Cool and refreshing, this salad is based on bún, Vietnamese rice noodles, which, here, are topped with marinated tofu, lots of fresh herbs, peanuts and nuoc cham, a sweet and spicy sauce. You can substitute strips of grilled or sauteed beef, pork or chicken for the tofu. Look for the thinnest vermicelli-style rice noodles for the fastest preparation. If you only have thicker rice noodles, they should be cooked according to the package instructions.
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Total time: 45 mins
Make Ahead: The noodles and tofu may be soaked and marinated up to 1 day in advance.
Storage Notes: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 2 days.
Where to Buy: Vietnamese rice noodles and Chinese five-spice powder can be found in well-stocked supermarkets, Asian grocers and online.
Tested size: 4 servings; 4 cup noodles, 3 cups tofu and vegetables, 1 cup sauce
- For the tofu
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon granulated sugar or maple syrup
1 teaspoon peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce, preferably low-sodium
1/4 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder (see related recipe)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 small yellow onion or shallot (2 to 3 ounces), sliced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
One (14-ounce) package firm tofu, pressed and cut into cubes (see NOTES, below)
- For the nuoc cham
2 tablespoons granulated sugar or 3 tablespoons maple syrup, plus more as needed
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus more as needed
1/2 cup warm water, plus more as needed
3 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more as needed
1 Thai or serrano chile pepper, thinly sliced or 2 teaspoons sambal oelek (optional)
- For the toppings
3 cups (about 3 ounces) baby lettuce leaves (such as butter or Boston), cut into ribbons if large
2/3 cup unsalted roasted peanuts or cashews, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fried onions or shallots (optional)
1/2 cup hand-torn fresh cilantro leaves and tender sprigs
1/2 cup hand-torn mint leaves
1 Persian cucumber, sliced thinly on a bias
1 small carrot, scrubbed and cut into thin matchsticks (optional)
In a large bowl, break the noodles just enough so that they don’t extend over the edge of the bowl. Add warm-to-hot water to cover the noodles by 1 inch and soak for at least 15 and up to 45 minutes, or until softened.
Make the tofu: In a medium bowl, whisk together the fish sauce, sugar, oil, soy sauce, five-spice powder and black pepper until the sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Stir in the onion and garlic. Add the tofu and gently toss to coat with the marinade. Marinate the tofu for at least 15 minutes and up to overnight (see NOTES, below).
Make the nuoc cham: In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar or maple syrup and lime juice until a slurry forms. Add the water, and whisk until the sugar dissolves completely. Stir in the fish sauce, then taste, adjusting the sweetness, acidity and salinity by adding more sugar, lime juice and/or fish sauce, as desired. Stir in the sliced chiles or sambal oelek, if using.
To serve, drain the noodles and divide them among four bowls. Divide the tofu, lettuce, peanuts or cashews, fried onions or shallots, if using, cilantro, mint, cucumber and carrot among the bowls. Serve with nuoc cham for drizzling and dipping.
NOTES: To press tofu: Drain it and wrap it in a clean tea towel. Place on a plate, cover with a small tray or plate, and a weight such as a stack of books or a heavy can. Press until most of the moisture puddles on the plate, about 10 minutes. (Microwaving tofu, wrapped in a clean towel, achieves a similar effect: Microwave drained and wrapped tofu in 1-minute increments until it shrinks and turns slightly creamy in color.)
After marinating the tofu, you may wish to sear it in a pan: In a cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil until it shimmers. Drain the tofu, onions and garlic from the marinade and add to the pan, separating the cubes so they sear instead of steam. Turn the pieces as they brown. Drain on a clean tea towel or plate before serving.
Loosely adapted from “Vietnamese Food Any Day” by Andrea Nguyen (Ten Speed Press, 2019).
Tested by Jess Eng.
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