when i was in high school i dated a guy named kinh. he was from vietnam and occasionally his mother would cook for us after school. before i met kinh, i had never had vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc cham) and now that i have, i am not sure how i lived without it. eventually, the relationship fizzled, but i always remembered his mother's cooking. for years i attempted to recreate the sweet nuoc cham in a way that would do justice to the one i loved in high school. it wasn't until last summer that i got the recipe right. the sweet refreshing taste of the sugar and the lime mixed with the decadent chilis and flavorful garlic mingle so perfectly that you can't help smiling while you eat it. i do numerous things with this sauce, but the simplest and most comforting is to pour is over short grained sticky white rice until the rice is soaked through and then eat it over the kitchen sink while the sauce drips down my chin.
this recipe is a tad more refined.
ingredients for noodles:
three large carrots, peeled and grated
two english cucumbers, peeled, seeds removed and juliened
large bunch of cilantro, cleaned and rougly chopped
two cups of peanuts, roughly chopped
two small, or one large, packages of cellophane noodles (bean threads)
one pound shrimp, peeled and cleaned
2 tablespoons of olive or peanut oil
ingredients for sauce:
two cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 to 1 1/2 cups hot water
3/4 cups sugar
juice of 1 or 1 1/2 limes
1/4 cup of fish sauce
1 small chili, sliced
to make the sauce whisk 1/2 cup of the sugar and 1 cup of the water together in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved. add in the fish sauce and the garlic, then add in the lime juice - making sure to get in the pulp - and whisk together. taste the sauce and make sure that none of the ingredients is overpowering the other, it should be a slightly sweet sauce of indeterminate flavor. if it isn't sweet enough, add sugar, if it needs more water, add some. each person will like theirs slightly different, though i have the meaasurements up that i usually end up adding. it should refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the flavors to mingle, it's better if it refrigerates overnight. just before serving (or using) add the sliced chili to the sauce and mix well. the longer the chili is in the sauce the spicier it will be...so i always throw it in just before it's used. it will stay fresh in the fridge for about a week, maybe just longer.
to make the noodle mixture prepare the veggies, herbs and peanuts and transfer to a large bowl. cook the cellophane noodles per the package instructions (usually they are "soak in hot water - just below boiling - for about 10 minutes until soft") and then add them into the bowl with the other ingredients, then proceed to the shrimp. heat a large pan with oil and then add shrimp. salt slightly, and cook them until they turn opaque, no longer, or they will be rubbery. remove from heat and add to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients.
this dish can be made without the shrimp and it is just as good.
you can substitute chicken or even beef, though I recommend marinating them if you use them.
this would be delish served cold or warm, and would be a fun alternative to a picnic "salad".