a teaspoon of chopped nuts. Drizzle some of the nuoc cham over the entire salad.