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Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to make this recipe. I adore the fresh flavours and textures found in many Vietnamese dishes. This cold noodle salad recipe is incredibly refreshing and doesn’t take much time or effort to make. The recipe itself is very flexible; it can be made vegetarian or not, try bagged slaw instead of cabbage leaves, add a Tbsp of peanut butter to the dressing to make it more creamy, other julienned (match stick size) veggies would work here too (like red pepper or mild radish/turnip type veggies), green onions are also a nice addition. As a bonus, the dressing can hold in the fridge for a few days, which makes this recipe an excellent option for a quick lunch or dinner. It's also a great way to use up any veg and cooked meats you have in the fridge. Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad

For the dressing

3 tablespoons fish sauce

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons light brown sugar, plus more to taste

6 tablespoons water, plus more to taste

1 medium clove garlic, minced

1 fresh Thai (also sold as "bird's eye") chile, minced (optional)

For the salad

8 ounces thin rice noodles (roughly the width of linguine)

4 napa cabbage leaves, thinly sliced crosswise

1 medium carrot, shredded or cut into matchsticks

1/2 cucumber, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced

1 handful chopped fresh herbs, preferably a combination of basil, cilantro, and mint

8 ounces cooked meat or shrimp (grilled! is tasty), cut or torn into bite-sized pieces (optional)

1/2 cup salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

To prepare the dressing, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, 6 tablespoons of the water, the garlic, and the chile. Whisk well. Taste: if it's too pungent, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time. If you'd like more sweetness, add more brown sugar, 1/2 tablespoon at a time. Remember that you're going to be putting this dressing on unsalted vegetables and noodles: you want the dressing to have a lot of flavor, but it shouldn't knock you over. Pour into a serving bowl. (Covered and chilled, the dressing will keep for 3 days to a week.)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the rice noodles, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until tender but not mushy. Immediately drain the noodles into a colander, and rinse them well with cold water. Lay out a clean kitchen towel on the countertop, shake the colander to drain away excess water, and then spread the cooked noodles on the towel to drain further.

Divide the noodles between two or three good-sized bowls, depending on the number of diners, and top with the vegetables, herbs, and meat. Scatter the peanuts on top. Allow each person to spoon on dressing to taste. Toss well, and eat. (Alternatively, you can present this salad family-style: Toss the vegetables, herbs, and noodles in a mixing bowl and then mound them on a serving platter. Arrange the meat over the noodles, and top with peanuts. Each diner can scoop their own portion from the platter and dress it as they see fit.)

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